Saturday 21 December 2019

Portraits of a Lady: 'Perfume Stories in Conversation' at Tate Liverpool, 19.12.19

First things first...yesterday's date is pleasingly symmetrical, if not exactly palindromic like the page views tally in my last post. Yet even had it not been symmetrical - never mind palindromic - yesterday was a hugely enjoyable day, for a number of coincidences occurred and paths were crossed, in unexpected ways. And this despite the fact that my day started preternaturally early again - in darkness, no less. Who knew that mornings can be like the middle of the night in December?? Too many years spent around musicians and their unsociable body clocks has given me an aversion - nay, allergy - to any hour earlier than 8.30am.

I got up at this time as I was due to attend a talk on perfume at John Moores University, which strangely doesn't have an apostrophe. I infer that this is because the university is merely named after the distinguished businessman in question who founded the Littlewoods retail chain and football pools, rather than being in any way 'possessed' by him.

I travelled on a pleasingly fast train to Liverpool operated by Avanti, which it took me till mid-afternoon to realise is the company who took over from Virgin the other week. It only stopped at Runcorn, and then sadly at the railway station, not half way across the famous wrought iron bridge so I could have taken a better picture. The bridge has several names, including 'Ethelfleda', which is so good I wish I at least had a chicken to call it after. Next week's (albeit dead) turkey may briefly acquire this moniker instead...

Now don't laugh, but I brought my A-Z of Liverpool with me, which dates from 1990, the year when I stayed at the Adelphi Hotel (of Onedin Line fame) and had the use of a company 'pool' mobile phone the size of a brick. I'll be honest, I navigated in the end using a combination of helpful tourist signage and the blue dot on Google maps, but it felt good to have the A-Z as back up. A bit like shopping with a wicker basket.

I arrived at Albert Dock a little early, and took a quick snap of this doughnut van with its transatlantic spelling and tempting offer of candyfloss and 'slush'. That's what you get I expect if you drop your candyfloss in the Mersey. Parked a little further on was a double decker London bus offering tea and coffee; an old telephone box next to it had been repurposed as a milk and sugar station. You don't get that sort of vintage charm in Starbucks, even if they do offer milk in different fat percentages.

The talk was held upstairs at Tate Liverpool, in a section of a big gallery space screened off by a curtain - not all the way, mind, so at various points during proceedings other visitors threw us a quizzical look as they were passing in their search for Dali's Lobster Telephone. I say 'search', as I am not sure that any of the 11 lobsters Dali made is in Liverpool anymore. My mobile phone from 1990 was not far off in size if not shape, now I think of it.

So, on to the event itself: Perfume Stories in Conversation (Alchemy, Olfaction and Synaesthesia), created and hosted by Michael O'Shaughnessy. Mike is Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design & Illustration at Liverpool School of Art & Design at John Moores University. He began his talk by playing a song by Barry White(!), which proved a good ice breaker, and was at pains to point out that perfume is about so much more than the art of seduction (despite what the glossy, gold-dipped adverts would tell us). He gave us a bit of background on his own academic research and commercial art, including several high profile commissions, such as a billboard featuring his own handwriting that formed the skin of the Everyman building.


The structure remained in place for 18 months, and miraculously didn't get 'tagged' in all that time by graffiti artists, which Mike attributed to his 'inclusive' use of cursive writing, which looked a bit like graffiti to start with. He adopted a similar approach on a project for Dong Energy, a Danish company which installed 32 wind turbines in Liverpool Bay, and his billboard with the caption "This Beautiful Place" was similarly left intact. Regular readers may recall that I am a big fan of wind farms, having done a project on glue in California, some of which is used to fix rattling nacelles, as the big 'gubbins housings' at the top are called.

To seal his credentials, Mike mentioned that he had in fact swum the Mersey, which impressed us all no end. So by this point I was definitely sold on Mike's handwriting and level of fitness, and we moved onto the key premise of his event, namely a "proposition of multi-sensory experience in Art":

"We experience drawing in the same way that smell can provide a trigger for memory and sensation. Scent invites us to recount and create new stories, sharing and revealing layers of experience." 

After romping through a few surprise facts about our sense of smell, including the one about it remaining when we are asleep (something the ex-firefighter in our group was able to confirm!), Mike presented us with a selection of evocative quotes about perfume from literature. One, from Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, featured bitter almonds reminding a character in the book of the fate of unrequited love. It was a great quote, and reminded me in turn of my happily morbid teenage years engrossed in Agatha Christie novels, where death by the chemically closely related cyanide was a go-to MO. But better still, we also learnt that Mike had been commissioned to do a portrait of Marquez, whom he decided to dress as a fish, in a nod to another work by the author, in case you were wondering(!).

We had already started to discuss what scenes different scents and smells evoke in our minds, and at this point Mike passed around a blotter sprayed with Chanel Cuir de Russie. This was a rather spooky moment for me, as I had so nearly chosen Cuir de Russie as my SOTD - to the point of holding the mini in my hand for a moment or two before putting it back in the drawer - however, I ended up opting for the more public space-appropriate and sadly discontinued Guerlain Plus Que Jamais.

Mike also showed us a book he had had published on Perfume and Drawing: it comprised a series of portraits of ladies - mostly but not exclusively his niece, I think? - juxtaposed with a list of perfumes containing a particular fragrance material, followed by a literary quote. At this point Mike disclosed that A Portrait of a Lady, or PoaL as it is commonly known in the blogosphere, was his all-time favourite perfume! This happens to be the favourite of Val the Cookie Queen, who has kept me supplied with both PoaL and CdR. I have an abiding memory of Val lavishly applying PoaL in an underground car park in Augsburg, before we went into a Monochrome Set gig at a nearby club. So I guess I have a memory link between that fragrance and music and perfume friends. And although I am not sure it works on me, I am a big admirer of PoaL, which I first smelt not on skin, but sprayed on Katie Puckrik's pashmina, which she was using as the garment equivalent of a room diffuser. Another strong memory, this time linking the scent to perfume friends - and fabric!

Mike went on to tell us about workshops he had run with his art students, giving them perfumes to smell blind and seeing how they reacted and what specific associations they had with the scents. (He is a big pusher of perfume / evangelist, and I salute him for it.) We did a bit of that too and the reactions from our group to the perfume Mike had selected were all over the map, and not uniformly positive. One lady was reminded of the dentist, another had no particular associations but didn't care for it, while I could pick up fruity notes, but ones that had been spoilt or muddied by something indeterminate that might have been spices or herbs. I shan't say what the perfume was, or what it was meant to smell like, in case anyone gets the opportunity to attend one of Mike's workshops or talks, but let's just say it was pretty left field in its inspiration!

There was more...Mike mentioned a thought provoking quote by Siri Hustvedt, speaking of the artist Morandi. Oddly, I have just read The Summer Without Men by her - not to be confused with the iPhone application of the same name - and used to have a Morandi print over my bed two houses ago. I think ex-Mr Bonkers must have won custody of it. Mike also referenced Mikhail Bulgarov's Master & Margarita, which is sitting in one of my many tsundokus, as is the Marquez book indeed.

After the talk, which all of us didn't want to end(!), I repaired to the cafe with Mike and a lecturer colleague of his whose speciality is textiles and fashion, to carry on the conversation. I did take a full body photo of Mike during the talk, but he preferred this off-duty one in which he feels he comes across as more jolly. I told him that he looks a bit like my Graphic Design lecturer friend Simon - the one who lives on a narrow boat and finds room in his tiny fridge to store his perfumes - crossed with a more exuberant and charismatic version of Jeremy Corbyn. I added that Mike could give Jeremy lessons in being more animated / genial / zealous /generally 'up'. I don't suppose it would  have helped him win the election if he had also swum the Mersey, but JC definitely has a charm deficit, while Mike has it in spades. Like wind energy - and unlike perfume - charm can't readily be stored for someone else to use...

You may well ask how I came to hear of this event, and the short answer is through my indie singer songwriter friend Jessica - she of the enviably smooth and high forehead, and somewhat protracted but happily successful rose perfume quest. Jessica knows Mike, but the connection is more with a relative of hers from a long time ago. So that was another coincidence.

Anyway, I could have chatted to the pair all afternoon, but suddenly realised the time, and Mike said I would need to get a move on to stand a chance of catching my train. He had not reckoned with my ability to deploy high intensity spurts of scurrying, mind (my own version of HIIT training, if you will), and I made the train with ten minutes to spare, including a stop at a market stall to buy a pair of the cheapest and most badly made pyjamas on the planet. At £6 though you can't go wrong, even if you do end up spending more time snipping off the stray ends of cotton than sleeping.

On my way back I spied this curious sign for a 'Genting Casino'. I had no idea that 'genting' was a verb, and have a strong suspicion it has very little to do with the kind of behaviour I might consider 'gentlemanly'...

PS The concept of scent and synaesthesia took me back to the event hosted by Le Labo which I wrote up in a guest post on Cafleurbon, where they got us to feel different textiles and say which one went with a particular scent. I bet that is an exercise Mike's colleague would have been brilliant at!

A Rembrandt portrait, with bonus tantalising glimpses of M's desktop folders!

Friday 13 December 2019

A Post-Election and Pre-Christmas Potpourri Post: Watching the Clock, and a Couple of Skincare Epiphanies

Just to reassure you, this post will not be about actual potpourri, notwithstanding the fact that potpourri is scented. It really was 'a thing' years ago, wasn't it? - round about the time of those excessively ruched Austrian blinds, or maybe later still- and no home was complete at Christmas without some kind of petal / pine cone / random bit of stick combo in a bowl. Some of these mixes smelt truly overpowering, till the scent wore off eventually. I do in fact put out a non-scented collection of baubles interspersed with some bendy stick garnish, but whatever it is, potpourri is not the name for it.

But no, I meant the word in its metaphorical sense, as a 'mixed bag'. And to be clear, this post is not about the election either, though I will just reproduce my Facebook post on polling from yesterday, for anyone not my friend on there:

'At the polling station this morning I asked the woman on the door if I could have two votes for the price of one for turning up before midday. "Only I think I may need two." "No, sorry", she said. Asked the same question of the two women officiating at the desk, and received the same answer. One vote per person, no BOGOF or "bottomless" votes to be had at all, even though it was just turned ten."Okay then", I said, "I may just come back later in a different coat."'

What I didn't mention on Facebook was that after voting, I popped to the bakery at the hospital, to buy two of their famously creamy doughnuts for my ex's mum (aka my Elderly Friend) and me to have after taking her to a different hospital for an eye test. You have to get there early to catch them - though as you will infer from the above it was barely mid-morning. I inquired of the girl serving:

"You will still have these after the election, won't you?"
"I do hope so", she replied.

You see, they have closed our night time A & E service at Stafford, and there is a fair bit of hanging around on trolleys in corridors before being seen to, as I can testify myself, but to lose the doughnuts would be too awful to contemplate. So that is the political part of the post over.

Watching the clock

On the 30th November, my blog finally clocked up its two millionth page view. I was busy selling my knitted wares at a craft fair at the time, but was keen not to miss this major event, having not long since failed to watch the odometer on my car cycle through 20,000 miles, with its pleasing string of noughts. I started looking at the blog on my phone every few minutes once there were only about 80 page views to go, and when the clock hit 1,999,999 I was all ready to screenshot the magic number about to appear. Unfortunately, there was a small flurry of readers at that very moment - including a well-meaning friend sitting beside me who went onto Bonkers specifically to give me that final view I needed ;) - for when I refreshed the home page, the counter had leapt to 2,000,002(!). The number being palindromic is a small comfort at least. The previous evening, worried that there might have been a sudden and inexplicable wave of readers nudging the number closer to the target, due to a school project in Norway, for example, or a random mention of the blog in the Romanian equivalent of Mumsnet - for stranger things do happen to cause a sudden spike in traffic - I had entrusted a friend in Massachusetts with the task of keeping an eye on my tally during his evening, thereby adding a good five hours to our 'observation window'. As things turned out, the 2m mark happened on my watch, but he has kindly Photoshopped it after the fact to the desired figure!

Click on the image to reveal the noughts!

Skincare epiphanies - Jam today

A long time ago I wrote a post about those deeply annoying stackable plastic pots you can put travel-sized portions of toiletries in. I say annoying, because the thread on the screwable base of each pot starts to shear off and the blasted tower disintegrates soon after purchase, often with disastrous results in your sponge bag, depending on what you had put in them. The post in question arguably has one of my best titles on Bonkers: 'A slam dunk gunkfest: snap-prone stack pots'.

Then I was just washing up a mini pot of Bonne Maman jam with a view to chucking it in the recycling when it dawned on me that it would make a much more secure individual travel pot for no outlay. Plus I could 'be more Greta' at a stroke. You can buy the individual ones in a more sturdy plastic and with a white lid, but they cost about three quid each. I felt properly Blue Peterish repurposing jam receptacles! Now I just need to eat A Lot More Jam in order to accumulate enough pots for my many and various unguents. Being glass, they will be more weighty than the stack pots, admittedly, but the risk of disaster should be negligible by comparison.

Skincare epiphanies - Neutrogena Hydro Boost Water Gel Moisturiser

My morning routine used to involve an Olay serum*, which I have talked about on the blog before, and which I would put on before my Paula's Choice Resist tinted moisturiser**. Oh yes, and funnily enough, the serum is mentioned in a post in which I lament malfunctioning beauty products of all kinds, including our very travel pots!

I am on about my tenth? bottle of the Olay serum, and remain a big fan, but then along came this Neutrogena moisturiser - or rather I suddenly became aware of it, as it was already 'along' - and for sheer hydrating staying power, it tops the serum. It is to a chance watching last April of a Caroline Hirons TV review on This Morning that I owe this discovery. The stuff is nothing short of amazing, on account of its extreme moisture retention. It is a creamy gel-like consistency, and though it looks like goop on your fingers, dries without stickiness, and it is just as easy to apply my tinted moisturiser over it as was the case with the Olay. I honestly think it has softened my morning wrinkles and eye bags since I started using it in May, though it might be a combination of that and regular use of coconut oil at night. Also, I was buying the Neutrogena moisturiser from Boots for about £12.99, but do shop around as there are some great offers at Tesco or on Amazon.

[NB I have no personal connection with Caroline Hirons, other than the rather offbeat fact that she once lambasted me on Louise Woollam's Facebook wall for confessing to repeatedly microwaving my tea.]

*Full name = Olay Regenerist Daily Regenerating Serum
**Full name = Paula's Choice Resist Super-Light Daily Wrinkle Defense SPF30

Finally, here is the palindromic number, specially for Undina! (As before, click on the photo to see the numbers properly.)

Wednesday 20 November 2019

A 24 Karat Caress: Pure(distance) GOLD "review" (aka enthusiastic ramblings)

Or should that be "Karess"? Maybe not, as the word looks too far removed from its original spelling and meaning to be recognisable. Actually, a number of possible titles sprung to my mind for this post, unusually for me, including "Opulent Skin Scent" and "Molten Luxury". I could perhaps park this "not really a review, as my posts never are these days" right there, because those three images sum up most of what I have to say about GOLD, but readers don't get off that lightly, so I shall meander on regardless...!

Yes, a parcel from Puredistance arrived the other day, as I was right in the midst of a distressing multi-lateral mouse infestation. The "errant varmint" (as I would call them if I were American) laid waste to my best, most expensive - and previously pristine - sofa, along with a Welsh dresser, which is only mine on a long loan basis. When I say "laid waste", that is a literal definition of what occurred, accompanied by a frenzied side of cushion and quilted throw chewing. So the arrival of the parcel, with its gold-themed contents, cheered me up considerably - and this long before I opened the box.

Puredistance packaging is very nicely coordinated, such that I was happy to contemplate the ribbonry - ribbonage? - for a whole evening before steeling myself to (irrevocably) undo the bow and broach the box within. I love a good ribbon, and made a mental note to repurpose it in one of my knitted hot water bottle covers. I even have some matching old gold yarn ready to roll.

But eventually the following day my curiosity got the better of me and I opened the box, to reprise the famous line in 'Take your Pick', that hoary old game show of yore. The test tube 'bottles' come in burnished metal these days, and have a little bicycle clip round the neck. I am not quite sure of its function - maybe to forestall leakage - nothing to do with keeping trousers away from chains, obviously.

The people at Puredistance had enclosed a pack of postcards covering different aspects of the background to the fragrance. The image below on one of the cards illustrates the artistic idea for GOLD, namely to recreate in olfactory terms multi-tonal gold blocks in the style of a Mondrian painting - or Mondriaan with an extra 'a' if you are Dutch, and they are.

"Antoine Lie created GOLD to finish a trilogy showcasing the 3 signature Puredistance colours using incredibly high quality ingredients. The visual inspiration for GOLD has been the 'Metallized Mondriaan' above (created by Mr Vos). Chic shades of gold - varying in intensity and warmth - are harmoniously laid out in a well balanced pattern."

Here are the notes - I have omitted whether each one is essence or absolute etc, but the ingredients are pretty sumptuous all right.

Top notes: Green mandarin, Bergamot, Pink peppercorn, Rosemary, Clove buds
Middle notes: Jasmine, Ciste, Geranium, Cinnamon bark
Basenotes: Styrax, Benzoin, Myrrh, Patchouli, Vanilla green beans, Tonka beans, Castoreum, Vetiver


Two thoughts about this - well, three, when I get to it - namely that I have an odd link with Mondriaan and The Netherlands: In 2002 I had occasion to go to Dordrecht, an underrated town on the coast, to interview a chemicals company about I know not what now. The meeting was held in a big office, on the white wall of which was an enormous Mondriaan painting - well, not an original I assume - in those typical striking shades of red, blue and white, with a hint of yellow, and black borders in between the blocks of colour. The memory has stayed with me ever since. It was long before I 'found' fragrance, and I little knew at the time that one day I would be sampling a Dutch scent inspired by the painter - and loving it...


Secondly, it occurred to me that that multi-tonal assembly of blocks is reminiscent of a bronzer palette, a make up item with which I have never engaged. Maybe even one to do with contouring, a technique about which I am on even shakier ground! But you know what I mean. I have an Estee Lauder capsule weekend makeup palette somewhere and it also illustrates the point, albeit in less metallic / goldy terms.

So that was that...I already liked the premise of the scent before I sniffed it. And when I did I was not disappointed. Long term readers may recall my post about Apres L'Ondee and Virginia Woolf, in which I mention how a review by journalist Hannah Betts was a major trigger for my falling down the rabbit hole.

"I also experienced 'sudden onset perfume mania', but for me it was not so much a fragrance which triggered this epiphany, as a review of a fragrance, namely Hannah Betts’ 2005 article for The Times on 'glacial perfumes'.  She starts by quoting former French Vogue editor Joan Juliet Buck’s comment about her heightened emotional response to narcissus absolute.

'Just a drop on each wrist and two in the bath were enough to send silver running down the walls. It set the world throbbing out of control when I wore it. I became a little weird.'

Betts point outs that the sense of silver trickling down bathroom walls is all the more pronounced if the perfume already smells of silver – 'then walls course all the sooner'.  This leads her neatly into a discussion of her own favourite cool, metallic scents, namely Après L’Ondée and Hiris by Hermès, and how this effect is created by the use of orris butter, one of the most expensive perfumery materials of all, a creamy paste derived from the iris root."

I refer back to that pivotal moment in my hobby, for it struck me that Puredistance GOLD could be the gold equivalent! There may just be a clue in the perfume's name...;) It is warm to silver's cold, but stops well short of hot. Call it the power of semantic suggestion, but when I first sprayed GOLD, I had a sense of liquid slowly creeping across my skin in a soothing way, as though my skin were being dipped in fine gold leaf. And there it sat, the ultimate skin scent, with a very subtle opulence to it, though as ever I find it awfully hard to describe. I can say that when I first sniffed GOLD, an image popped into my head of the love child of Opardu and Sheiduna, but I don't want to imply too much by that - only to report that it happened(!). Though there is a fair bit of crossover notewise with Sheiduna, I see (7-8 notes, even), while GOLD and Opardu both feature jasmine. I may be clutching at straws there, admittedly.

GOLD is a smooth, silky, ever so slightly sweet oriental. There is not a hint of resinous fuzz, or only the faintest murmur at the outset, despite the several basenotes that can read that way: myrrh, benzoin etc. Sheiduna is definitely more overtly fuzzy in that regard. I have quite a high tolerance for fuzzy notes in fact, though some of the Tauers can be a bit scratchy. But in any case, GOLD soon subsides into the silky - and slinky - concoction mentioned above. It feels luxurious in a 'barely there' kind of way. As with Bengale Rouge and Papillon Perfumes, this latest release is my standout favourite of the line, and I speak as someone still fiercely attached to Puredistance1.

Then it occurred to me that I could have posted about GOLD in my 'Careful Whispers' series - whatever happened to that? It seems to have stalled in 2014! But I see that one of the scents included was Penhaligon's Iris Prima. GOLD has a bit of the vibe of that scent too, but with more oriental notes and overall oomph. A skin scent with 'lo-fi welly' if you will, which I know sounds paradoxical, as does 'opulent' in this context, come to think of it, conjuring up a grander, more unctuous production as a rule. But nevertheless GOLD really does manage to be both.

And finally, a word on Karats...18K tends to be the standard for jewellery, as it has a percentage of alloys that increase the metal's strength. By contrast 24K is the purest grade, but is not considered robust enough.

However the purer 24K is perfectly suitable to spray in perfume form(!). And there's a clue in the brand name too...

Thursday 31 October 2019

Bonkers turned Ten the other day!

I know, I know, another nonchalantly asynchronous blog anniversary - the actual date being 25th October (I am pretty sure, but will just check...). I don't think readers will mind though, indeed I am not at all sure I even deserve an anniversary owing to the spasmodic and infrequent nature of my posts this year: a measly 16 to date in total. Still and all, it is a bit over a month at the current rate till I will reach two million page views, and I have written 678 posts in the past ten years. (679 now...) That does sound like quite a lot, actually(!), especially when I reckon up how long each one takes.

Meanwhile, I could have accepted various offers from would-be guest posters down the years, most recently one from the PR of a company that makes 'fermented skin products'. I was offered $35 for the privilege, but turned her down. I know I hardly post myself, but if you started to see features on beauty in a completely different - and doubtless conspicuously advertorial - style by someone called Mindy (not her real name, but you get the idea) you would probably smell a rat.

The thing about not posting very much, however, is that people naturally drift off after a while, unsure whether you will ever get your act together again. I understand that blogs may be somewhat on the decline anyway, and Instagram in the ascendent, but I am not going to start blogging on there in my twilight years, as it were - OR in bitesize snippets on Twitter, though I have seen that done. The format on that occasion proved spectacular, in a relentlessly bludgeoning kind of a way.

Now I do get a few comments from genuine perfume lovers still, but the vast majority are bot-driven(?) gibberish from spammers of every stripe. Some of these are funny though, so here is a small selection, reproduced verbatim:

"Thank you for the good write up. It in fact was an amusement account it. Look advanced to more added agreeable from you. However, how could we communicate?"

"Yes finally someone writes about url shorten." (I didn't!)

"Hurrah that's what I was exploring for, what a data! present here at this blog, thanks admin of this website."

If I am honest, I do find the slew of spam comments depressing, even if, for the most part, they are intercepted and await my moderation. I know that if Blogger was not such a cantankerous and unuser-friendly format, I might get a few more real people making it through, but I am not going to jump ship to Wordpress at this late stage either.

Rather, I will continue to sputter on, not unlike the tramps in Waiting for Godot:

"I can't go on. I'll go on."

My blogging helper and familiar!

For I do love perfume and wear it most days. It's the sadly discontinued Guerlain Plus Que Jamais today, rather aptly, as it was always my kneejerk choice whenever anyone asked me what my favourite scent was. And maybe it still is, though there are numerous others biting at its heels, not least HOCB Immortal Beloved, and now Bengale Rouge.

And of course there are the great friends in this community, my regular exchanges with whom mean the world to me (you know who you are!).

Then behind the scenes I continue to convert more of my 'civilian'* friends to niche fragrance. One in particular doesn't have a clue what they are wearing on any given occasion - the samples they've been given are all simply called 'sprays'- but the main thing is that they are 'spraying' at all(!).

So, you know, there is still a degree of scented goings on in my life. But while I do genuinely think that some of my early posts were proper reviews with perfume (more or less!) firmly centre stage - eg this seasonal one of L'Etat Libre d'Orange's pumpkin-forward Like This or this ode to body odour and libraries that is my take on Miller Harris's L'Air de Rien - I would be the first to concede that fragrance has become an increasingly tangential theme over time, such that I doubt very much whether anyone would stop by Bonkers these days for a real review of a new release.

But that's okay. I think Nature is quietly trying to tell me that I am if anything a travel writer who happens to like fragrance. I have been doing a fair bit of travelling lately in fact - interspersed with bursts of renovations and repairs to two houses! - and that is my main focus.

One of those black eyes is genuine!

In summary therefore, I am definitely slowing down in blogging terms, but am not at a complete stop yet...and if you don't mind the topic veering a bit to the left and right of perfume per se, you can look forward to more 'added agreeable' from the admin of this website for a bit longer at least...;)

*(copyright Tara of A Bottled Rose)

Thursday 17 October 2019

The Travel Disruption Tour: The Monochrome Set in Germany, October 2019

Arriving into Frankfurt
Well, I said in my last post that I would write about the recent German tour of The Monochrome Set 'very shortly', and to do so in under ten days definitely counts as that, given the current, languid pace of my blogging. I could take to calling it 'slow blogging', but I am not sure that that would be seen as a good thing. It is not as though I am producing an unctuous beef stew at the end of it that has been simmering for six hours, or a coat that will last you for ten years instead of a couple of wearings. Oh I say, look how many slow things there are as part of the 'slow movement'! There's also 'slow travel', which the relentless pace of this latest trip most certainly was not, though arguably the many train delays we incurred might perhaps be described as 'enforced slow travel'. No, we should have stayed in one spot really to qualify as slow travellers, rather than zigzagging hither and thither as the gig schedule dictated. As has become the pattern for my travel posts, I shall approach this one thematically rather than chronologically, starting with:

Stop-and-Go statt Rock 'n' Roll 

Check out the advert below for the German railways, aka the Deutsche Bahn: 'Time at last for Rock 'n' Roll instead of Stop-and-Go'. Oh, the irony...the exact reverse is the case! To be fair, Easyjet should take some of the blame for making us arrive into Munich two hours late on Day 1, so that we missed our specified train and were obliged to buy fresh tickets for the next one. I had run on ahead to the travel centre to see what could be done, while the band collected their luggage. By a horrible quirk of fate, had they not hoved into view (no really, that is the past participle) within the next four minutes, we would have missed that train, forked out over 50% extra for the one after that, and got to our destination later still. As it was, we thought we might miss our onward connection to Nuremberg at Munich, as there didn't seem to be any carriage No 23 on the train standing at the platform stated on our itinerary. Now there were just two minutes to work out where the correct train was: it turned out to be joined to the back of the one we were puzzling over. Well, actually we had 20 minutes in hindsight, as the blasted thing was delayed by a technical fault. I rang ahead to the promoter to explain about the hold ups and revise our ETA. Thus it was that the band walked on stage - not having eaten or sound checked or changed, and half an hour later than their nominal stage time - but as cool, calm and collected as though nothing had happened. Delighted that they had made it, the audience gave them a rapturous welcome, and called for several encores at the end of the set.


Overly elaborate hotel instructions

This next topic only relates to me, as on the first night I opted to stay in a different, cheaper hotel from the band. When I realised how late I was going to be - with no time to check in before the gig - I thought to ask how I would in fact get in, as there isn't always someone on reception 24/7, and so it proved. Instead, whilst I was still on the train, I was sent an email from the hotel with instructions:

'We will deposit the room key in our key safe at the night entrance at [street address] (white box). The night entrance is located on the right hand side round the corner from the main entrance, in [street address], under the illuminated advert for the [hotel name] (opposite [name of] hair salon).

You will find your key, together with additional information, in locker No 1. Your personal opening code is xxxx. If the door of the locker doesn't open within 5 seconds, please repeat the process again.

Please hold the chip on your key on the reading field to the left of the door until the green light comes on. (Watch out: the door opens outwards!) The white chip card opens the entrance door and also the door of your room. Your room is located on the 4th floor (Room number 455B.)'

And just in case I wondered...

'Room 455A is not occupied.

You are welcome to take the lift up to the fourth floor. When you step out of the lift, please go left towards the rooms.'

They haven't quite finished thinking of all eventualities...

'If the doors of our hotel or your overnight room do not open with your room chip, or if you have lost your chip, we kindly request you to contact: The emergency key service of Company x on tel no y.'

Readers, I managed everything okay! NB This is NOT the entrance I used...;)

Source: Wikimedia Commons

An ornamental sink

At the Hamburg venue on the last night, each individual cubicle in the ladies toilets was equipped with its own miniature sink. However, Jane, the other female member of our party, had gone in before me and warned me that the sink was purely ornamental, and that I should wash my hands in one of bigger basins beyond. Have you ever come across such a futile fixture before? Maybe they just haven't got round to plumbing them in, but it didn't look that way. The mirror was handy, to be fair.

Neither use nor ornament?

Serial meetings with people from Stoke

During a smoking interlude outside the venue in Frankfurt, Bid the singer got chatting to a member of the audience, who turned out to be a guitar player - from Stoke-on-Trent. 'Oh', he replied, 'I know someone from Stafford'. Indeed the Stafford person in question was yards away at the time. A couple of days later and we had reached Hamburg. During the band's sound check, I got chatting to the tall blond guitarist in the support group, who were local. Ah, local they may have been, but it didn't take too many steps in our conversation before he revealed that he had spent a year in Stoke(!), studying Engineering Management, and taking a lively interest in the Potteries music scene. He suggested a few venues there that might be suitable for The Monochrome Set. We segued into neighbouring Newcastle-under-Lyme and the conversation rapidly descended into the realms of the surreal.


Excessively dark venues

It is customary on the music circuit - well, indie and rock, say - to expect dark, grungy, often subterranean interiors, but one venue on this trip took the cake. Not only was the green room plunged into almost total darkness, but the stage was pretty gloomy, and at several points Bid the singer was unable to see his own guitar to play. I seriously need to work on my nocturnal knitting skills, and it was also difficult to check the fillings of the rolls that constituted our 'arrival snacks'. Given the presence of two vegans and a vegetarian in our party of seven, being able to accurately ID what's in the food is pretty key. The walls of the green room were not unlike the Santa's grottos in department stores of my childhood, only black rather than snow white. I guess there was a clue in the name of the club - The Cave.

Lederhosen and Dirndl frenzy

This latest tour coincided with Oktoberfest, and we shared quite a few of our troubled train journeys with large groups of both sexes sporting the traditional Bavarian costume of Lederhosen and Dirndl. The latter being those corseted Nell Gwynn-type dresses that give women supernatural amounts of uplift. We couldn't help but be distracted by bouncing bosoms at every turn as the trains juddered along the tracks. I failed to capture any of these gaily got up festival goers on camera, though later spotted outfits for sale in a vintage shop on my final day in Hamburg.

With bonus building reflection!

Lightning quick hotel turnarounds

Speaking of outfits, one notable feature of this trip - linked to the train bother - was the fact that we had next to no downtime in our hotels before heading out to the venue. We would reach our hotels around four or five (if at all!), after being on the go all day. Then half an hour later at most - or as little as ten minutes, even - we would meet in the foyer and embark on the next leg of what always ended up being a very long day and night. Sometimes my brain went into meltdown trying to decide what were the most important things to accomplish in that short window of time after checking in, and whatever I did manage to do I invariably laid complete waste to my hotel room in the process! This photo was taken the following morning, but as you can see I haven't tidied up in between. ;) NB I was to lose those bed socks in the sheet chaos the very next night.

The big swizz that is "the world's narrowest street": Spreuerhofstrasse in Reutlingen

I did not make a detour to visit it, but Mike the drummer was curious to check out this Guinness record-holding street in Reutlingen after their gig. It measures only 31cm (a foot to you and me) at its narrowest point, and was constructed after most of the town was destroyed in the great fire of 1726. Mike has devoted a whole post to it on his blog, Urban75. He dismissed it as most disappointing, and 'a passageway at best'. ;) Check out his amusing piece here.

Source: Wikipedia (via kathrin_glaisser)

Fizzy in-flight fun

As is often the way in pressurised cabins, on the return flight home my sparkling water sprayed over the man in the seat next to me. "It will prepare you for Manchester?", I volunteered lamely, after first 'showering' him with apologies. Then I resumed my knitting, whereupon the man inquired:

"What are you making?"

"A scarf."

"Oh, I thought it might have been a towel."


Graffiti galore

I have included pictures of graffiti-strewn venues on the blog before (see, for example, this post from 2012), but I will add one of the finer examples of the genre I spotted in Hamburg on my final walkabout. And believe me, there are lots of awful ones on inappropriate walls and fixtures, that amount to plain vandalism in my view. But here and there there are colourful splurges - and splodges - of genuine whimsy and creativity.

Perfumes worn

To close, here is a note of the perfumes I wore over the course of the week (if I can remember!):

  • DSH Foxy edp
  • Diptyque Volutes edt
  • Chanel Cuir de Russie
  • Papillon Perfumery Bengale Rouge (twice!)
  • Elizabeth and James Nirvana Amethyst

How real is that doggy in the window?

Wednesday 9 October 2019

Brief - and Wet - Encounter: meeting Undina and her vSO on a rainy day in London

The keen-eyed reader - if I still have any of those left given the sketchiness of my posting frequency - may have noted that I have yet to post Part Two of my report on the US tour with The Monochrome Set back in March. I am not sure why I didn't finish the travelogue closer to the time, but the band are going back next spring (I am giving that one a miss), and could always post Part Two as an anniversary tribute while they are actually on the road over there, possibly having similar experiences(!). We'll see... But meanwhile I have just returned from a rather fraught week with them in Germany, and as that is top of my mind at the moment I shall make it the subject of the next post. Lord knows it won't be the first time on Bonkers that I have cocked a snook at chronology. ;)

Now the last time I saw Undina and her husband was during that trip in March, and by a quirk of chance, I got to see them very briefly the day before I set off on this latest one. I can't be sure that we will always keep up such tidy synchronicity, but for the moment I associate band tours with meeting The Undinas.

The travel issues referenced in the title started at Stafford in fact, when I discovered a sleeping man in my forward facing, window, power socket-supplied seat. And next to him, his sleeping girlfriend with her head on his shoulder. I let it go, though friends have since suggested that he was probably faking it, and that I should at least have given him a hard stare or an admonishing poke.

Undina and her vSO were flying into Heathroom from the Ukraine at the same time as my train arrived in Euston, but it took a while before they finally got their bags and could make their way to their Airbnb in Bayswater. They were due to pick up the keys to it in a little supermarket nearby, so I staked the shop out from an outside table at the cafe next door, despite the inclement weather.

Eventually the by now familiar pair hove into view, suitcases in tow, and we hurried to their apartment as best we could in the pouring rain. The first time I met Undina and her husband was also at their accommodation - in Paris back in 2013. I got there first, and the landlady showed me up, and explained how all the various appliances worked, including the all-important washing machine. In a neat parallel, when we got into their flat this time round, the first thing Undina wanted to locate was a washing machine. We eventually found it, and a drier, concealed in cupboards in the living room to the right of the fold up bed (also concealed in a cupboard). The kitchen wasn't concealed in a cupboard, but was barely bigger than one, and we remarked that it was the smallest kitchen we had ever seen. Everything else about the apartment was perfectly proportioned, and there were tall windows overlooking the leafy terraced street through which one could comfortably pass an hour or six staring at the pouring rain.

While the pair were still getting their bearings in what was to be their home for the next week, I handed over a pint of milk, which I had bought round the corner, thinking it one of life's absolute necessities, right up there with the washing machine. Having recce'd their accommodation and its compact amenities we collapsed on the sofas, and the ritual exchange of perfumes between Undina and me commenced, preceded by the ritual exchange of small presents (I wasn't counting the milk). Undina gave me a cat-themed foldaway tote bag from Ulster Weavers, which - given where I am from - is a welcome example of carrying cats to Newcastle...I mean Belfast.

Meanwhile, in another neat parallel, I gave Undina a make up bag / pouch with a Voysey-esque design on it. I bought it from a museum shop in the UK, but couldn't resist a wry smile on spotting that it was in fact by a brand in New York.

Although it was only a short catch up, there was also time for Undina to show me several extremely sweet videos on her phone of Rusty having his tummy stroked. As they were away for a while this time, they had engaged a live-in pet sitter, whose daily footage of their blissed out cat was testament to the fact that he was being well cared for in their absence.

Now I am back from Germany, I am just getting into trying the samples Undina gave me. She has a very good sense of my taste - which could be summed up in a nutshell as furry ambers and powdery orientals for winter, and sultry florals or refreshing colognes for summer. For our meeting I had drained the last of a sample of Long Courrier, from Pierre Guillaume's The Cruise collection, which was kindly donated by Sabine (Iridescents) many moons ago.

I see that the name means 'long distance flight', which could certainly apply to the one Undina and her vSO had just come on.

"...a solar oriental built around a core of salty vanilla, the perfumer evokes faraway destinations, beaches on the other side of the world, lazy days gorged with sea spray and the delicious scent of suntan lotion…"

In hindsight, that was an ironic choice for a wet and blustery autumn day in London, which set the tone for the wet and wayward week that followed in Germany, of which more very shortly!

Editor's note: special thanks are due to John, the band's keyboard player, who kindly stowed Undina's samples in his instrument case for me, as I was travelling on hand luggage only, and they wouldn't have fitted in my already bulging(!) transparent plastic bag you take through security.

Tuesday 24 September 2019

Are you one of PAN's People?: Barbury Castle PAN gentleman's cologne review (eventually)

Source: Barbury Castle

Oh dear, it has been a month or more since I last posted. I do still think of myself as a perfume blogger - no, really - just one who is frequently waylaid and overtaken by events. Since I last wrote there has been much more of the same: the mice, the malfunctions, the migraines, the medication side effects, and assorted mishaps and mayhem. Yesterday by mid-morning, for example, I had clocked up a dead mouse, a printer jam, a default notice from HMRC for failing to file my VAT return on time, and a headache. I was absolutely mortified to have forgotten my VAT, I might add - a first in 28 years! - but have now paid up and made an honest self-employed person of myself. I will spare you any more of my own travails, not least because it seems there are a lot of us in the blogosphere having a torrid time of it lately. But, as I mentioned on Facebook, if you think you go through chaotic phases, I urge you to watch ITV's rollercoaster drama, 'Deep Water'. By comparison with the women featured, our lives are positively shallow and smooth as a millpond. Though Anna Friel's problems are somewhat mitigated by her enviable collection of knitwear.

But I promised you a review of the debut scent from new perfume brand Barbury Castle in my last post, and here it is!  

Firstly, a word about the links that bind me and Val the Cookie Queen: we both like perfume, we both like The Monochrome Set, and we both have links to Swindon! For along with Diana Dors and Billie Piper, Val was born there, while I moved to the city with my first job in the mid-80s, prophetically staying in digs in Stafford Street.

And Barbury Castle is a start up company founded by Stanley Bolden, an accountant at a water control equipment company (how much do I like him already ;) ). Stanley lives in a village outside Swindon, and also a few miles from the iron age hill fort in question. Barbury Castle also has particular memories for me, as I have walked the 140 km length of the ancient Ridgeway path with my friends Clare and Nicola, and Barbury Hill is close to the western end where we chose to start. We completed the hike over three weekends a year apart, and had lots of laughs - and one cheeky train ride to Wendover (in pouring rain, to be fair) along the way. I did pull rank and veto a taxi, mind. 

Source: Clare Chick

As it happens I was in charge of map reading on Day 1 and caused us to take a wrong turn, precisely at Barbury Castle. This was partly because I was chatting animatedly at that point, and partly because the sign was slightly skew-wiff, adding four miles to our quota for the day. So the castle has become synonymous with my big navigating fail of the whole trail. Well, apart from nearly sending us down the A4 towards Bristol earlier that day, that is. At least we were in the car at the time.

This picture was taken right after we got lost...!

Nicola and I, looking a bit lost and windswept

Stanley's associations with the place, meanwhile, are more upbeat:

"Climbing up the hill fort gives fantastic views of the local countryside and an opportunity to appreciate the beauty of nature, to which Pan has a strong connection."

So...back to the story behind the perfume and its inspiration. Note that I am not sure whether it should be spelled in lower or UPPER CASE, but I shall go with UPPER when I remember. This concern may well be a hangover from reviewing Puredistance BLACK and WHITE, and Stanley may well not mind either way.

"Inspired by Pan, the mythical Greek god of nature, forests and rustic music, with a mischievous side, Pan is a classy, refined, stylish and sophisticated fragrance. A woody and earthy fougere, Pan has depth, contrast and complexity in its structure."

Source: Barbury Castle

Stanley opted for a men's fragrance, as there are fewer on the market, meaning less competition for PAN. Without wishing to dampen his enthusiasm unduly, I did suggest that this may be down to the lower percentage of men who wear fragrance versus women, ie a case of fewer fish in a smaller pond.

After initally having a play at creating a woody, earthy fragrance himself using some 100 ingredients sourced from Plush Folly - "without even measuring or recording the proportions" - Stanley quickly twigged to the fact that this was a "science and skill acquired over a long time", aka a job for the professionals. Cue the appointment of John Stephen of The Cotswold Perfumery, who is also an independent perfumer, and who took on the brief to transform Stanley's vision into a well composed reality.

Stanley did suggest some ingredients to John, namely:

  • ivy
  • juniper berry
  • oakmoss
  • sandalwood
  • carnation
  • geranium

Here are the notes that ended up in the composition, plus Stanley's summary of the effect of each combination:

Top notes: bergamot, lavender, lemon - "fresh clean top notes"
Middle notes: black pepper, cardamom, coriander - "spicy, warm and slightly sweet aroma"
Base notes: oakmoss, patchouli, ambergris - "woody, earthy, musky character"

So what did I make of PAN? Right off the bat I should say that I could almost wear this myself! And in its drydown I definitely could, and I speak as someone much more drawn to outright feminine scents. PAN teeters on the cusp between unisex and masculine territory with its fougere style, albeit quite a muted one. Also, PAN has a shade more lavender than I care for. Yet despite this, it does remind me quite a lot, and in a good way, of Ormonde Jayne Man - both have bergamot, pepper, cardamom and coriander in common - and also of Carner Barcelona D600, where the notes in common are the same, minus coriander. Bergamot and pepper are of course fairly standard ingredients, but my nose must have homed in on the coriander and cardamom to spot that connection. That said, PAN is different from either, but with a similar vibe for sure. I think it would appeal to men who like the fougere style, but with a woody/earthy twist. I don't want to overplay the fougere aspect, if that is not your thing either, as it does fade away to a large degree.

Source: Wikipedia

For any readers who happen to live or work in Swindon, there is/was a poster advertising PAN inside the railway station! By the ticket barrier, to be specific. Stanley is also advertising the scent in the magazine 'The English Garden', on the premise that it might appeal to genteel male gardeners or nature lovers more widely, and is open to any other promotional suggestions.

"My gardening knowledge rivals my fragrance knowledge", he quipped good-naturedly.

By his own admission - and this is another reason why I warm to him - Stanley is an 'ingenu' on the perfume scene, blissfully unaware of most of the nonsense and factions with which we fumeheads are all too familiar. He genuinely wanted to create something tangible and put it out in the world, and Pan is his baby. I found Stanley's unstuffy approach to the process of creating a new fragrance frankly refreshing - there is such a lot of overwrought tosh said and written in this industry. 

I also like the fact that his pricing is fair and realistic at just £50 for 50ml, namely the sort of pricing levels I remember - even for some niche - ten years ago when I was first getting into the hobby. Ormonde Jayne Man and Carner Barcelona D600, against which I do genuinely feel PAN holds its own, cost £110 and 100 euros respectively for the same size bottle.

So are you one of PAN's People? Are your curious to check out its moves? And please don't tell me that's a terrible joke and to 'pipe' down. ;)

Source: Barbury Castle