Saturday 11 January 2020

Pines, spines, and clementines: A Bonkers Christmas and New Year Round Up

Well, here is another post that has been a long time in coming, but in my defence it hurts to sit, and the latest office trend of 'standing desks' has yet to reach Bonkers Towers. But mindful that it will soon be Shrove Tuesday at this rate, I thought it was high time I wrote a bit about the holiday period, and about taking stock generally.

The three scents of Christmas

A Facebook friend asked me in the run up to Christmas what my three favourite smells were around this time, and I came up with these in about half a second:

  • Pine needles (notwithstanding my little artificial tree)
  • Myrrh* (a favourite note in perfumes, and also in Bengale Rouge - see below!)
  • A successfully roasted turkey (by no means a given in my world)

* As immortalised in the Billy Idol song: "In the midnight hour she cried 'Myrrh, myrrh, myrrh'!"

NB For more on my agonies down the years as to the correct method of cooking a turkey, please see this post. I could add the smell of clementines, given the option of a fourth, but they have their moment later in this post.

Perfumes worn over the holidays

A three way tie between Bengale Rouge, Puredistance GOLD, and Hiuse of Cherry Bomb Immortal Beloved, all of which feel suitably Christmassy to my nose. I also gave PoaL an airing, inspired by the talk in Liverpool featured in my last post.

Holiday oddities

December was a very sociable month generally, with a total of 25 'socialising units', where a unit is either a party or other event, seeing a friend, or having a long phone conversation with someone. I would have been happy to spread these units out over several months, but that is not the way Christmas tends to go. In amongst all the gatherings, a few amusing things occurred...

Trans terriers, non-binary St Bernards, and universal Christmas cards

Here is the oddest 'envelope' in which I received a Christmas card. It was some kind of brainstorm or checklist used in a gender awareness workshop by a friend who does arts in the community (or something). To me it looks like a tentative way to address a trans terrier or non-binary St Bernard, but I could be wrong. Note the amusing juxtaposition towards the bottom of 'lesbian singer beast lover of artist'.

The card inside was handmade, but quite normal, signed, but not addressed to anyone. That's the second card I had this year where the donor told me to "pick a card, any card!", from a carrier bag full or whatever. "What if it doesn't say my name on it?" I piped up. "None of them do!" The one my friend Mary gave me (she of the trade fair in Brussels where I helped out on the stand) - or which I chose from the fan she held out to be exact - had gone a step further by being completely blank inside; it featured one of her past designs, now gracing soft furnishings by Matalan and IKEA etc. It is so nice in an Indian Paisley type of way - and big! - that I might even frame it. This strikes me as a much more flexible (if less personal ;) ) system than committing to a particular person in writing, and then failing to bump into them that Christmas - or any Christmas. Assuming you are determined not to post the card.

It IS rocket science!

My Christmas Day was uncharacteristically memorable, as I was invited to a lunchtime drinks party - I don't normally go out once I am somewhere for Christmas, as it were, which is usually at home. Anyway, it just so happened that I met an actual rocket scientist(!) from Hyde, whose aunt was killed by Britain's most prolific serial killer, Dr Shipman - either one of those facts would have lent exoticism to the event, never mind both. He featured in some Wallace & Grommit production apparently *as* a rocket scientist. He was wearing a black shirt with planets and slightly sparkly stars on. A waggish friend suggested:

"It'd be good if more people, e.g, [insert name of mutual friend who is a gastric nurse], wore clothes with their day job designed on them."

NB The same waggish friend pointed out that the date I mentioned in my last post as being symmetrical - 19.12.19 - was merely 'repetitive'. He is quite right in fact, plus the 12 rather obstructs proceedings. 

An existential llama crisis 

This Christmas, I gave a friend a tea towel with a knitting theme on it, plus a felt llama tree decoration. A few days ago I received the following message:

"Today the serious debate at home is not are we on the brink of World War III or if ethical veganism is a philosophical belief, but whether we can squeeze the llama gift into the class of an objet d'art or if it has to be classed as a Christmas decoration (the difference of course being consigned to a box or not). Input please!"

To which I replied:

"LOL at your llama dilemma. Or should that be LLOL? I think the string condemns him to Xmas dec status - I've had a similar existential crisis with a gingerbread man in a jaunty tartan scarf."

Oh, and then there was Santa, living it large on the lodger's bed while he was away, and having found the biscuits!

Best new release of 2019

With every passing year, I realise how much I am out of touch with the perfume scene. Other bloggers compile their 'Best of 2019' posts - as I used to do myself indeed - and I only recognise at most one name on the list, haha. This year that name has been Papillon Perfumery's Bengale Rouge. I don't even stop to look out for new things at airport duty frees now - a new release has more or less got to be put into my hand for me to try it, such is the pancake flat state of my perfume passion plateau. So there you go - the best new release of 2019 for me is (by default) Bengale Rouge! To be fair, I suspect it might hold that spot even if I had tried some of the other new things. I haven't even smelt Rose et Cuir by Frederic Malle, though I really don't think it would be for me.

2019 perfumes I might have liked if I had smelt them(!)

To answer this question I took a look at Victoria's round up on Bois de Jasmin, my taste being closely aligned to hers, by and large. The scent that caught my eye in her list was Miller Harris's Sublime Blossom:

"Sublime Blossom is a creamy flower wrapped in musk and sandalwood. The main floral accent here is osmanthus and ylang-ylang, both of which have a luscious fruity nuance."

I am a sucker for ylang-ylang, and recently bought a little bottle of the essential oil for use in the bath. There is more to that story in fact, which I may save for another post about my last trip to the French house...

Then Van Cleef & Arpels Santal Blanc is another of Victoria's picks, and the note list is a little unusual:

Notes: fig, orange, violet, sandalwood, tonka bean and musk

Somewhere I still have the several tonka beans Victoria gave me when I visited her in her flat in Brussels. Given the extraodinary reach of her recent international wanderings, you'd be hard pushed to visit her anywhere these days!

Trying new things 

This year I am not going to bring out the tired old resolutions of yore, like those overly familiar Christmas decorations you can't bring yourself to chuck out. Somewhere at the back of my mind I do of course still want to take 150 minutes of exercise a week - which is only 20 minutes a day after all. I think I am probably doing that already simply by going about my daily business. And then of course I also hope to do press ups against the pantry door while reheating my tea in the microwave, and engage in casual bursts of weight lifting involving tins of beans. Going to bed earlier and cutting down on alcohol are also loose aspirations somewhere in the furthest recesses of my psyche. But no, my actual 'resolution' is to try new things. (Though not necessarily perfumes, as mentioned. ;) )

This started before New Year indeed, when I popped to the corner shop for a half bottle of vodka. That's two firsts in one in fact: buying alcohol in a corner shop, and buying a half bottle of vodka. I have hardly ever bought vodka in my life. But what had happened was that I had succumbed to an impulse buy of a bottle of Diet Coke billed as having a hint of 'festive clementine'. Which had got me thinking about what mixers go with Coke, and vodka popped into my head. Not being a rum person. Or being a rum person, but not in the alcoholic way at least. So I had a vodka and coke with festive clementine, accessorised with a slice of clementine, one of many going slightly hard in the fruit bowl at the time, and looking for any role at this point.

Vodka, hot chilli jam, and a good book

So there was the vodka, plus I am also dabbling in herbal tea (which I hate!) to curtail my caffeine consumption after 4pm. It has only just come to my attention that caffeine has a tremendous half life of something like six hours, which may conceivably be one of the many factors for my poor sleep these days. So great is its half life in fact, that on closer inspection it must qualify as a double life nearly. I have settled on a blend of tea by Pukka called Womankind, which is not too sweet and not too swampy, but still not my thing. The packet is quite pleasing to the eye, but that is not enough even so to endear me to the category.

I have also had a bit of a late onset chutney epiphany - my friend's homemade chilli jam and one with rhubarb and I forget what else. I am experimenting with meditating too, but due to the aforementioned problematic sitting (see below), I may have to come back to that.

Back to my back

The main news to mention from the holiday period is the worsening of a long term niggling back problem: from Boxing Day the pain became more acute in that area, making sitting, standing or lying uncomfortable, which is clearly rather impractical! I have been to see an osteopath whose working diagnosis is a sprained ligament in my pelvis, though tests for other causes are ongoing via my GP. I did fall down stairs in a car park in November, and have done a lot of travelling in 2019 (driving to France and back, touring with the band, carrying luggage and gear and sitting in vans); then I've moved a lot of furniture (including a cast iron grate!), done a lot of housework and bed changing as a result of my venture into Airbnb, and additionally have a decidedly unsupportive office chair, a sporty car seat, a slightly saggy mattress, and a pair of favourite, but unevenly worn shoes that may have thrown my balance off a bit. The cause is probably the cumulative impact of all these so-called 'microtraumas'...

Foxy, but unforgiving...

To put matters right, I have ordered a proper office chair and am investigating a new mattress. My quest began with a little lie down on the Sleepmatch bed in Dreams - best three minutes of the entire holiday(!). It has rollers that come at you from below in unexpected ways, like a funfair machine or mechanical water bed - or like being nuzzled and munched by a recumbent alien wearing a fleecy stocking mask - incredibly sensuous and relaxing, let's just say. I'd have bought that bed if it was for sale. ;). Damn near fell asleep in the shop. You lie there staring at a screen on which pops up your name, a list of recommended mattresses, and how far you are along the firmness spectrum. Answer - hardly at all, which I knew anyway, given the state of my back, and my light weight. 

I didn't end up buying any of the recommended beds though, as the only one that was in my budget had just 800 pocket springs, and I was looking for a minimum of 1000. Still, it confirmed me in my belief that bad backs and firm ('orthopaedic') mattresses are not a match made in heaven, as people used to think.

The osteopath also told me to sleep with a cushion between my knees, a tip which has passed me by all these years, along with the half life of caffeine. Imagine my surprise to learn that the entire Sperrer family - young and older members alike! - have been sleeping like this for years. Here is Val's husband Chris striking the pose. No wonder they are in such tip top spinal health. While on the subject of spines, in German they are known as a 'Wirbelsaeule' ie a 'whirly column'. How much do I love that apt term for the pillar of our anatomy.

Val's husband in supported napping mode.

Book reading goal

I am in awe of Tara of A Bottled Rose's phenomenal reading rate - 50 books last year compared to my measly 12. Arguably, if I had spent more time reading and less time doing all those physical things I mentioned earlier, I might have spared my lumbar area as well as achieved a greater total, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. This year I am aiming for pelvic restoration and a reading tally of 18 books, kicking off the year with the hilarious and oddball "Reasons to be Cheerful" by Nina Stibbe. The first book I have ever come across that is written from the perspective of a dental assistant. Nina Stibbe has been compared to Sue Townsend - quintessentially British, with a fine line in observational humour. I can also thoroughly recommend "A Near Perfect Christmas" by her, with which I kicked off 2019.

As it happens, I recently had an excellent book buying spree in a couple of charity shops, and also received two books for Christmas. I decided to put them on my coffee table to encourage me to make my target this year. I expect there are a few more than 18 in that pile, but I might not take to all of them. And Middlemarch is probably too long to bother with when I am against the clock in this way(!). Plus I have read it already. Ditto To Kill a Mocking Bird, which is in there somewhere, but which I fancy rereading after 40 years or so.

Social media diet

Another way in which I might tip the odds towards reaching my reading goal is to spend less time in 2020 on social media. This encompasses the great vortex that is Facebook, plus Instagram and Twitter (though I hardly use the latter), also Whatsapp, text messages and emails. My virtual life has spiralled out of control lately and it is starting to get me down because of everything else I am not acccomplishing, including reading as I say, but also blogging itself(!). I have three email accounts and counted 37 named folders up to the end of 'D' on one of them. One or two are project or work folders, but the majority are people with whom I have had sufficient exchanges for them to warrant their own folder. I couldn't bring myself to tot up the rest of the alphabet or the folders in the other accounts, though there are fewer associated with those. Then I had 32 active conversations on Messenger going the last time I looked, and about 15 by text. Trying to keep up with it all is much like a fast paced game of Whac-a-Mole, and I don't mean that unkindly. There is never a sense of progress - you respond to one message or email and then another pops up, and then the first again. That constant sense of failure and of letting the people at the other end of these exchanges down by not replying in a timely manner is weighing on my conscience, and I will just have to take things more slowly and accept that I can't keep all the social media plates spinning...I shall probably also miss some people's birthdays and operations, new jobs and lost pets, but for the sake of my own mental health something really has to give.

On nurse duty again, picking up the slack from Ludlow the bear

A word on Truffle

In her comment on my last post, Undina expressed a wish for more news / pictures of Truffle. She is not bringing in mice at the moment, which is great, though doubtless a temporary truce for the holidays. She also pretty much left the decorations alone, though the tree is derisorily small in feline terms. However, she is proving a nuisance by refusing to eat her already rather expensive cat crunchies, favouring instead an even more high end brand called True Instinct, whose strapline ominously reads:

Suffice to say there's been a lot of instinctive desiring going on in this house, which I am trying not to overly indulge.

In her defence, Truffle has been quite loving and lain on me when I have been feeling poorly due to the bad back business, and also reminded me to go and feed my friend M's cat, which was thoughtful of her.

She has also enjoyed a lot of turkey and chicken - I roasted both over Christmas week, and made four lots of soup in all, one of which unsurprisingly involved fowl!

So how has your Christmas been, if it doesn't seem like aeons ago?

Not dogged by illness and with the optimum number of socialising units, I hope!