Saturday 12 November 2022

Bonkers' neck is on the line, and the importance of keeping your chin up


This post was brought to you very, very slowly by voice recognition and mostly lefthanded editing...

I have been gone awhile. I should be in France this week and instead I am grounded for the foreseeable future.

For my blogging hiatus has nothing to do with a lack of mojo or being adrift in the creative doldrums - a mental state that afflicts bloggers or writers of any kind indeed from time to time - it is rather as a result of a physical problem, namely trapped nerves in my neck which have caused me pain ranging from moderate to just shy of agony for the last five weeks. An MRI scan has revealed a condition called "disc osteophyte complex" involving foraminal narrowing, foramina being little bony tunnels through which the nerves pass. Osteophytes are bony spurs that grow on the edges of vertebrae encroaching on the discs in between and causing compression. They also sprout inside these little tunnels and obstruct the path like a thorny thicket, creating a sort of obstacle course, if you will, for the nerves to bludgeon their way through. 

In all the pictures I have found on the Internet - using only my left hand, you understand, which is the one that is not compromised - osteophytes are depicted as little frilly scalloped edges not unlike coral, and they are always red. This is perhaps to denote inflammation which is what causes them to form in the first place; somewhat counterintuitively you could say, because by growing new bone they are simply making traffic conditions more difficult. The word "traffic" is rather apt in fact, for the biggest nerve involved is called the Supra Scapular Highway. It travels down from the neck and sweeps through the shoulder blade to the top of the shoulder, before running down the arm to the hand. At least I think it does - I daren't research too thoroughly in Google in case I come across any graphic images. In a bid to come to terms with my situation I even gave a couple of the nerves names: Norbert for the big autoroute one (after the French haulage company of that name - Norbert Dentressangle), and Nick for the one below it, because it keeps getting "nicked" as it struggles through the bony forest.

To be fair I can't say it has helped me be reconciled to the cancelling of everything I had planned between now and Christmas as part of my sentence of "complete rest", but it was worth a go. ;)

That said, as a person living on their own it is nigh on impossible to have complete rest or nothing will get done. I have given up driving and have a number of friends kindly shopping for me, but there are still little tasks around the house that I cannot ask people to pop in to do every five minutes. So I am conscious that I may still be harming my nerves a little here and there on a daily basis. I did ask a friend to grind me a week's worth of pepper and salt - which you could say is a first world problem, hehe - but the ability to grind meant a lot to me. I have yet to second anyone into shelling pistachios, but may crack on that one too. My brief attempt at liquidizer goblet-wrangling ended in a lot of pain, so there are no more smoothies in my future for the moment - or pasta, which involves manhandling large saucepans. Or panhandling, even.

There is quite a large aspect of psychological readjustment to be done with an illness like this, including the redefining of one's sense of self: for me this was very tied up in house projects both here and in France, and with my Airbnb hosting, which I've had to put on pause, and also with the band and gigs, the next wave of which is coming up shortly - tantalisingly close geographically in the case of next weekend - but still too far. If anyone else fancies going do let me know!  I have had to let everything go - including the aforementioned trip to France this week - and must try to see this period of near total inactivity as "short term pain for long term gain". For if you stay active at the same level with an injury of any kind you can wind up with chronic complications down the line. The necessity for surgery can also not be excluded. And there is no way I would like to be stuck with this amount of pain on an ongoing basis. The entire upper right quadrant of my body hurts, involving two basic styles of pain: a sort of lumbar puncture feeling crossed with a malevolently twisting apple corer in my neck, supplemented by a common or garden hot burning sensation everywhere else. 


The osteopath who is treating me described this as a one-time window of opportunity to heal naturally. You could liken it perhaps to what the police call the "Golden Hours" ie the 48-hour period following a child's disappearance beyond which timeframe the chances rise dramatically that the child will turn up dead if it does at all. I don't wish to apply the analogy too slavishly because this is not a life-threatening condition, but for the sake of good order my friend who is a funeral celebrant urged me most vociferously not to die, because she has an unusually heavy workload at the moment.

Then even if the problem goes away by and by - as I am very much hoping it will - through the usual conservative measures of ice / heat / rest / medication / avoiding too much stimulation of the Central Nervous System aka "excessive firing of excitatory neurotransmitters" by any means whatsoever, including nice activities like a catch up with friends, there is always the chance that I could trigger a similar episode in the future because the cramped conditions in my foramina remain...

Now there are a few not wholly negative things about my situation: I can watch "I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here" without it even being a guilty pleasure; I may be unable to write my usual 70 plus Christmas cards because I have lost the grip in my right hand for the moment, and thirdly... there was a third one, but my medication-induced brain fog has intervened.

A word on Truffle in all of this: she has been very supportive, for due to my intolerance of various types of medication I had been put on I had several periods of a sick headache lasting up to four days, and behaved out of character, spending most of my time in bed drifting in and out of a light and unrestful sleep. The cat would regularly come and squat on my windpipe and look at me solicitously, rubbing her cheek against mine and occasionally licking it. At other times I am sure I caught an expression of alarm on her face as though she was starting to doubt the long-term viability of her customary food source.

Strangely, you might think, I have worn perfume over this past month...almost exclusively one which Rachael Potts gave to me - Opoponax by Les Nereides. I find its vanillic, resinous drydown very comforting, and am a huge lover of myrrh as you know. I will have drained it soon and must go in search of something else in my collection with the same qualities.

Head: Orange peels, Bergamot.
Heart: Jasmine from Grasse, Hawthorn, Sandalwood.
Base: Myrrh, Bourbon Vanilla, Benjoin, Amber.

I had better wrap up here because I am straying into doing tiny bits of editing with my right hand too, and every tap with the finger is an added strain on Norbert and Nick. But I would like to say in closing that I really appreciate the support of family and friends, both moral and practical eg giving me lifts to medical appointments, doing shopping as I say, or things that are more necessary than you might imagine like testing the fire alarms regularly, so they don't start their piteous bleeping routine in the night because the battery is on the blink, which I would be unable to make stop. I could probably wield the testing pole in my good hand but I'm not supposed to look up as much as would be required - which brings me neatly back to the bit in the title about the correct positioning of one's chin. There's up, and then there's too up.

Please don't feel any need to comment because I can't type replies easily. There is no voice recognition on my laptop and the facility is pretty sketchy at the best of times. Here is one of its more amusing manglings and there are myriad examples every day. 

"Hope the rest of your week is Morecambe that should be karma that should be more calm."

PS It was my 13th blog anniversary at the end of October, but the date was rather overtaken by events.
PPS I will be back!

Sunday 16 October 2022

Bonkers got (partially) cancelled! And uncancelled again, but not without collateral hiccups

Source: Wikimedia Commons (GXXF)

I thought I should write a line or two to explain why a post from 2011 briefly appeared just now as my most recent post - that's for any readers quick enough off the mark to spot it. I have now figured out how to publish to a past date, and the errant piece is back where it belongs in the archives.

How the sorry saga came about is as follows...I woke up this morning to a slew of seven emails from Blogger, each containing a link to a different blog post that they had "unpublished", as it violated their content policy on the grounds of being spam. Ironically, two of these notifications landed in my own spam folder, the very offence of which I had been accused. 

I am glad Blogger pointed out which category of violation my posts fell under, as I would have struggled to work that out for myself: most of them seemed wildly inappropriate, such as "violence and gore", "unauthorised images of minors", "harassment, bullying and threats", and "non-consensual explicit imagery". Having thoroughly examined the wording of the spam clause, and looked for similarities amongst the seven posts, I concluded that it was the pr*ze dr*ws that Blogger took exception to, which it must have construed as "mass solicitation". Given how few readers enter such things on Bonkers, the term "mass" does seem a little overegged, but anyway...

Do not spam. This may include unwanted promotional or commercial content, unwanted content that is created by an automated program, unwanted repetitive content, nonsensical content or anything that appears to be a mass solicitation.

G*veaw*ys are of course - or were - a time-honoured tradition in perfume circles, and I can think of other blogs who host them with much greater regularity than me; it tended to be a once-a-year thing as a rule, to commemorate my blog anniversary (another one of which is looming!) or when reaching a milestone in terms of numbers of posts. But clearly Blogger has taken agin them, so there was nothing for it but to edit all the posts in question and submit them for review. To their credit, the people involved in assessing my changes were very prompt about it, and all the posts were approved and re-posted within an hour or so.

Most of them kept their original dates, except one with a review of a Puredistance 1 from 2011, which somehow managed to publish itself today. Now fixed, as I say.

Thinking about it, I am surprised I haven't been fingered for "nonsensical content", which is arguably not exactly my house style, but Lord knows I have written a lot of whimsical and silly copy down the years. ;)

Now what this all means is that the posts have been changed, but the comments below remain, including references to the various pr*ze dr*ws to which there is no longer any reference in the post itself. I could have deleted all of them, but would then have lost the other remarks people made, which would have been sad. (Especially as I lost a bunch of genuine comments recently when I reacted too hastily to a spam attack by a third party.) There were 44 comments in all on the Puredistance post I mentioned, which is from the days when I used to have a lot more reader interaction. I may go back in later and add a note at the end of each post, explaining what has happened and why there is now "nonsensical content" in the comments(!). And I should also delete the companion posts from the following week announcing the results of the g*veaw*ys, only one of which has been picked up by the bots - and strangely not the post in which the dr*w was originally mentioned.

All of these examples of mass solicitation are very historic though, so I don't really see what the point is of amending them so long after the event. It is not as through anyone could respond all these years later, as the entry deadlines are well and truly past. I am reminded of the current fashion for removing all traces of historical misdemeanours more widely, for example by toppling statues of controversial figures from centuries ago. But that is a whole other discussion I don't wish to get into here. I will just carry on with my blog housekeeping, complying with any further requests by Blogger to remove more posts that contravene the guidelines. With the Online Safety Bill in the offing, who knows what offences I may yet unwittingly commit?

And I would be interested to know if there are any other bloggers out there to whom something similar has happened, though I sense most people on the perfume scene use Wordpress these days, where the content rules may be more forgiving.

Monday 10 October 2022

BNNIB (Brand New Not in Box): Sarah Jessica Parker less Lovely than expected

Another bitesize post - a blogging amuse-gueule if you will - about an unusual discount item spotted in a branch of B & M (formerly B & M Bargains) in Stafford the other day. I popped back this afternoon to take a better photo and can confirm that this item, reduced from £18.99 to £12.60, is - perhaps not surprisingly - still for sale. Reduced in price, and sadly also radically reduced in terms of its missing centrepiece of a full bottle of Sarah Jessica Parker Lovely.

I always used to say that Lovely is one of the early celebrity scents that punched above its price tag. Well, that is even more the case now that this Lovely-shaped hole is valued at a mere £6.39. For 100ml! The rollerball is 10ml and the body lotion 200ml, and I cannot see how such a modest price reduction is justified...For on a purely pro rata basis the rollerball would therefore be worth 64p(!), and the body lotion just under a whopping £11.96, which is 87% more than the perfume that isn't there. That's never right.

The maths gets even more off kilter when you compare this set to one costing £9.99 and containing 3 x 10ml rollerballs: one of Lovely plus two of its flankers (Born Lovely and Sheer Lovely); it is also on sale in B & M, with all three perfumes still present and correct in the box. Each 10ml costs £3.33, much more than a tenth of the £6.39 the absent 100ml bottle is supposedly worth. And I know that smaller quantities cost proportionately more per ml, but still...even if the rollerball in the discounted gift set were worth twice 64p, the difference versus the trio set is quite stark.

There are the makings of an absorbing algebra problem here, I sense! 3 x a = £9.99, while a + c = £12.50. (where b = bottle = £6.39 = missing.) If we now decide that a = £3.33 in both sets, that leaves a value for the lotion of £9.27, but there is still no escaping from the lowball price of £6.39 for b! If anyone would like to take the full price of £18.99 and reallocate fair values to all three items that should be in there, be my guest. ;) 

And you do have to admire the sheer effrontery of the person who removed the bottle from its box. The perfume was presumably pilfered, for I cannot imagine the store allowing a customer to buy the bottle on its own, the way they usually condone my purchases of lone bottles of mineral water from a previously broached polythene multipack.

For anyone who manages to find a complete set, this is certainly a bargain..."a steal", I could almost say. 

Speaking of which, we can at least take comfort in the fact that the thief will smell lovely...;)

Friday 30 September 2022

Shooting the messenger: a palate-cleansing post on an Hermès product format fail

Source: eBay

I am interrupting my series of travel posts about the recent French trip because a) something came up in the perfume sphere that I would like to air without delay, and b) I figured people might like a break anyway from the travelogue style of writing, even though the final part will feature perfume in a small way (if and) when I do eventually get to it.

What sparked the present post was this email I received from my old English teacher, Sheila:

"I’ve completely run out of perfume and have no idea what to buy. You once kindly gave me some little phials, amongst which was one for Hermès which I still love - I have a tiny, tiny amount left. It's a long time ago (before 2013), but can you remember what it was? It just says Hermès on the side with no further clue. I’ve been googling and think it may be Un Jardin sur le Nil, as that is quite old and has woody notes like this one. I love cedar, sandalwood, leather and vetiver, but not strong floral notes."

I immediately snapped into sleuthing mode, and replied:

"If the vial is a spray one, that narrows the field to its mainstream line, of which Un Jardin sur le Nil was part, while the more expensive scents in their Hermessence range come in long thin glass tubes with stoppers."

And back came the answer:

"The Hermès vial is in glass with stopper: I knew it had the whiff of expense about it!"

My mind immediately went to Vetiver Tonka, and on checking back to my "Perfume Protegé" post from 2014 I was able to confirm that this was indeed a scent she loved.

The next step was to give Hermès in London a ring on my friend's behalf and see if they sold samples. It had taken Sheila some nine years to drain one of those little glass tubes, so she clearly didn't need a 100ml or 200ml bottle at anything up to £300(!), which seem to be the only sizes they do nowadays. I explored the travel size option - 15ml would have been an ideal compromise - but was told I would have to buy four of them in a travel set costing around £136. I lamented this narrow-minded marketing approach, and made it quite plain that I would look elsewhere.

Within five minutes, eBay came up trumps, as I found a seller with several of the 15ml travel sprays of Vetiver Tonka, complete with tweedy bag (see photo) - and Sheila is now restocked with her favourite Hermès, no thanks to the brand itself...

NB I nearly didn't bother to add their accent, so exercised was I by their intransigent attitude, but relented in the end to avoid confusion with a certain delivery company.

Sunday 11 September 2022

Harriet Worth goes to France: a thematic round up of (less stressful!) incidents and oddities - Part 1

Hemming staking out my house

I have decided to adopt a thematic rather than a strictly chronological approach to the rest of my account of the French trip. The first two action-packed days certainly lent themselves to a linear account, but for this post (and a further one my material will run to!) I shall pick out the notable motifs of the holiday (I use the term "holiday" very loosely). 

The cat with five names

Regular readers may remember my post from last August, featuring a new furry friend (at the end), an orange and white cat I named Hemming because of his strong look - he had something of the Viking about him. Back then, I understood that he had a home, but spent as little time there as possible due to the presence of dogs and/or children with which he didn't get on. A year on and Hemming is definitely living rough and on his wits - he looks more unkempt and his behaviour is pushier than before, when he was already what I can best describe as "aggressively affectionate". I mentioned in my last post how he sprayed on my sofa the one and only time I let him inside my house, another sign that he has become a bit feral.

"Service, please!"

The person staying at my friend L's house down the street had been feeding Hemming (whom he called Leo) outside, so on his departure shortly after I arrived I took the baton in this neighbourly feeding relay. Hemming would appear at my door miaowing piteously, before trotting ahead of me down the street to the windowsill where he knew his food bowl was kept. When I went home, I handed over the remaining dry food to the new owners of the house next door to me, who had already had "representations" from the cat, which they called Chirac. They told me that yet another family calls him Marmalade. I don't think Hemming - real name unknown - minds what he is called, just as long as there is at least one house in the street at all times that is "active" and staffed.

Failing to be in and be counted

There is always a lot of junk mail in my letter box at the house every time I go, typically of the local newspaper and shopping flyer variety. But on this trip there were several communications waiting for me - of increasing urgency - to do with a village census. It had taken place over a four week period back in January / February, a time of year when most residents would likely be around, but not second home owners. The next day I popped to the town hall to apologise in person for my non-compliance with the census summons, which had been compulsory. They told me not to worry, and pointed out that - this being August - I had well and truly missed it. "What a shame" I piped up brightly, "as I like filling in forms". Later I decided to take a look at the questions, the most interesting of which concerned the bathroom arrangements of my house. The options were:

"Neither bath tub, nor shower"

"Bath tub or shower in a room not specifically reserved for washing"

"Bathroom (with bath tub or shower)"

Now I have been known to liken my very basic and rustic house to a "living folk museum", but it does at least have a dedicated (if rudimentary) bathroom with a shower. I would be intrigued to learn what proportion of the census participants were in the first category, having a "lick and a promise" kind of wash in the sink?

Getting trapped by more gates

After my scary adventure in the "zone restreinte" in Dieppe, I could hardly believe that during my stay I would manage to get trapped in by gates on two further occasions: once after visiting a bus depot to check their lost property stash for my missing beret (from last November, so I wasn't very hopeful), and once after visiting an old people's home. I had hoped to speak to the manager, whose grandmother was the last person to live year-round in my house in the early 70s, as opposed to using it just as a holiday home. In the first instance I drove through the open gate into the car park of the bus depot only to have it shut (and lock) behind me again. "No problem", I thought, "I will ask the staff to open it as I leave". Which I did, only they couldn't remember the code for that day, and spent a good few minutes trying various combinations of numbers it might have been. After many fruitless attempts, one man asked cheerily: "Would you like a leg up?" (known as a "short ladder" in French). It looked a fair old drop the other side, so I said I would be happy to wait till they figured out the code, which thankfully they did in the end. 

Looking back, the visit to the old people's home could have escalated into a more worrying scenario than merely being unable to find a way out. I should really have rung to say I was coming. As it was, I opened a side gate into the drive of the residential home - which also required a code, helpfully taped beside the lock, with an injunction not to tell anyone and to request a (presumably different) exit code after my visit. I went through the gate, and it too clanged shut and locked behind me. "No problem", I thought, "I will ask the staff for the other code as I leave." Once inside the home, with the reception area dark and unmanned, I realised that the staff may have been thin on the ground - it was a Sunday, after all. I tried the courtesy phone, but nobody answered. There was nothing for it but to wander through the communal areas of the building, looking for personnel. I passed several residents in wheelchairs, watching television with the volume turned up loud, but saw no one even vaguely in charge. It then occurred to me that even if I did meet someone, I had walked so far into the building by now that they might take me for an intruder and I might actually get into trouble. The incident in Dieppe had clearly scarred me, and I had sudden visions of nearly being arrested again. So I suddenly changed tack and decided to beat a hasty retreat, forgetting for a moment that I had failed to obtain the all-important exit code. I legged it back to the perimeter fence, but this time tried another side gate further round, and to my great relief and surprise it was unlocked, and I made my escape. I would love to talk to the relative of the former owner - who may herself have lived there as a child - but I will be sure to do so by arrangement next time.

Obstructing an exhibition with knitting

For some time now I had been aware that my village had its version of a "Knit and Natter" club based at the library, but on this trip I finally made it to a session, taking a prototype cotton flannel with me, along with my Belgian neighbour C, who was also curious to check out the group. Apart from us there were four other participants: three French and one Dutch. Of the French knitters, one was an eleven year old boy, who had come with his grandmother. Fair play to him for not thinking it a cissy pursuit, and having the patience to sit with a bunch of grown ups for two hours without appearing remotely restless. Amusingly, his grandmother turned out to have been born in the house where the other French lady lived. Wheels within wheels...

Anyway, we quickly bonded, as knitters do, over questions such as: "How old were you when you started?", "What was the first thing you made?", and "How big is your stash?", and I also learnt the French for an easy project you can watch TV to, known in English as "mindless knitting", and in French as "zéro cerveau" ("zero brain", which sadly lacks the rhyme of the original). The lady who lived in the other lady's house mentioned that she dares to knit fingerless gloves during Zoom meetings at work, her hands carefully positioned out of sight of the webcam. These would be very much an example of a "zéro cerveau" project, which she dubbed "meeting mittens".

The obstructing bit alluded to above came about because we were sitting in a circle in the middle of an exhibition on the history of roofing and roof tiles in the area. Several visitors came in during the afternoon and valiantly tried to squeeze behind our chairs to read the display boards. It only took a few of us to obscure several hundred years' worth of this ancient craft on our side of the room, but happily nobody complained.

NB Perfume will be back in Part 2, in a cameo role at least, after which "normal" posts will resume...

The final send off

Tuesday 30 August 2022

Harriet Worth goes to France: a tragi-comic mash up of human error and force majeure

Source: British Comedy Club

For any non-UK readers, or any UK readers not of a certain age, say, my adopted - and adapted - moniker in the title of "Harriet Worth" is explained here

So...nine months on from my last (very chilly!) trip to my house in the "not quite the Dordogne", I made it back there this month, albeit not without incident.

It started with a horrible journey down to Newhaven, to which I had - rather ironically, looking back - switched as my departure point at short notice to avoid the much publicised queues and traffic jams around the Eurotunnel at Folkestone. A drive that should have taken three and a half hours took seven and a quarter; I had only allowed six and a quarter, which should have been ample, but wasn't. There were vehicle fires on both the M40 and the M25 causing stationary traffic for hours at a time. Somewhere around the turn off for Heathrow I accepted my fate, namely that I was not going to get to the coast in time for the embarcation deadline. At that moment, a text came in, purporting to be from my phone company, with the alarming news:

"You have reached your spend cap limit so you will not be able to use any out of allowance services in the UK or make calls, send texts or access data when you roam abroad."

I thought on balance that it must be a scam, because I rarely use the allowances I have, but because it seemed to know I was going abroad - or trying to, at least! - I can't pretend it didn't put the wind up me, hard on the heels of my dawning realisation that I was going to miss the boat.

Source: DFDS

And I did miss it...I've never missed a ferry - or a plane - in 35 years of solo overseas travel. But there's always a first time. I had to wait five and a quarter hours for the next sailing, and pay a supplement of £33.50 to change my ticket. This was now a night crossing, so no sleep... At five o'clock I was driving off the ramp of the ship into the port of Dieppe when I realised that my French bank card was missing, which was in a wallet along with my driving licence, both of which are not things you want to lose. I did have other cards on me, but not ones linked to my French account with euros in it.

When I reached the French Customs checkpoint I asked the lady if they could have a look on the ship for the wallet, and she told me to go to the harbour office and sort it out with them. I parked up outside the building, which was of course thoroughly shut because it was five in the morning. Then, leaving the car where it was, I set off back to the Customs booth but got lost and managed to wander into a compound which turned out to be some highly restricted, highly secure area that you are not supposed to enter. But in I blundered, whereupon an electric gate clanked shut behind me, and I realised I was locked in. There was no alarm bell, no little intercom thing, so I stood there in the dark in this holding pen surrounded by high fences and gates, and thought: "Oh no! How am I going to get out of this?"

Photo of the offending zone taken on the way home - in daylight!

Eventually a border guard drove up in a van and unlocked the gate. He was not pleased to find me there and said sternly: "Do you realise you could go to prison for this?" This area was indeed completely off limits - no idea why, as it was just a bit of concrete, though with hindsight I wonder if it might have been some kind of international no man's land. Hmm, it looks like I am not the first person to be found in a ZAR (zone d'acces restreint). Anyway, I was profusely apologetic: I explained that I had taken a wrong turn and was trying to get back to the Customs area, and in the pitch black hadn't seen the no entry signs. He repeated his warning: "Well, you could go to prison for that!", before asking what I was doing there in the first place. I told him about the lost driving licence and how I was trying to find someone who could communicate with the ship. To which he replied: "Ah, but you won't be allowed to drive in France without a licence", conjuring up visions of my being put straight back on the ferry and being stuck in gridlock on the M25 again...not a happy prospect.


Then in an access of empathy the guard said he would drive me in convoy to the police station to discuss the driving licence problem, as the place was very hard to find. Having done so he waited for me to park in the spot he designated. Meaning I had to do a parallel park maneouvre right there in front of him. I am absolutely rubbish at parallel parking, never mind at night, and thought: "Well, regardless of whether I do or don't have a driving licence, they could ban me from driving in France purely on the basis on my parking!" It took me a couple of go's, but to my great surprise I managed the manoeuvre and went into the police station while the guard went back to his post, and said he would notify the ship of my loss.

Alone in the station, whose intimidation factor was somewhat mitigated by its being one of the few light sources in Dieppe at that time of night, I suddenly remembered that I did in fact have an old paper plus photo ID version of my driving licence, which was at the back of my travel folder. I brought it out, and conceded that it wasn't up-to-date like the one I had lost, and had the wrong address on it, but it was "the long version", really trying to big up length over recency. To my relief the policeman was satisfied with that and declared me free to travel, and I also cancelled my bank card while I was there by phoning the bank's "lost and stolen" helpline.

At six o'clock I finally set off, and drove the 400 miles south in one go, rather than breaking my journey overnight as I usually do, had I caught the earlier ferry. It took eight and a half hours, stopping quite a few times. Also, for the last hundred miles or so I had to drive with one eye shut, owing to the sudden onset of acute light sensitivity (photophobia) and double vision, which I think may have been eyestrain from all the driving over the two days, compounded by the stress of recent events. It is really uncomfortable driving with one eye, if you have ever tried it, especially over that distance. Plus my Satnav packed up about half way down France(!) - the screen just froze - and thank goodness it wasn't anywhere near Paris, which is the wiggly bit I could not have managed on my own - but luckily I knew the way from where it did stop working. I think the device may have frozen because it overheated, if that is not a contradiction in terms.

Having arrived at the house I spent much of the first few days cleaning, once again removing leaves and impudent lianas of wisteria that were climbing up the inside of the shutters, escorting enormous spiders out of the house, dusting cobwebs, and sweeping up the particular cocktail of particulates my house seems to shed in between visits: white powdered plaster, red brick dust, and black miscellaneous "crud", which had mysteriously formed a light patina over many of the surfaces. I also weeded the entire perimeter of the house (aka the street). In the course of all this cleaning and "gardening" I clocked a new gutter leak, a widespread infestation of woodworm (of which more in the next post), two rotted beams, a kink in the shower hose strangling the flow of water to a few drops - it clearly needs the plumbing equivalent of a stent - a dripping tap, a dropped door that scraped across the floor, and one with a very stiff bolt. Then the cat I befriended last summer came into the house and immediately sprayed on the sofa(!), though luckily the throw that was over it caught the brunt of his proprietorial gesture. To cap it all, the washing machine on the wall of the supermarket where I was about to wash it the following morning swallowed my money, and I got cut off in mid-sentence from the technical helpline because of network issues caused by an electrical storm.

Wisteria from INSIDE my bedroom!

So there you have it: how I was nearly arrested twice in as many minutes for separate offences at a time when I am not normally up, never mind breaking the law. Based on those first few days alone, I could best describe the trip as "character building", but I am a firm - veering to occasionally wobbly - believer in the motto: "A change (and a setback or three) is as good as a rest".

More adventures - and relatively light-hearted mishaps! - to come...

Tuesday 16 August 2022

"SCENT and all about it" by H Stanley Redgrove: an olfactory Oxfam find


Are you one of those people who enjoys cruising the shelves of charity shops in between bursts of "proper shopping", in the knowledge that a bargain find of a £2 jug or a £3 pair of shoes will be a surefire way to give yourself a little lift? I am that charity shop cruising soldier, and even if nothing else turns up, there are invariably a few paperbacks that come home with me on any given sortie - you just need to poke around enough amongst the serried ranks of horror, historical romance, and chick lit. So imagine my delight when I was browsing in my local Oxfam shop and spied this hardback book from 1928(!) - on perfume of all unlikely topics. Bagged for the improbably precise sum of £1.79, and I turned a blind eye to its foxed cover and tatty spine. It is not far off a hundred years old, after all. 

To be honest it was more of a technical read than I was after, but I enjoyed parts of it a lot, and loved the mere fact of handling such a venerable textbook on fragrance, with such a charmingly blunt title to boot: "and all about it". The book describes itself as "A Popular Account of the Science and Art of Perfumery", and I would question how popular it would be now, or was then even. The chapters were originally submitted to "The Hairdressers' Chronicle and Beauty Specialists' Trade Journal", which struck me as a spectacularly unspecialist periodical. I guess IFRA didn't come along till 1973 after all.

In the preface to the book the author, H Stanley Redgrove (we can but guess at the name behind the "H", but my money is on Harold or Henry), refers readers seeking more technical information on perfumery to the technical works of Askinson, Durvelle, Parry & Poucher, who do sound so very much of their time.

There's a great titbit about the need for a "compounder's license" costing £15 15s a year, in order to be allowed to prepare perfumes containing alcohol commercially. I wonder what the going rate is today.

The book proper kicks off with a section on the history of perfume: from Egyptian times up to the invention of Hungary Water, the first scent made with alcohol. Redgrove covers the advent of synthetics in perfumery, and soon gets into my favourite section: "Some Peculiarities of Odorous Bodies", where we learn about the appeal of indol when it is deployed at an optimal dilution, and fixatives such as civet, ambergris and musk. He notes how back then ambergris was already being replaced by sweet gum and oleo resins, while a successful substitute for natural musk remained elusive.

African civet cat ~ Source:

Later in the book there are some grim details about the exact MO by which these precious animal substances are harvested:

"...the cat is placed in a cage only just long enough to contain it, and after its legs are tied it is teased, as this increases secretion. Some of the civet is spontaneously ejected, the rest removed via a small spoon from pouches the glands excrete it into."

I will spare you the nitty-gritty on the extraction methods for the secretions of deer and badgers, but there were a couple more strange nuggets of info, namely the fact that most of the civet used in the UK at that time came from Abyssinia and was packed in ox-horns containing 1.5 - 2 lbs. I have to ask why? Couldn't they have used the early 20th century equivalent of a Tupperware? I also learnt that some nefarious middlemen tried to adulterate civet, I guess along similar lines to those who cut heroin with baking soda or talc. But I wasn't expecting the substance in question - banana pulp! Redgrove helpfully goes on to tell readers how to test for it. ;)

There is a little bit in the book on more abstract topics such as whether perfumery is art, the aesthetics of perfume, and its psychological effects - including a nice analogy with music where accords = chords - and he makes the excellent point that we are ill-equipped to describe smells with our current vocabulary and must resort to comparisons, as in: "this smells like x". However, most of the rest of the content is rather over my head.

For example, there is a whole chapter dedicated to the different types of alcohol; I now know more than I feel I need to about pyridine, fusel oils and empyreumatic substances. Then as well as detailed explanations of that well-known quartet of techniques used to produce essential oils - expression, enfleurage, distillation and extraction - he wanders into the chemistry of carbon compounds, and before I knew it I was bogged down in isomerism and phenolic bodies / esters. Actually, esters are ringing a bit of a bell with me, ditto aliphatic compounds, from my various work projects in chemicals down the years - including one famously in aroma chemicals in fine fragrances years before I became interested in perfume - but I couldn't tell you what they are now, haha.

The book finishes with some actual perfume formulations from the period, including Jockey Club by Askinson (sic), and recipes for Eau de Cologne and Lavender Water. For anyone curious about the former, there are three pints of extract of jasmine in Jockey Club, two of rose, and one of tuberose, along with half a pint of tincture of civet! I reckon that might have smelt more like the stables at mucking out time than the stated odour of "sweet wild flowers wafted over Epsom Downs".

Now I have more to say about my own evolving relationship with civet, but that can wait for another time...

So I definitely had my £1.79's worth(!), and I believe the book may have some value, battered spine notwithstanding. I have sent it to Eliza though - it is the back up book I omitted to bring with me when I met her the other weekend...;)

What's the best book find you've had lately in a charity shop? Have you ever come across any on perfume?

Tuesday 2 August 2022

"The Liz Declension": meeting perfumer Eliza Douglas in an English country garden

I have been having a lot of bother with my neighbours lately: by which I mean more bother than usual, which is already quite a lot. This week saw them nearly set their kitchen on fire by deliberately leaving butter in a hot oven as a prank, hard on the heels of a toaster fire last week, and a broken kitchen tap caused by a botched dousing attempt. A bottle was later thrown out of an upstairs window, which smashed to smithereens exactly where my paying guest's car had been parked, had I not presciently advised him to move it earlier that evening. There were also several angry shouting matches in the small hours that penetrated my most hermetic style of ear plugs, as well as slammed doors, running up and down corridors, and assorted things going bump in the night. 

By Saturday morning my nerves were shot, and it was with a great sense of relief that I set off for Oxfordshire to stay with my old friend and walking companion, Nicola and her husband, in their idyllic Cotswold cottage. Nicola had been cooking all morning, and within half an hour of my arrival we were seated at the garden table outside, sipping refreshing water melon and vodka cocktails, and about to tuck into the enormous banquet of vegan mezes she had painstakingly prepared. And not only had my friend gone to great lengths to distract me from my stressful preoccupations with food and drink, but she had also lined up a very special guest to join us for lunch, namely Eliza Douglas: perfumer, fragrance evaluator, teacher, IFRA staff member, scented event organiser, and general promoter of all things olfactory. Eliza lives near Nicola and is part of their well-knit local community.

A quick digression may be in order to explain what I mean by "The Liz Declension". Well, it struck me that there are several notable people on the UK perfume scene whose names are variants of Liz: Liz Moores of Papillon Perfumery, Lizzie Ostrom (Odette Toilette), and Eliza Douglas. We just need the odd Beth or Betty, a full-blown Elizabeth perhaps - or God forbid, a Lilibet! - to complete the set.

Anyway, the first amusing thing that happened is that Eliza and I had both thought to bring a book to give to the other: I chose "The Secret of Scent" by Luca Turin, which was a bit too technical for me, while Eliza chose "The Perfume Collector" by Kathleen Tessaro...and of course we already had these books. ;)

Eliza, however, had had the forethought to bring a back up book for this very eventuality, namely "Olfaction: A Journey", which celebrates a decade of the IFRA Fragrance Forum. (One of Eliza's numerous hats being that of Membership Liaison Secretary for IFRA.) I quickly got past my usual objection to the use of the word "j*****y" in the title, which as regular readers know is a particular bugbear of mine. For the book is a truly fascinating compendium of articles on scent-related topics, under broad headings such as "Arts & Culture", "Technology & Innovation", "Health & Well-Being", "Psychology" etc. It is chock full of more interesting nuggets than you can shake a blotter at, some of which I sense may provide a springboard for future blog posts. And to top it all...the book is a teal colour! Eliza could not possibly have known that I have a teal book theme going on in my house - indeed one could be forgiven for thinking that only teal-spined books are allowed on display. So that was the second amusing thing.

Soon we were tucking into the vegan feast in earnest, and had moved on from the refreshing cocktails to summery rose wine. I could feel the stress melting away, partly because I always relax when talking about perfume. As I chatted to Eliza about her past and present fragrance projects, and swapped notes on the various people we knew in common, I lost myself in the moment and completely forgot about my neighbour woes - much like that time I talked to a surgeon while I was on the operating table about his wife's preference for scents composed by Sophia Grojsman, which helped me tune out to the fact that he was excising a mole at the time!

For anyone not familiar with Eliza, she studied at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery and lived in New York for six years, where she worked for Frederic Malle (accents on request), before going on to collaborate with the innovative and maverick perfumer Christophe Laudamiel - he of the avant-garde arm scrunchies - who describes himself (comprehensively!, hyphenatedly!) as Master Perfumer-Creator and Chemist-Inventor. His DreamAir company provides "highly customised fine fragrances, as well as applications and technologies to play and display scents, on skin, in the air, or in many other surprising places". Typical examples of these Scent Sculptures or "ambient atmospheres" may be found in hotels, museums, music festivals, operas - or operas in museums indeed. Wikipedia has a tantalising and exhaustive list of them under the heading "Scent Sculptures, Art Installations and Performances", and a few particularly caught my eye: "Hamburg Harbour" (of which I have many happy memories), "Elephant in Rut", "Guilty and Orgasm aromas", and the teasing oxymoron of "True Fake Cocaine". I can't comment on which ones Eliza may have worked on, but I bet she had fun. Staying with the theme of Hamburg Harbour, I would suggest another ambient scent Laudamiel might consider creating, namely "Third Biggest Banana Dock in the World", which I have seen, but admittedly not got close enough to sniff. I note that there is already a banana-themed scent on the list - "The Banana and the Monkey" - so it should be straightforward enough to knock up a nautical flanker. Anyway, suffice to say that I really like the cut of Laudamiel's whimsical jib - I had heard of him, but had quite forgotten how fabulously bonkers he is. With such a vivid imagination, he must have been exciting as all get-out (as the Americans say!) to work with. The idea of Scent Sculptures very much reminded me of the "olfactive animation" projects of Zsolt Zólyomi, Hungary's only perfumer - or he was at the time! - upon whom I chanced during a work trip to Budapest. In that post I mention my own abortive attempt to sniff the inside of a museum he had scented just before closing time...

Source: Instagram

Eliza and Laudamiel are also champions of the Academy of Perfumery and Aromatics in the US, of which Eliza is Treasurer. Founded in 2002 by Laudamiel, it houses the American branch of the Osmotheque and has as its mission: "to introduce olfaction, scent history, scent design and culture into school and university curriculums as well as to the general public".  In 2014, they launched an educational venture called "A Sense for Scents"; the centrepiece of the kit supplied to schools was a set of 20 "whispi" mini-pumps that use fresh air to deliver scent in a fragrant puff. Eliza has given me one and I am blowed if I know what the smell is, even though I am long out of school, hehe. Here is a mini-blog post about the kits by Luca Turin, who is a fan, and used them with pupils in Greece!

Ye whispi

Along with Eliza, Nicola Pozzani also co-developed this project; his name rang an instant bell, and I realised that he was the chap who ran the synaesthesia workshop for Le Labo in 2011 which I blogged about for Cafleurebon. Small world indeed...

What else has Eliza done? She has evaluated fragrances for Gallivant, and runs independent perfumery workshops and classes with groups and individuals. UK-based readers may remember the Perfume Lab "drop in"-style project at Somerset House, where a series of perfumers took up residencies "to showcase the art and science of crafting a fragrance". Eliza took part in 2017 - I don't know if the project is still going, mind, or whether it got kiboshed by Covid.

Oh, and she is also writing a book...I can't say too much, but perfume materials and botany feature, together with food, and - intriguingly! - meditation. The food angle is not surprising, for I also learnt that Eliza is related to Prue Leith, no less.

So, as very often happens with perfume meet ups, the afternoon simply flew by, and there wasn't nearly enough time to talk about everything. So you may imagine my delight when Nicola announced that Eliza was popping back on Sunday morning with some samples for me, to wit a goodly clutch of Frederic Malles, including Lys Mediterrranee, of which I had recently drained my own sample. I had not tried Noir Epices, so I put it on today, notwithstanding its wintery style, and was instantly transported. I rushed to see what Boisdejasmin thought of it, as we have strikingly similar taste. I correctly predicted that she would have given it four stars (guessing Victoria's star attribution without peeking really could be a party trick of mine). This is not the time or place to describe Noir Epices in detail, even if I could do justice to its gauzy allure, but I commend V's review to you.

Samples complete with attractive bag!

One inevitable question that came up in conversation was our favourite perfumes: I had brought along House of Cherry Bomb Immortal Beloved and Guerlain Plus Que Jamais, which are in my top "two to three-ish", and Eliza was very taken with PQJ, which is a great shame as it is discontinued. See my eulogy at the time of its demise. Eliza said her favourite perfume was possibly one she greatly admired, yet wouldn't actually wear on account of its hugeness, namely FM Une Rose. Curious to understand this accolade, Nicola sprayed a trace amount and promptly saw exactly what she meant. ;) Then in terms of a favourite wearable scent, Eliza plumped for Roger & Gallet's rose perfume, which I assume is this one. I shall look out for it when I am in France next!

Source: FragranceX

In closing, I would like to give a big shout out to Nicola for having the idea to arrange this meeting with Eliza, on the assumption that we would have a fair bit in common and to chew the cud about (we did!).

And here is a photo of Nicola's pet lion, Tio, who has to be the most statuesque domestic cat I have ever encountered.

Thursday 21 July 2022

Not A Clockwork Orange or spider's legs effect, but not quite nothing either: Uklash Eyelash Serum review


As I have got older, I have become more and more dissatisfied with my appearance. Where to start? The lack of definition round my jawline (aka flapping jowls), the creeping grey that I try in vain to pass off as "elective silver", the nasolabial folds that look more or less gouged depending on factors I have yet to fathom, my sparse eyebrows and lashes, dry eyes, crepey, hooded eyelids, and pronounced lip lines I am surprised to have acquired as a non-smoker. On the plus side, I don't have bags under my eyes or wrinkles on my decolletage, if that is not too grand a term for it, although any budding dendrologists amongst you could have a field day determining my age by the concentric rings round my neck.

At the same time as this is all going on, I am wearing make up less and less often, in a bid to prevent recurrences of my several kinds of dermatitis, about which I should really write another post sometime, while conceding that my eyes can look a bit like a startled woodland creature without artificial enhancement. As my ex used to ask me on the rare occasions when I went barefaced: "Aren't you going to paint any eyes on?" And thus it was that one of the many Facebook ads you spot while mindlessly scrolling - and which pander to your insecurities - caught my eye...for an eyelash serum called Uklash. I was not even aware of the existence of this product category, but before I knew it I was bombarded by ads from a veritable thicket of brands, all fronted by fresh-faced users with incredibly doll-like lashes. Most impressive of all was the video showing how one woman's lashes had developed after two weeks, eight weeks, and twelve weeks of daily application. After just a fortnight her eyelashes had magically begun to sprout, while by the three month mark she was batting spectacular spider's legs at the camera.

So remarkable were the transformations I saw in the testimonials for Uklash, that after checking the serum didn't contain any known allergens I dropped nearly £40 on a tube at the end of April, and embarked on my own three month "lash growing journey", hehe. The product applicator is like a very fine paintbrush - as you get with liquid eyeliner, not that I have ever used that - and you paint it on each eyelid just behind your top lashes (only the upper set!) in one nifty sweep...that's for those with a steady hand and 20/20 vision, I might add. I sometimes took a couple of go's, but never exceeded the amount of liquid dispensed in one "pull" out of the tube. Here are the ingredients for anyone interested, though unusually for me I didn't really pay much attention to them - I was already sold on the miracle to come!

Infused with a blend of vitamins, peptides and extracts. Key ingredients like Biotin Peptide, Vitamin B5, Myristoyl Pentapeptide-17 & Green Tea Extract

GRAPHIC IMAGE ADVISORY! Truly, front facing cameras are the spawn of the devil...;)

May 1st - Day 1

Well, I have to say that my mileage did indeed vary from the woman in the video ad. It was five weeks before I noticed any change, and then only a subtle one, such that I am not sure anyone in my circle would have clocked a difference. But at that point I do believe my lashes were a tad thicker and longer (maybe). I should have measured them at the outset, though that might not have been very straightforward to do.

June 6th - five weeks in 

At the 11.5 week mark I don't see much further change, though there may have been a little, and will continue to use the tube till it dries out. There is a money back guarantee if you don't see any results, and though I am slightly tempted to invoke it, I have seen a difference, so I don't really qualify. Here is what the company promise:

Real results - up to 55% longer and 75% more voluminous looking lashes

I guess "up to" covers a multitude of sins...

June 29th - 8.5 weeks in

Here are some of the brand's "before and after" photos. Do take a look - some of the results are frankly astonishing. I am afraid I can't reproduce any in this post, as they all seem to be in a webfile format. I am reassured to see that quite a few of the women charting their progress have had considerable difficulty photographing their lashes without tilting their eyeballs up and back at a stupid angle. My attempts were even more unflattering I would say, but it was all in the interests of scientific experiment and can't be helped. ;)

July 3rd - 9 weeks in - I am well lit!

Was the £37.95 worth it? Well, kind of, because I did derive a hugely enjoyable sense of anticipation waiting for my lashes to do something, not unlike the feeling of excitement the novice gardener derives from chucking a packet of wild garden seeds over a bare flowerbed and hoping for the best. Plus there has been an improvement, and though I doubt anyone would notice who sees me without makeup, a little mascara goes a lot further now, so something has changed. 

I shan't come back when I am at the twelve week mark as this is Bonkers about Perfume, and as you know we don't do things by the book. I took a photo of myself just now, but it is the same as the earlier ones and I don't want to spam you with too many mugshots. Plus I don't think anything more is going to happen now! But remember that you may get better results if you fancied having a go. I think I saw fractionally more growth in my right eye actually, which was the one where I had a steadier hand doing the application. Well, it was fun, and hey...who wants to look like Malcolm McDowell anyway?