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.)