Monday 27 April 2020

"She and Salv": two train-themed perfume mini-stories with a surreal soapy twist

The other day I heard I was going to be awarded a partial refund of £11.86 by CrossCountry Trains, to compensate me for missing my connection on a journey that seems like a lifetime, but was only in fact some seven weeks ago. I got very excited by this, for together with the £15 proceeds from selling an old half tin of paint to a friend of ex-Mr Bonkers, that's pretty much it for income at the moment.

And the email made me think back to the glorious era of train travel - or any travel indeed - and to a couple of perfume-related incidents which happened this year, one on a train in fact. In the first case I found myself sitting next to a lady of my own age give or take, when she suddenly fished a canister of YSL Rive Gauche out of her handbag, upended it, and proceeded to use the shiny metal base as a compact mirror to apply lipstick. The resourcefulness and nonchalance behind this gesture impressed me in equal measure, and I couldn't help but strike up a conversation with her, starting with a comment to the effect that you don't often come across people wearing Rive Gauche these days. My fellow passenger, who introduced herself as 'She' (you can readily guess what Christian name that was short for), was fulsome in her praise of Rive Gauche, which was no less than her signature scent. She was so worried that it might be discontinued that she had recently bought a back up bottle at Manchester airport, so we chatted a bit about that dismal phenomenon (discontinuing perfumes, I mean, not the airport, of which I have nothing but fond memories). I learnt that she was recently retired and off to see her sister, 'Mad' (you can guess her name too with relative ease!). There was a third sister, also with an amusing contraction, but it has slipped my mind now. Anyway, I had great fun shooting the fragrant breeze with She for as long as our journeys coincided. And no, Vanessa, it's not "shooting the fragrant breeze with Her", even if that is your understandable instinct.

The same weekend, I was given a present by a fellow fan of The Monochrome Set of a vintage set of Salvador Dali miniatures. I didn't inspect the contents of the box till the following day (on another train!), and it afforded that special kind of delight associated with small, secret things, somewhere between a doll's house, a shape sorting toy, and an advent calendar.

There were two perfumes from the 80s: a daytime diva-ish floral, and an evening diva-ish oriental, plus a tiny bar of soap, perfumed bath oil, and body cream - all of them shaped like Dali's trademark lips. That should perhaps be 'mouth of soap' then. The perfumed body cream container had a dear little swivelly lid like a sugar bowl that only fits snugly in one position, while the other three had pull off tops like the spikes atop a wrought iron gate.

At a guess the body cream is past its best, but still smells rich and opulent, as does the bath oil. You can hear a little bit swishing about if you shake it.

Thanks to Basenotes, I have found the notes for the perfumes, both by Alberto Morillas and launched in 1983:

Parfum (the orange coloured one):

Frankincense, bergamot, clove, rose, jasmine, mimosa, sandalwood, patchouli, oakmoss, musk

Parfum de toilette (the pale yellow coloured one):

Top notes: aldehydes, basil, bergamot, fruits, green notes, mandarin
Heart notes: orris root, jasmine, lily, lily-of-the-valley, orange blossom, rose, tuberose
Base notes: amber, benzoin, musk, myrrh, sandalwood, vanilla, cedar

You can readily tell from those notes how retro and big production the two perfumes smell - definitely of their time. But remarkably well preserved. If I am feeling bold one day - and let's face it, lockdown is the ideal occasion - I might give them an outing. Or the indoor equivalent, obviously. ;)

And I am getting through a lot of soap at the moment, however, I reckon that with it being so distinctive I'd have to be on my very last sliver before I broached the cute little lips bar...

Friday 17 April 2020

The hermit and her hand cream: Lockdown life Part 2

So here we are...three weeks in, three weeks to go. Or an indefinite number of weeks, for the Government is keeping its cards close to its chest, and is terrified of breathing a word to the nation about the possibility of unlocking us for fear of people rushing out of their houses prematurely, lying on park benches in droves, jogging six abreast (accompanied by lots of panting and spitting), and having barbecues for 15 behind (rather symbolically) a row of lock up garages. In short, it doesn't trust the majority of people who have so assiduously complied with social distancing all this while.

Be that as it may, two weeks on from my last post, things feel quite a lot different, mainly in terms of the degree of resigned acceptance I feel about the situation. I guess people in actual prison must go through a very similar thought process - or the bereaved, indeed. Whereas before, my main objection to the restrictions was the isolation from friends, I have since become something of a born again hermit, and the thought of a zoom party featuring headshots of a dozen people (or however many you can fit onto a screen) would feel like a surreal surfeit of stimulation. I am okay with phone calls, but I would find the sight of even someone's head and shoulders strangely overwhelming at this point, and that's not even because of the dire 'wild woman' state of my own hair, hehe. No, I sense I have shifted down several gears, such that occasionally bumping into people - or even more occasionally arranging to drop off food with someone I gaily construe as 'elderly' if they are more or less my age(!), and potentially also 'vulnerable' once they have eaten my cooking ;) - is proving a busy enough form of social life. I am frankly amazed I have got to this point, and perhaps the tide will turn, and I will crave tangible company again.

Police poster on the ground - now technically litter!

Now I don't know about you, but in the absence of face-to-face contact I have been receiving a disproportionate number of emails, messages and texts compared to normal times, many from more distant family and friends, whom the current crisis has galvanised into action. On any given day I owe about ten replies by various media, and this surge in communications is causing an unexpected feeling of pressure I didn't foresee, even though I know this 'reaching out'(!) is well-intentioned, and I am grateful for people's concern. Moreover, each person who writes to me is of course unaware that I am receiving a number of similar inquiries. The fact of the matter is that I only tend to call my elderly friend, which backs up my hunch that I may be getting used to the solitary life.

Coincidentally, there is a beautiful creeper-clad hermitage in Tollymore Forest, Co Down, where my brother and I spent many happy childhood holidays (our parents had a caravan just outside the park). Years ago I decided that I wanted my ashes to be scattered in the Shimna River right below the hermitage. My brother has opted for a spot upstream of me with an architecturally interesting bridge and the added benefit of being a more discreet location for this surreptitious act to be carried out - with it being a national park, I mean. So there's further oblique confirmation of my hermit credentials.


Yes, the social isolation is bothering me less than it was, but meanwhile I can't wait to see my dentist, osteopath and hairdresser again - about my holey molar, sprained foot and pelvis, and mad mane of hair respectively! I am also quietly hopeful that an enterprising tree surgeon will swing by tomorrow to empty my bin of green waste, so that I can get on with gardening.

Though the loneliness may have receded, I remain moderately worried about catching the virus, especially after seeing a programme on survivors. One familiar face featured was Linda Lusardi, who got the illness quite badly and ended up in hospital with complications. When she sought reassurance from a nurse that she would make it, he was rather equivocal and said: "Hmm..well, it's hard to say - you are 61 after all, and this thing is brand new." (I am paraphrasing.) Having seen recent photos of the former Page 3 model, I must say she is looking tremendous for her age, which may have helped her recovery. However, the fact that someone so vital and relatively young in my terms could fall so ill does give you pause.

Are you by any chance doing that thing where if you wake up in the morning and feel a bit hot you start asking yourself if the feeling of heat is the sun streaming through the window, that hot bath you had last night, too much bedding, overly cosy pyjamas, a physical manifestation of anxiety...or could it possibly be The Fever?!! If anyone out there has already had the virus and would like to share their experience, please do let us know, also any tips for managing the symptoms.

The other thing that I'd be interested to know about the lockdown is whether you have found yourself doing new things, sometimes without any conscious decision to do so. Here's a round up of the ones I have noticed recently:

- Drinking hot water and lemon first thing (I have it in my head that this is good for detoxing the liver from all those Cadbury's Mini-Eggs)

- Sleeping longer and deeper (this is completely abnormal!)

- A three hour bike ride, not by design. Good - and God - deed for the day was alerting the vicar of Sandon church to the fact that his security alarm was going off. "There probably isn't a burglar inside", I said to allay his fears of a break in. "My money's on a bat." Hmm, maybe that wasn't the best way to reassure him.

- Ongoing unprecedented levels of cooking. Ex-Mr Bonkers has just come to the door and collected a tupperware of vegetable curry I set aside for him on the step. He took one look at my hair - he hasn't seen me for a month or two - and said: "Just accept you are going grey!" Ha!

- Using the downstairs shower (to mix up my ablution routine - gotta get your kicks where you can!)

- Applying hand cream (a lifetime first, which is doubtless related to the copious amounts of hand washing we are all engaged in)

The hand cream in question was given to me ages ago by fellow blogger Sabine, which goes to show how long-kept items can suddenly come into their own. Its realistic mimosa scent - cheery and uplifting in that distinctive sherbety way - reminded me of my first misguided purchase of niche perfume over ten years ago in Paris...L'Ete en Douce from L'Artisan Parfumeur, which Luca Turin so aptly described as "laundry musk on steroids" (I'm paraphrasing here too). The sad fact is that I was hesitating on that occasion between L'Ete en Douce and Mimosa pour Moi, and bitterly regret not opting for the latter. I think I did eventually manage to swap the musky miscreant for something I only wanted marginally more(!), but the memory of Mimosa pour Moi still haunts me...And for now, this Swedish hand cream is a fair substitute.

Ah dear, it seems to be discontinued, judging by the company's website.


PS I have been wearing perfume every now and then when I am in the mood and remember: Serge Lutens Un Lys, Guerlain Lys Soleia, Kenzo Eau de Fleur de Magnolia, original Vera Wang (worn ironically, obvs) and something I fished out from my sample box which just says 'Guerlain' on the vial, but which may in fact be Encens Mythique.

Thursday 2 April 2020

Hand washing and hand wringing: a Lidl liquid soap lookalike, and getting in a lather over lockdown

It's only been a few weeks, but I feel like a veteran of this lockdown lark, having 'done time' in two countries already. And I can confirm that as a person on my own it doesn't suit me at all. I didn't think I would react like this, for I am someone who routinely used to go on solo business trips for two, three, or even four weeks at a time, and I have lived alone for nearly eight years in my present house, and also for long spells in the past. No, what makes the current situation so hard to bear is the fact that you can't see your friends, not even to go for a walk at the appropriate distance, because they are not members of your household. During my solo walks I have encountered large families out together, pushing past on narrow pavements with no regard for social distancing, and have frequently been driven into the road. Same thoughtless jostling story in supermarkets. I have also seen knots of young people milling around shops and standing on street corners, and couples out jogging, and I doubt very much that they are all related. Then I have singleton friends who have rejigged their households the better to cope with the isolation: adult children have come home, sometimes with partners in tow. I don't blame them one bit, and I think I may be suffering from a case of "multiple person household envy". The tennis player Annabel Croft was interviewed on the radio yesterday, and she explained that having so many family members at home at the moment was unusually convivial. It sounded like Christmas every day, though she didn't exactly say so.

What else? There has been much talk in the media of people turning more to drink, haha, which amused me. I have always been an 'in-home' rather than a social drinker, but so far this year have stuck to my New Year's resolution of having three days of the week drink-free, a doubling of the tally I managed last year. Then I spoke to a friend yesterday, who said she was drinking a bit more than usual, and was also starting the day by bingeing on Bakewell tart from the local post office. I can't tell you how much she went up in my estimation for admitting that! And I do reserve the right to play the 'unprecedented times' card and progressively slide off my part-time wagon as the lockdown continues...;)

I have also been dabbling a bit more in exercise - I shan't overstate it, as I am a reluctant exerciser at best. I have mauled my 'vintage' Total Gym out of long term storage - a work out in itself, let me tell you - and stockpiled some cardio and resistance training videos, the shorter the better. I even watched a 6 minute introductory video of Yoga with Adriene, inspired by Tara of A Bottled Rose. All you had to do in that video was breathe deeply three times, and listen to her talk about comfy clothing, but I note that the next episode is nearly 50 minutes long, so realistically I may not get past looking out my mat(!). We'll see...I actually completed a ten minute exercise video I found on an NHS website last night, and today my knee hurts like mad, and I appear to have aggravated the arthritis in my other hand I didn't even know I had. So I guess the moral of all that is moderation in all things, hehe.

I am cooking a lot more, which is a good thing, and am also guiding ex-Mr Bonkers in his own culinary endeavours. He has never done more than open a tin of soup in his 61 years, but the current situation is driving him to buy and 'interact with' a whole range of foodstuffs. His first triumph was baking a potato, swiftly followed by an 'assembly' coup, namely putting a cheese and onion pasty and crinkle cut chips in the oven - requiring different lengths of cooking time and different temperatures! - while heating up baked beans on the top of the cooker. I told him that that meal involved complex organisational skills, and that he had done very well to have pulled it off without recourse to critical path analysis and a wall chart.

Now I don't know if you have found this, but all my usual service providers - energy companies, phone providers etc - appear to be hunkering down behind a veil of non-availability, which has led to some comically spun announcements, the first from British Gas:

"So for now, we can only help with prepay meter issues or emergencies (e.g. no heating or hot water). Please don't contact us about anything else. If you do, we've asked our customer service advisers to politely explain that we can't help right now."

And yesterday I was trying to communicate via Live Chat with Virgin Media. The AI bot didn't understand me for several exchanges, and when it eventually grasped my inquiry, I got the message:

"Just to let you know that we won't get back to you immediately, so you can get on with your day."

Whoohoo, thanks...!

I am still receiving a lot of promotional spam, also from perfume companies, which irks me, as perfume generally - and certainly buying any more - is the last thing on my mind. Le Jardin Retrouve and Diptyque are the worst offenders currently. Diptyque has been annoying me for years, as some readers may recall, and shows no sign of letting up. Oddly for me, all I have bought since the lockdown began is light bulbs, latex gloves, a couple of masks in case the Government guidance changes, and more probiotics, as in a pandemic like this the gut needs to keep up its game!

I say, have you seen any posters in windows asking questions of the neighbours opposite? A friend put one up wishing our mutual friend Kate a happy birthday, which was a nice touch. There's also the poster doing the rounds on Facebook where someone asks the name of a black and white cat in their neighbour's window (Answer: Walter), and I have just heard of another corker:

"What is the name of that pale Edwardian child in your loft window?"

Moving on, I cut my fringe the other day - with qualified success, it must be said. It is out of my eyes, but looks a bit wonky, and is still quite thick - my hairdressing skills are not up to 'wispifying' aka rendering my fringe 'choppy'. (Picture not available on request. ;) )

Hmm...I am also finding the lack of physical touch particularly's been four weeks nearly since I touched another person, and it is sad not to be able to put my arm round my elderly friend, which I am sure she appreciated. I can't even cross her threshold.

Oh, there was another happy consequence of the current situation: the gentleman with a keen interest in genealogy who kindly spent several years researching our family tree, decided to cast his net one more time and scooped up a bunch of Very Old Mussons from Freeby in Leicestershire, a village not previously on his radar. We are now back four more generations to c1550 and I have a new great great (etc!) grandfather called Valentine. A family tree 'freebie' indeed. He went on to recount his elaborate quest to find yeast, bemoaned the complete lack of eggs and sketchy supply of blueberries, and gave me a tip about 'ply splitting' paper proucts, assuming they are thick enough to start with. (FYI, I still haven't seen loo roll in the shops, though I believe there have been further supplies delivered - and possibly gone straight out again. Hand sanitiser is also something of a retail unicorn.)

Which leads me finally to the aforementioned Lidl Citrus & Herb liquid soap, a cunning fusion dupe of The White Company's bottle and the classic Jo Malone 'Lime, Basil & Mandarin' fragrance. It doesn't smell of much - which may be less an indictment of the product and more to do with my having symptoms of the coronavirus, though I hope not! - but it is incredible value for the not very much money it cost, whatever that was.

I would be most interested to hear your own lockdown stories, whether you are coupled up or on your own and not doing very well either! How you are passing the time, whether you are washing your shopping, leaving post for three days before opening it, and implementing other strange but strongly recommended Coronavirus measures.