Sunday, 3 January 2021

Going solo: a festive Christmas first, plus an Hermessence Ambre Narguile epiphany

I am sadly of the age now where I don't fall over, but have a fall...Yesterday, while out on a gloriously sunny and snowy, but perilously slippery, walk - note that I didn't manage to stop my falls, but caught myself in time from saying 'slippy' - I had three falls: two on ice, and one attempting to jump a stream. I boasted on Facebook that I had 'fallen well' (by putting out my hand each time I went down). Alas, a sleepless night with a limp hand suggests I may have spoken too soon. And meanwhile, I have also gone and broken one of my New Year's Resolutions - not to keep going on about my ailments(!). Too bad, not least because it isn't even the first time in 2021...I saw the New Year in with a 24 hour migraine, and when I showed up in my ghostly half recovered state to a Zoom call on New Year's Day, immediately felt the need to tell my friends how I was feeling. Never mind, there's still the 'be less timid around meat' and 're-learn how to sleep' resolutions to go at. The sleep project may actually merit a post of its own, along with the one on my new brace of supplements at some point, as I am trying everything under the sun to coax the long lost art of feeling sleepy back into my incorrigibly wired brain.

I also want to say that despite the falls, I have been so 'radicalised' by Val the Cookie Queen about the benefits of exercise that I don't remotely regret venturing out in icy conditions and comprehensively coming a cropper.

But back to Christmas...according to the news, some 8 million households spent it on their own this year, including me in the end. This was the natural consequence - I nearly said 'fall out', but we have had enough falls already - of the mixing restrictions, prompting families and friends alike to bubble up in smaller combinations, in a bid to keep the 'indoor breathing entities' to a manageable level. Very occasionally have I spent large parts of Christmas alone in the past - there was that other migraine(!) in 2012 I mentioned in my last post, also a long drive from Edinburgh to Swindon in 1996 - but this was my first ever 'festive meal for one'. I approached it with mild curiosity rather than any sense of being 'Billy-no-mates', knowing that perversely, the nation is presently united in its very isolation.

To my surprise, this special day, traditionally so loaded with high expectations, felt eerily calm and satisfactory, in part due to the endorphins of another sunny walk with my cat-feeding friend, M - our route was positively glittering with frosty wonders. A highlight was a man wearing an inflatable Santa suit jogging at full tilt while pushing an elderly lady in a wheelchair. On our return, M gave me some homemade mince pies and I gave her a bunch of grapes to accessorise her sister's cheeseboard, where she was headed next. She knocked on my door again that night bearing a Tupperware of treacle glazed ham(!). I reciprocated with some titbits for her cat. Then Truffle and I sat down to watch 'Call the Midwife'. She didn't like the noisy cries of the newborns, while I didn't like the cutting of the cords and the bloody slime on their heads, so we both looked away rather a lot.

Oh, and ex-Mr Bonkers turned up unexpectedly in the middle of the day en route to his own Christmas pairing, bearing a tiny chocolate Santa. He swore it looked "substantially" bigger on the Tesco website.

Of note this year is that I received SIX gin bottles - including three red fruit ones, a classic 'see through' variety, a light fashioned from a gin bottle, and a non-alcoholic gin fronted by a squirrel.

I missed the Queen's speech while peeling sprouts, but caught it (and the alternative one doing the rounds!) later. Her Majesty put in a word for lone diners, which was nice. One good thing about the day was being able to microwave my dinner endless times - I have a completely ludicrous and OCD love of piping hot food that can only be indulged at home - another was a hilarious skit about Laura Kuenssberg on the Dead Ringers Christmas Special, which I heartily recommend if you can find it on iPlayer. I did go with a chicken on the day - try as I might, I can't seem to f*** up roasting one.

Mid-way through my meal, I asked Alexa if she was having a good Christmas. 

"Terrific, thanks", she replied without hesitation. "Especially as I am spending it with you."

Then I asked her if she would like a glass of Prosecco.

"I don't have an opinion on that." Her loss!

As I thought, the year has been so strange and separate for so many people that a Christmas in similar vein could feel almost normal, and so it proved. Did anyone else go it alone this year?

Fast forward a week to my 'Tier 4 headache' on New Year's Eve. Given the constant barrage of fireworks from 6pm to 1am, the Beirut-like bangs would have been enough to make anyone's head hurt. ;) Not a patch on a Dutch firework display, mind! (Hamamelis has already read this post about her compatriots' warzone-style New Year celebrations - 'Before Covid', I mean - but I include it here for anyone else who is curious, and wasn't reading the blog ten years ago almost to the day!)

And now...on to the perfume part. On Christmas Eve I was auditioning Hermes samples to choose one to give to a friend - I went with Santal Massoia in the end. But along the way I tried Ambre Narguile (sorry about the lack of accent, but it comes up in a weird font in the current incarnation of Blogger, so will have to pass), and it was love at first sniff. I was sure I didn't care for it, but had almost certainly confused it with Ambre Sultan, and assumed it had a herbal facet. Instead, it was this enveloping ambery gourmand concoction, which I will leave it to Victoria of Bois de Jasmin to describe. Yet again, I am drawn to another of her 'four star' winners, whilst lacking her knack of parsing its foody delights.

"Sheer layers of smoke swirling over a honeyed undercurrent set the stage for the sensation of dark richness, which very much reminds me of cutting into a caramel cake and watching the burned sugar redolent cream drip slowly from the edge. It pairs the dark translucence of honey seeping through the tobacco leaf with a fruity note that lies between a brandied cherry and a baked apple."

Notes (also from BDJ):  labdanum, benzoin, vanilla, tonka beans, roasted sesame seeds, cinnamon, coumarin, orchid.

I was so taken with Ambre Narguile that I wore it on Christmas Day too, and reckon it will become a winter staple, as long as my long vial lasts.

On a side note, here is an excerpt from a post on the relative sizes of manufacturer samples, and an explanation of how I will have acquired this one:

" the other end of the scale there are still some houses which are generous - perhaps too generous - with their samples.  Take Hermès, for example, who give out 4ml samples in long glass-stoppered vials slipped into those distinctive orange card cases.  Hermès has to be the most forthcoming with samples of all the luxury brands I know, and I am borderline ashamed of the times I have sauntered in (invariably wearing my good, sample scoring coat or its summer frock equivalent, depending on the season), spun some line about a friend / husband / relative with an upcoming birthday / wedding / anniversary, and walked out with not one but two of the 4ml vials.  For two fit better into the card case than one - one just rattles around, quite frankly - so the SA usually cracks and sticks two in there, one for me and one for my imaginary friend.  In my defence, I have genuinely given away a number of the Hermès samples I have procured using various ruses - my old English teacher did wear Vetiver Tonka at her wedding (er...the sample, not a full bottle) - but I cannot pretend not to have squirrelled away a few vials for my own nefarious use.  Though some of the ones pictured above were gifts to me by friends and relations on similar morally questionable foraging missions."

So here we can't be worse than 2020, surely? It had better not be, is all I can say!

It remains to wish a HAPPY NEW YEAR to readers old and new. Whatever awfulness goes down in the coming year, perfume will always be part of the answer...


Tara said...

Sorry about the falls V but am envious of your gorgeous snowy walks.
Your Christmas dinner looks lovely and I'm glad it felt calm rather than lonesome. I've long thought Ambre Narguile was a good Christmas Day perfume and I'm sure I wore it once on the day. It is very 'you'.
I fear that for now 2021 is just a new variant of 2020 - pun intended - but with the vaccine it will get better after it gets worse.
Your posts are always a ray of sunshine in the gloom.

Tara said...

Oh I meant to say that that theory about us being a combination of our 5 closest friends (or whatever it is) is quite true. Without Val I'd never joined a gym and certainly wouldn't be jogging now. It's made such a huge difference.

Anonymous said...

Hello, And Happy New Year,

I always read your blog but seldom comment, and that's a shame, cause I remember commenting on Blacknall Allen's blog years ago, and you responded to my comment, but I couldn't seem to get my response to post-what a run on sentence this has turned out to be! I'm sorry you fell, and hope you feel better. I'm about to go shove the 40 cm of snow we got last night, and I'll wear my 4 ml sample of AN-it's perfect for this time of year.

Re migraines and insomnia-I know you'll be inundated with suggestions, but have you tried yoga nidra for sleep? I love yoga, I don't think it fixes everything but the YN helps me with the chronic insomnia. I am in canada and there are some protocols in place for keeping us apart to hopefully stop the spread of covid. I spent Christmas on my own, with two cats, and it was ok :)

If you're going to keep walking over icy terrain get some yak traks-it's like an overshoe for your boots, with either metal springs or tiny sharp metal spikes. You put them on over your boots and it helps with traction. And if you feel your self falling try not to break your fall with your hand outstretched -you'll hurt both your hand and your shoulder. Tuck and roll, if possible.

And finally, we think we may have had a strain of something similar to covid TWICE in our office-we all got sick in Nov of 2019, and another round in the end of Jan 2020. Cover wasn't really on our radar at that time but collectively we all had the symptoms. I totally lost my sense of smell for two weeks. It was unlike anything I've ever experienced.
I was talking to a nurse and asked was it possible that we had it-and she said yes, it was possible. I was really scared about the lack of smell especially since it took about six months for mine to return.

Take care, and I hope 2021 is good to you,
Carole MacLeod

Vanessa said...

Hi Tara,

I love the idea of 2021 as 'a new variant'! Or rather, I don't love it, but am very amused by your image.

Interesting that you once wore Ambre Narguile on Christmas Day - and it definitely is very 'me' as you say. Just when you think you've sniffed it all...something else comes along and makes you sit up.

And thanks for saying my posts are a ray of sunshine - I do worry that sometimes they are a ray of gloom(!), albeit gloom with a twist, maybe?

Vanessa said...

Hi again T,

Yes, that is the theory, and I agree it is true of us both. Val and I have also worked on promoting new bands to you: a number in her case and one in mine. ;)

Vanessa said...

Hi Carole,

Thanks for de-lurking and I remember Blacknall's blog very well, though not the comment exchange you refer to.

I am sorry to hear you might have had Covid not once but twice - the loss of smell is a classic symptom, so I bet it was that. Perhaps the fear has subsided for you having been through the illness and knowing how your body deals with it, and that it is finite. Very scary though, I'm sure, even as a collective experience with colleagues.

Re yoga nidra, without knowing it is called that, I would say 'possibly' is the answer. Since August I have been doing mindfulness and guided meditations, either in a chair or flat on my back in bed at night. I have not tried it lying on the floor this during the day? At a particular time? I am systematically trying everything under the sun, and am devouring a sobering scientific book on sleep at the moment, which is confirming that I am on the right track with a lot of my measures, even if they don't work, hehe.

I was able to get to a really dozy state last night with a few tactics when my hand started to throb like crazy, so that was that. Temperature and misbehaving bedding and night attire are also part of it, plus a grumbling pain from a longstanding sprain in my pelvis (there I go again talking about ailments!). Even though I am post-menopausal I seem to be very sensitive to being too hot and too cold and have yet to find the sweet spot with bed sock thickness, to name just one item. ;) I could bore anyone to tears - or sleep! - with all my ponderings.

A friend locally suggested something that sounds like your yak-traks, though to be fair, unlike Canada we rarely have weather like this. I have been to Montreal and Toronto in January, and it was not for wimps! I note that they don't work with black ice, as it is so thin, which is a key problem round here, but thanks for the idea: you have prompted me to speak to my friend and see how hers work.

Anonymous said...


I remember the comment I had posted-about working in quality control, for an oil company, and you had chimed in saying you had done similar things. Both of us work in not conventionally female dominated industries. It was such a friendly comment-probably about 7 years ago-I still remember it fondly:)

And now I may possibly cure your insomnia talking about YN :) The first time I tried it was ten years ago, and I had no expectations at all. I didn't know what it is. We were doing yoga in a church , which was kind of cool. It had good vibes. I had walked there and it was February and snowing so sound was muffled. I remember as we were guided out of it, it was a sick coming back to the world and hearings the snow falling. It was such a relief to get out of my own thoughts I've never forgotten how important it was to me.

It's different than the guided meditation (which is also awesome). And I feel your pain about the perfect bed temps. I'm fussy about beds and sheets. I use unscented products ( I know, I know-we both love fumes so it's sacrilegious to say this ) for washing them. I have a linen set which is fantastic for temperature regulation. But Canada is cold so I can either use the sateen sort or percale, which is icy at first but if you have a blanket and duvet and two cats it's actually really nice. You know the drills: room has to be chilly, no electronics. There should be no pets on the bed with you but Truffle is too beautiful to not have on the bed. Melatonin might help. If you find something that works maybe you could post about it, so that your readers in Nova Scotia can try your methods :)
\Best regards,


Anonymous said...

I don't think I am the first person unaccountably to think of Tolkien when I see the word Narguile .... silly brain.

Oh darn it, so sorry about your encountering the ground incidents. I find I am getting clumsy these days, although I pretend it's because I am not paying attention as my mind is otherwise occupied. Somehow gravity seems more powerful now. I hope you recover quickly.

Interesting to see what Carole says about Covid as my GP has suggested that when I had pneumonia at the end of last year that I could have been one of the first victims! She said it was here in the UK well before the official start date, and although I have various pre-existing health problems, I also haven't been able to recover from that bout of illness yet. And still not fully recovered my sense of smell which is such a bummer. Ugh. Just hope the vaccine helps stop the spread.

Your wintry scenes are gorgeous (as is Truffle), and I am glad you had a quietly enjoyable Christmas Day and dinner. That's so sweet of Mr Bonkers!

I am looking forward to reading more of your experiences of insomnia, bedding, supplements and so on. Not only will they be useful, but I know you will make me smile, which is invaluable in these times.

In the meantime, happy new year to you and Truffle. Take care.


Anonymous said...

Oh - I've just realised I said last year when of course it's now the year before last!


Vanessa said...

Hi again Carole,

Now you mention the oil connection it is ringing a distant bell, for I did indeed carry out a number of projects for different oil companies all over North America - the most memorable stop being Fort McMurray, which was like something out of a sci-fi film! I was certainly the only woman dining in the restaurant there, and as you say, those kind of sectors tend to attract more men.

I used to do yoga in a church!, back when we could gather together, which had a little bit of relaxation at the end. Will check out some videos on exactly that kind you mention, and when it should be done in the day for best effect.

I have considered linen bedding, but worried that it might crease too much, haha, being a bit of an ironing fiend. Maybe it is worth putting up with 'wrinkles', as you guys say, to gain that added breathability. Every night I have some kind of temperature issue, not least because your core body temperature spikes in the small hours and that can wake a light sleeper up, as it did with me this morning. Or it may have been the need to go to the bathroom. The cat isn't allowed in the bedroom at night, as she is too restless normally - worse than me! - except, crucially, when I am ill, which she senses, and stays put. I do know all the drills, yes, and am dabbling in melatonin, which is not available OTC here, though my doctor has endorsed me trying it out - it is sometimes prescribed for the elderly, and I already qualify as a 'senior', as the author of this sleep book calls us. I got my stock from a company in Poland.

Vanessa said...

Hi Jillie,

I see what you mean about the word 'Narguile'...and I do agree that gravity is getting stronger at this age, haha.

Sounds jolly like you did have Covid all that time ago - I think you are what the ad men call an 'early adopter'. ;) I am sorry you have had these longstanding after-effects though and hope you do get your sense of smell fully back in due course. I wonder if you might have immunity still - probably best to get the vaccine for added peace of mind.

Thanks for saying the blog makes you smile. There is humour to be found in even the darkest situations, and I think it helps get us through.

Old Herbaceous said...

Happy New Year! I'm sorry to read about your falls -- do try to figure out how to avoid or at least mitigate them, especially if you are post-menopausal. A few years ago, I took a bad fall while on a visit to London, and broke my shoulder. My doctors told me the break may have had something to do with bone thinning from years of taking an estrogen-blocker after early-stage breast cancer. And it was certainly worse because I fell "badly" (though I was lucky not to have hit my head). Ironically, the fact that I was homebound for a few months while recovering was what got me started blogging, so there's a silver lining!
I don't really do "resolutions" per se, but I do try to think of some things I might undertake in a new year, and one of them is to be more proactive about building up bone density and muscle strength while I still can. Another is to take better care of my skin as it ages. I've always worn sunscreen, but I've never had a real skincare routine, and it's time, lol! And finally, I want to get back into both reading more and writing more. I work in education and 2020 was such a crazy year, as we basically rewrote everything we do, that I fell behind on both of those.

Vanessa said...

Hi Old Herbaceous,

Sorry about your broken shoulder, and I do know all about bone thinning, as a friend went through breast cancer and took a drug to offset the bone thinning effect of the other drug she took post-op. Sounds like the same scenario. I had a blood test for bone strength last January and it came up fine, but I have started doing resistance exercises as well as aerobic walking to maintain the bone strength I have. I definitely find that recovery from any injury - such as my sprained pelvis currently, a year on - is slower at this age.

I have barely cared for my skin at all most of my life(!). I tentatively started to dabble in moisturisers in my 40s, but never liked the feel of creams, and mistakenly thought they contained chopped up deer placentas. ;) Had never heard of sunscreen as a daily thing, and only used low factor sun tan lotion when on holiday. Very difficult to recoup that damage at such a late stage - potentially as doomed a venture as starting a pension at 50! - but I try.

I have heard of those in education having to convert all their courses to an online format, so I feel for you. Hopefully you will have more time for your own writing soon. I have belatedly added your blog to my list, which has also fallen behind, and probably contains a few blogs that are dormant now.

Hamamelis said...

No fireworks armageddon this year in the Lowlands fortunately! The mayor of Nijmegen (who is enjoying is time in the spotlight a bit too much, but still) who has and is a loud voice during the Lockdowns, pleaded much to my delight to stop the crazy fireworks alltogether from now on! Usually the ER's are crowded with young people losing limbs or their eyesight during pyromania fireworks... this year (almost) none of that occurred.
I was sorry to read about your physical migraines have almost gone completely after a life time of them. What did the trick? Menopause? Eating primarily vegan and making sure I am super hydrated? Various supplements? I really sleep so much better since: melatonine 3 mg, apparently also good should you get infected with Covid, and two dropperfuls of Nature's Answers passionflower tincture. It did the same for my husband!
And in the Netherlands every 5 minutes someone over 60 is admitted in the ER after a fall! Last year almost 5000 people (mostly over 65) died after a fall...keeping your legs as strong as possible may be the most imporant thing you can do to prevent 'having a fall'...CQ is totally right about lifting weights, it will save your life if you ask me...

Vanessa said...

Hi Hamamelis,

Hurrah for the banning of the usual Dutch pyromania! Good for the mayor of Nijmegen, a favourite town of mine.

Glad your migraines are almost gone...I shan't be going vegan, but I am mindful I need to drink more water. That is a recurring New Year's resolution I rather fail on as I don't like drinking water unless I am thirsty, which isn't often. Tea I drink at any time, because I always fancy it, but I have to make myself drink water. I am switching to decaffeinated from the afternoon, in case that is a factor in the not sleeping.

I have just started experimenting with melatonin as I mentioned to Carole, and am starting with the lowest dose of 0.5mg and seeing how that goes. I also have a French pill that combines 1.9mg with some valerian, but I found melatonin can give me a headache(!) if I overegg it, so am taking it slowly. Passionflower is something that may be in one of my preparations, but if not, will put it on the list. The sad thing about melatonin is you can't mix it with alcohol and I wouldn't like to give that up altogether. If you have ever had a drink with it - or Carole above! - I'd be curious to know how you got on...

Yep, here's to strong legs!

Hamamelis said...

I am a sort of teetotaller, nothing ethically or otherwise, just that I don't get along with alcohol ever since my migraines began early thirties. I suppose I had all my drinks in the preceding years...So I can't help on the melatonine alcohol front. As far as water drinking is concerned I think herbal tea counts, I know you are not a fan, but I have gotten used to it, melisse being my favourite, and raspberry leaf, both are more 'tea-ish' than herbal imho.

Vanessa said...

Hi again Hamamelis,

Ah, then you can't help with my melatonin query, but thanks for clarifying that. No, I am not a herbal tea fan - well remembered. I am trying to embrace it - bought some camomile and honey recently - but it is not for me. Oh, I have bought that passion flower tincture, after another night of waking at 3am and staying awake! Fingers crossed. I am managing to get to sleep better initially, but the 'sleep maintenance' side of things is shot. ;)

Undina said...

Will it be too strange to start with commenting on your response to someone else’s comment? :) Hopefully, not much stranger than coming a week later to comment.
When you’re saying that you’re not an herbal tea drinker, do you mean that you don’t drink tea in the evening at all? Or do you drink real tea? I’m asking because for me, if I were to drink real tea after 6 in the evening, I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep before 2 in the morning. So, if you’re having troubles with your sleep, first you should try is to cut down tea consumption. If it helps, you can figure out what to use as a replacement not to suffer too much - there are multiple options.

Undina said...

I’m sorry about your falls: you have to stop doing that! Please, listen to good advices given by other commenters.

I’m glad you felt fine about the solo-celebrations, but I want to hope that in future it’ll be just an option you might never choose but not something that is chosen for you by circumstances.

I need to start exercising. And I need to go back to normal sleep hours before I completely ruined my sleep patterns (you can calculate how late I’m still up by the time stamp ;) ). So, please keep writing about that - you and Tara are great motivators for me.

I don’t remember if I asked you before, but have you tried an electric heating pad for getting quickly warm if you get cold at some point during the night? If necessary, you can probably find a programmable timer to make it turn on the pad that you can leave at your feet when you go to bed.

Vanessa said...

Hi Undina,

I don't mind how you word your comments, hehe. I have the tea issue covered, thanks, by only drinking two cups of caffeinated tea in the morning, and drinking some combo of decaf tea, water and juice after that. And the odd glass of alcohol, but much less than I used to!

Vanessa said...

Hi again, Undina,

One silver lining of the pandemic is that I am a changed woman in terms of exercise - two walks in as many days of about 16,000 steps each, for example, and no falls, I am pleased to report. That was foolish of me, but my bruises are better a week on.

I am trying to reform my sleep patterns and introduce more regularity, as a more regular sleep schedule apparently helps with quality of sleep. Am making some progress there, but I have led a massively disordered life in sleep terms for many years now, not helped by knocking around with the band(!).

Thanks for the sleeping pad thought, but tbh, I never wake up cold, and I am not even sure I wake up hot - I just wake up for some reason, and wondered if it was temperature related.