Monday, 6 March 2023

"Here comes success": Katie Puckrik's Lust for Life Tour 2023 at The Cavern Club, Liverpool

How many strings are there to Katie Puckrik's professional bow? How many fingers does she have in artistic pies, and irons in media fires? I have frankly lost count, but she certainly pops up in more cultural guises than you can shake Clem Burke's drumstick at, of which more anon. I knew her "on the telly" as a presenter on The Word back in the '90s, and since then she has become a focal figure on our perfume scene, with her own blog and seminal YouTube channel "Katie Puckrik Smells", which is when I got to know her in person. And along the way I also clocked her incarnations as a DJ on Radio 6 Music, book reviewer on Radio 4, journalist for the broadsheets, published author, TV presenter on Channel 5, podcaster, talk show host on Times Radio...ooh, the far from exhaustive list goes on.

Thus it was no surprise to me to learn that Katie's next project was to form an Iggy Pop tribute band to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the release of his album, Lust for Life, with Katie as lead singer and demurely maniacal Iggy Pop stand-in. Her band comprises an all-star line up of session musicians including three who have previously played with Iggy: Glen Matlock on bass (Sex Pistols/IP), Clem Burke on drums (Blondie/IP) and Kevin Armstrong on guitar (Bowie/IP), plus a second guitarist, Luis Correia (Earl Slick), and a classical keyboard player, Florence Sabeva (Heaven 17).

On hearing her announce the tour, I remembered that Katie had also been a dancer with the Pet Shop Boys and sung in a Sparks opera, so she is basically the Renaissance woman of the performing arts, and there is literally nothing she couldn't give a whirl. As she puts it herself: "I'm a show pony from way back." A many trick show pony, you could say.

My somewhat worse for wear flyer

A quick glance at Katie's tour itinerary identified the nearest gig I could attend, namely The Cavern Club in Liverpool, famous for its association with The Beatles. I was interested to note how many of the venues they were playing were ones on The Monochrome Set's circuit, from Hebden Bridge to Colchester, and Edinburgh to both the venues in London.

In the run up to the day of the gig I was quite nervous, as this was my first trip away since October due to my trapped nerve pain, which has recently been making a comeback unfortunately, as I mentioned in my last post. Then on the train up to Liverpool I was expecting the highlight to be the usual "blink and it's over" glimpse of the famous Runcorn Bridge, with its distinctive pale green girders, but in the event this gracious semi-circular triumph of Victorian engineering was eclipsed by the sight of a man sporting a shock of tousled black hair wrangling his suitcase out from the rack under mine as the train pulled into Lime Street station. Even from the top of his head I recognised the drummer in the band, Clem Burke, but was too starstruck to quip: "Have you got your drum kit in there?" or: "Lust for Luggage?", or even the faintly cryptic: "See you later". I may have mustered an inscrutable smile at best, before legging it off the train in case I bumped into the rest of the band and inadvertently appeared to be stalking them, in transport terms, at least.

Leaf ~ Source:

After checking into my bargain £34 hotel right round the block from The Cavern Club - well, apart from the incredibly hard mattress and lumpy pillows, as I was to discover later - I headed out to Bold Street to meet up with Mike O'Shaughnessy for a cup of tea and a catch up on the prison perfume workshops. He told me a few more "inside" stories, and we also discussed the possibility of my supplying him with another vintage scent for the next phase of his project. He was wearing ELDO's Fat Electrician, which I had never smelt before, and which was not at all as I would have imagined, although I would definitely describe it as "fat", in a satisfyingly gourmand and not unduly sweaty workmanlike way.

The Cavern Club - confusingly cavernous

The showtime was 9.45pm, so after downing a tepid burrito in a fast food place, and instantly regretting the extra topping of guacamole (raw onion in green slurry), I turned up at a fashionably not too earlyish 9.30pm to be sure of wiggling my way insistently to the front. Katie had kindly put me on the guest list, and when I spoke to the security man at the entrance he said something like: "Go down the stairs to the bar and see the....about the...." I asked him to repeat himself but heard no more the next time, so decided to follow my nose instead. (Bad move.) I duly found the bar, and in the distance was a stage with a band already playing - Katie's support, I assumed. I saw no one who seemed in charge of anything resembling a door, as the downstairs was all open plan, so I bought myself a drink, made my way to the front, and started watching what turned out to be a Beatles tribute band. After about six numbers, they showed no signs of stopping, and I started to get a bit anxious. Had the main act been delayed? Eventually they did finish their set, only to announce a second one after a 15 minute break. At this point I knew I had made a mistake; I was definitely in the Cavern Club, but possibly not the right part of it, although it didn't look like the sort of place that might have multiple stages within its cavernous confines, Odeon Multiplex-style. It was now 10pm, so I backtracked to the bar and suddenly spied a man in a greatcoat standing by a red telephone kiosk, brandishing a piece of A4 paper that looked reassuringly like a list. I asked him where the Lust for Life gig was, and he gestured towards another room beyond the phone box. "So you caught some of the Beatles lot, did you? Well, that's all right, as they're good, you know, and only young lads." And they were, to be fair, and though it seemed I would now accidentally have a two-tribute band night, I was still rattled by my error.

Beatles Complete ~ Source: The Cavern Club

Having found the correct venue, I now I had to repeat my insistent wiggling trick and managed to get to the far corner of the stage in one seamless manoeuvre, albeit with an extremely tall man blocking most of my view. After about half an hour of staring at his back I tapped him on the shoulder and he kindly let me scoot in front of him so I was now at the very front next to his much shorter wife. I reckon I missed about five numbers from the Lust for Life album itself, including Passenger, sadly, though I definitely made it in time for Success, my favourite song of the night. The band performed the album in its entirety, followed by a medley of songs, featuring more from Iggy Pop, plus tracks from each of the band member's past careers with Blondie, Bowie, The Sex Pistols etc, including the tumultuous Pretty Vacant(!).

Katie described the set - a generous 105 minutes in all, or 90 for me, haha, due to my bonus Beatles band bother - as a "meaty beaty crashy thrashy project", and that is a very good summary of the night. I was standing so near the stage (and, I suspect, a speaker) that the sound was deafening, and was starting to wonder if I should have brought ear plugs like another man in the centre of the front row. For me though, the music, and whether I knew or liked all of it (I wouldn't have minded the odd ballad in the mix, but I appreciate it wasn't that kind of set) was roundly trumped by Katie's truly remarkable rendition of Iggy himself. For starters she is lithe and sinuous like him, with a long dark blonde mane, and is a lot easier on the eye. Her costumes also deserve special mention: there was a pink dress in the first half that I think may strictly speaking have been a petticoat, but which looked just the part under a spangly silver jacket, while in the second half she donned a slinky silver frock and lost the jacket, for that would of course have been a case of 'silvering the lily'.

Most importantly, Katie was constantly in motion, making it nigh on impossible to take a photo of her in focus on my phone, as I was jostled in the mosh pit by the enthusiastic crowd. Her dancing was a riveting mix of the ladylike, the raunchy, and the downright weird (in a Thriller-esque zombie way), and I can think of no better poster person for putting yourself out there and strutting your stuff whatever your age. (FYI, Katie is 60, and steadily aging backwards). I really don't have the words to convey her energy and the electrifying atmosphere she created on stage - except possibly "great balls of fire". This was consummate choreography, stagecraft on steroids...Katie out-Iggied Iggy for me, and I think he should be very afraid. ;)

Eventually, even the band's generous encore was over, and they were gone, but not before Clem Burke had lobbed a drumstick and a planter of plastic flowers into the crowd. I am sure there was a story behind one or both of these items, but I sense I missed that too.

Oh, I have a Twilight Zone-y, wiggly, Iggy-related titbit to relate...firstly, Katie's band is covering Iggy Pop, who in turn has covered the song "He's Frank" by The Monochrome Set (with The Brighton Port Authority). Katie has also been to a Monochrome Set gig herself, in Washington DC in 1980, the autumn of the year I first saw them in London. And The Monochrome Set's drummer (in another of his musical guises) is supporting Katie on the last two dates of her tour next weekend at The Lexington in London, which is where I last saw the band in September. Which is all by way of saying that the music biz is perhaps smaller and closer knit than we know...

I have yet to find out whether Katie is wearing a "perfume of the tour", or a different scent each night, but that is a final detail that would be of interest. 

And I know I said that she out-Iggied Iggy...well, I stand by that, though Iggy probably clocks up more running and jumping, not forgetting hopping like a frog, "lurches, stage dives, and craning torso arches". I think that would have been a stretch in a dress and ankle boots, mind. There wasn't really room for such extreme forms of gymnastics anyway without Katie crashing into her bandmates, and she more than made up for it with her general shimmying, jerking, flailing, and imperiously pointing arms. So, I'd say she was plenty athletic enough, and I honestly don't know where she gets her stamina from! Plus, there were gravity-defying moves like this...

PS I would link to the remaining dates of the tour, but apart from Dublin on 8th March, it is a sell out!

Did you catch any of Katie's gigs so far, or do you plan to?

Monday, 27 February 2023

L'Erbolario Meharees, a three-date perfume date, and a quick health update

St Mary's, Stafford ~ Source: Wikimapia

That's a rather date-heavy title, but the reason will become clear presently...!

I will have to keep this post fairly short, as unfortunately my trapped nerve pain is back, I hope only temporarily. I had to stop my nerve blocking medication recently, as one of its key side effects would have muddied the symptoms of another condition for which I was being tested, and it may be that the pain hadn't in fact gone away naturally as I had thought, but rather was being successfully controlled by the drug - and with a bit of luck will be again! 

In the spirit of getting on with things regardless, I have carried out a couple of "perfume consultations" lately - I will couch them in inverted commas as they sound too formal and grand without. The first was with a neighbour, K, who is my go-to mattress flipping partner, and also helped me chop vegetables and open tins when my neck and arm were at their worst. I was very grateful for her help and wanted to return the favour in some form. It turns out that she had been disappointed in a couple of her recent perfume purchases / gift requests, which were based on glowing Mumsnet recommendations. I do myself turn to Mumsnet extensively for views on everything from shades of wall paint that would match a specific colour of kitchen cabinet to menopausal supplements, foolproof ways to cook a turkey, and remedies for eczema and mould on windows; in the light of K's experience, however, I would counsel against being swept up by the collective fervour of mums about a particular fragrance. Anyway, we had a good session testing different combos of woody / spicy / ambery / orange-y / powdery scents, and K took away a dozen samples to test at her leisure, including Maison Kurkdjian APOM pour femme, DSH Nourouz, Armani She White, Penhaligon's Elixir, By Kilian Amber Oud, and Puredistance Sheiduna. We both hoped that if she fell in love with any of them, it wouldn't turn out to be one that was either discontinued or horrendously expensive, which as we all know is a lot to ask for these days.

Next up was a meeting with a crime writer friend, Maureen, who had asked me to put together a selection of perfumes with vanilla in them; she also wanted to try Prada Candy, the second of my trapped nerve comfort scents. We met up in a coffee shop in town that I hadn't been in since the 80s - no idea why not, as it was bright and cosy, with a good view of St Mary's church and grounds, and sported the fancy new name of French & Byrne, which to my mind rather evoked a top hair salon or a brand of toiletries you might find in the better class of B & B, when it is in fact a specialist in brunch. Maureen had a coffee and got a wholemeal date scone to take away, kindly buying me one as well, along with my pot of tea.

I can't recall exactly what I gave her to try, though quite a few of the samples I had brought were "straight up" vanillas that Maureen not unexpectedly found a tad simplistic, while Hermes Vanille Galante and L'Esprit d'Oscar were a little too oddball for her taste. Her top two scents that really hit the spot were firstly Bvlgari Jasmin Noir, which I included in the testing pack a) because it is in a similar vein to Candy, and b) because M likes Lancome La Vie est Belle and I thought this would be a less sweet variant of possible interest - and L'Erbolario Meharees. She also liked Mona di Orio Vanille (vanilla with a treacly twist), and Jo Malone Vanilla & Anise (vanilla with an aniseed twist, as you may readily infer).

As soon as Maureen expressed an interest in Meharees, I revealed that it had dates in it - or notes that conjured up the smell of dates, it might be more accurate to say - and she said that might be why she was subliminally drawn to it, citing the bagged date scone in evidence. She is a prodigious lover of dates, it transpires! At that point I thought to mention that I had (uncharacteristically) made flapjack with dates in it only the other day, and had I known I would have given her a few pieces to take home.

I later sent Maureen the exchange I had with the band when I presented Meharees to them to try in Berlin (almost nine years ago, wow!). Jane, the tour manager, had just brought it back from Bologna, where they had gigged the week before, so if nothing else it is a well travelled bottle. (Full post here.)

The Méharées handover, and the focus group in a kebab shop 

That first night in Berlin also saw the handover by Jane (who FYI rocked Gorilla Perfumes' heady floral, Sikkim Girls, all week) of the bottle of L'Erbolario Méharées, which they had kindly bought for me in Bologna the previous weekend.  Thus it was that when I adjourned with the band to the kebab shop near their digs, I still had the bottle of perfume in my hand, and it was ceremoniously plonked on the table, next to the condiments, before I had the idea to ask them what they made of it, and passed the bottle around, inviting them to sniff the nozzle.

Guitarist: 'It's quite sweet.'
Bass player: 'It's nice - is there really just myrrh and dates in there?'
Singer (in a slightly incredulous tone): 'Whoever thought to put myrrh in a perfume?!'

(Editor's Note: The singer has certainly seen fit to put references to the scent of myrrh in a fair few of his lyrics. ;) )

So that meeting in a brunch cafe had a satisfactory outcome - I am always pleased when friends find new scents to love. And when she got home, Maureen scored a partial bottle of Jasmin Noir on eBay (it has since been renamed "Splendida Jasmin Noir", but the formula hasn't changed), and a full bottle of Meharees on Amazon. She was even more pleased with her purchase of the latter when I lobbed in the fact that Meharees is generally considered to be the best dupe going of a scent called Musc Ravageur.

I mean what's not to like about a ravaging musk?

Tuesday, 14 February 2023

Valentine's, Schmalentine's: aka tolling the bell for the rose with no smell?

Yesterday I paid a visit to a luxury hotel on the outskirts of town, which is well known locally as a venue for conferences and weddings. A friend had been at a work event there recently, and was singing the praises of the hotel's promotional pen that she had used on the day. It wrote so smoothly, apparently, and was lovely to hold. Although she had taken it away with her, it had since run out, as she had used it so much. "Aha, I said", quickly diagnosing the attraction. "I think I know exactly the pen quality you like - partly haptics in the hand, and partly glide performance", to which she replied: "Haptics and glide. Exactly so." 

Sensing a challenge to which I could rise, I first made a telephone inquiry to the hotel, to confirm the identity of the pen and check they still had some in stock, then called in and met the receptionist I had spoken to, who immediately handed me a pair of pens to give to my friend, and refused to take any money for them. "We can't even remember what they cost!"

On the desk at reception I couldn't help but notice two large boutique paper carrier bags with rope handles, each containing dozens and dozens of single stem red roses, individually wrapped in cellophane. It took me a moment to compute that they were probably going to be favours at place settings for romantic Valentine's Day meals the following day, rather than the unsolicited kind touted in armfuls from table to table by the rose-equivalent of a Big Issue seller, endlessly repeating the question: "Flower for the lady?"


I remembered how characterless and bland such roses are, with their tiny compact heads - and crucially no smell. Sour grapes you could say, hehe...

Mind you, there was an interesting poll about Valentine's Day reported on the radio yesterday, which found that only a third of couples were planning to mark the occasion "with a romantic interest", and of those, just under two thirds were going to stay in rather than have a special meal out, go to an event, or travel. Along with the Danes and the Spanish, we Brits are the most sceptical and bah humbug-ish nation in the world, with over 80% of us believing that the 14th February is not a "proper" special occasion, but one "celebrated more because of pressure from commercial entities". Perhaps surprisingly, the Chinese lead the table of considering Valentine's Day to be a genuine day for lovers (41%, compared to just 13% of Britons and a paltry 5% of Danes). I found those statistics quite revealing, for if you only based your judgment on the window displays of Clinton Cards and the M & S Food Hall you would get the impression that every woman in the land is going to cop for a bunch of of odourless roses, an oversized and disconcertingly squishy teddy bear, and a heart shaped box of truffles.

I was trying to remember the last time I received a mystery Valentine's card, and I fear it may be as far back as 1983. I eventually worked out who it was from - a boy on my college course in whom, sadly for us both, I had no interest. I am not sure I have ever received a secret card which did turn out to be sent by the person I hoped it would be from. This of course excludes "open exchanges" of cards from partners - and from cats indeed. For most of my time with ex-Mr Bonkers, four cards would change hands each year. I was always very impressed at the coherence of the writing. 

This morning I heard the thud of the post and scurried downstairs to find a pizza leaflet and two catalogues. One of these was called Owl and Barn, and featured a host of ornaments of questionable taste, including a pair of resin ducks dressed in gardening clothes, a Thoughts Tube Lamp (don't ask), a Special Friend Butterfly Tribute "with pink Austrian crystal elements", no less, an Angel's Blessing Music Box, an Illuminated Everlasting (= Faux) Orchids Terrarium, and a selection of the most depressingly mumsy fleecy sweatshirts with demure collars I have ever had the misfortune to lay my eyes on, in equally unflattering colours like Man City blue. Clearly I haven't been surfing right, to have been targeted with a catalogue of such arresting tweeness.

Now I was going to wear a rose perfume as a small concession to the day, but I accidentally sprayed on Miller Harris Fleurs de Sel before I remembered, haha - a more dissimilar scent to rose could hardly be imagined. There is at least a mini bottle of pink Prosecco in the fridge, although it is only Tuesday.  I will also launch a surgical strike on the supermarkets tomorrow, and buy myself some more flowers at a hopefully reduced rate. These cheery tulips are arguably beyond the pale now... 

Do you celebrate Valentine's Day with your significant other - or yourself, even, in the spirit of "self-care"? (Please feel free to shoot me for using that term)

How properly special vs commercial do you feel it is?

And do you also choose your SOTD with the occasion in mind?

If you would prefer to read a more romantic, "on-message" Valentine's post (well, that might still be a stretch in places), here is one from ten years ago today!

Saturday, 4 February 2023

Madame Rochas does time...travelling, as the Perfume Stories workshops go "inside"

HMP Liverpool - Source: Wikimedia Commons ~ Rodhullandemu

Back in December 2019, in that innocent twilight period just before the pandemic, I attended a workshop in the "Perfume Stories" series at The Tate gallery in Liverpool. This was the brainchild of Michael O'Shaughnessy, a senior lecturer in Graphic Design and Illustration at the Liverpool School of Art & Design at John Moores University, and a perfumista zealot on the side. The original programme of workshops was attended by final year students on his course, followed by an assortment of other fragrance lovers like me, who happened to get wind of the event. My rather long and meandering blog post about that day may be found here. (NB This one is also going to be on the long side!)

Here is Mike speaking about the alchemy of scent, and its power to take us back to other times and places:

"Some are childhood memories, but others are more complex...I never quite bought into the Dr Who thing when I was a kid, but this is time travelling."

Selfie by Michael O'Shaughnessy

During his residency at The Tate, the Perfume Stories workshops came to the attention of the Operational Lead for Creative Arts & Enrichment at Novus, a provider of a variety of educational content within prisons. Together they conceived of how to adapt Mike's sessions for inmates, using fragrance as a means to effect change, and promote learning and rehabilitation. 

Mike readily admits that before embarking on this venture he grappled in his own mind with its moral complexity, given the gravity of some of the offences for which inmates had been incarcerated. Eventually though, the vast majority of prisoners return to normal life, so he figured that it makes sense to try to turn their lives around while they are still inside, rather than have prison serve as "a finishing school for supercriminals".

Mike also felt he had the interpersonal skills to be able to strike up a rapport with the prisoners; an academic by profession, in his spare time he enjoys open water swimming, and mixes with people from all walks of life, including teachers, ex-boxers, and even some ex-cons. ;)

"Hey, working with students is just as challenging!"

As regards the pedagogical aim of the project, Mike hoped that the workshops would put offenders on a new path to learning, by offering a more inclusive and composite approach that combined Graphic Design, Literature, Science and Olfaction. He wanted to tap into inmates' scent memories, and thereby challenge perceived ideas around literacy amongst groups who - as he delicately put it - "may have had an uneven relationship with education". 

Image by Michael O'Shaughnessy

Thus it was that in February 2020, just before the Covid shutters came down, Mike ran a three hour pilot workshop with two small groups of four 'mainstream' prisoners in HMP Liverpool, known locally as Walton prison. Ahead of his arrival, word got around that "The Perfume Man" was coming to visit.

Prisons typically hold weekly Recreation & Education sessions, and inmates sign up to do a particular educational activity. 

"With me it has always been a weird sell, because they don't quite know what it is."   

People mostly opted into the Perfume Stories sessions because they were inquisitive, though Mike told me of one case later in the project where a group of younger prisoners were instructed to take part by prison staff.

A concern Mike had about the viability of the project was that prisoners might have lost their sense of smell, or not be able to rely upon it at any given moment, say. This is because the olfactory mechanism stops working when people are under great stress, a fact of which I was unaware, though I am not drawn to wearing perfume when I feel on edge. Mike discussed this potential issue with a prisoner at Walton, who confirmed that it does indeed occur, typically when people are kept in a holding cell after their arrest. Once they are either charged or released, however, their sense of smell returns. (Prisoners taking part in later sessions also attested to this phenomenon of temporary anosmia.)

"The Time Travellers" by Michael O'Shaughnessy

The format of the session was similar to that described in my blog post: Mike would introduce literary references to perfume, explain some of the science behind how smell works, and give the participants individual scent strips to smell with the question: "What does it make you think of?", whereupon the inmates would write down their thoughts and share them with the group.

"You ask them what it makes you think of, what it reminds you of, and it will always get you, it will always catch them."

Mike deliberately chose six complex fragrances with a lot of depth to them, including some high end luxury scents. He avoided strong masculine fragrances, but rather went for a more feminine or unisex vibe, which explains why my vintage bottle of Madame Rochas from the 1960's made the cut. 

HMP Liverpool ~ Photo by Michael O'Shaughnessy

The response to the pilot overall was positive: the stories people told were based on their own individual experiences and memories, often involving grandparents and matriarchal figures from childhood.

And then of course Covid struck, and the project was put on hold. In early 2021, Mike worked with his opposite number at Novus on an alternative way to deliver the sessions - still in Walton, but with a different category of 'vulnerable' prisoners, who for a variety of reasons would not fare well in the main cohort of the jail.

An explanatory DVD was developed, and sets put together of 5-letter coded blotters in sealed airtight packaging. The material was issued to participants about a fortnight before Mike's visit in May 2021. They were lent DVD players so they could watch the DVDs in their cells, as well as smelling the scents in their own time, rather than back to back, as was the case in the pilot, which was felt to be a bit much by some. Mike also supplied visual aids in the form of an A3 folding worksheet with directions, literary references, and some facts about perfume, together with graphics and diagrams.

These were later pared back and simplified following feedback from the groups attending this round of Perfume Stories. Some of the information was removed, more space created for people to use for their own notes and stories, and the phrase "Time Travellers" introduced. 

"They obviously didn't do what I asked them to do, because they just basically went through all the scents!"

"The other thing that I think is important for them to feel is...there's an element of rehabilitation - if they've got a stake in the process, that has value."

Because of Covid restrictions, Mike had to talk to prisoners individually on the wing with the door open to their cells - in what was a noisy setting with harsh lighting and while he was wearing a mask(!). He told me he was simultaneously processing the environment of the prison in his own mind and the conversations with the inmates, with whom he conducted four separate sessions, a week apart (one initial trial, followed by three with the same people).

Walton Prison ~ Source: Liverpool Echo

Here are a few reactions to the project:

"Mental escapism, the project translates you far beyond the prison walls."

"It held my attention, unusual, unique, interesting - different from any other education in here"

"Smell isn't just in the nose, it's an all over body experience."

Escapism and positive memories were commonly reported, putting participants in a calmer, more reflective mood.

And here are some of their comments about how exactly the scents spoke to them:

"The rusty dry smell you get in Autumn."

"I'll always remember the smell of my dear old Nan, I just hope she's in a better place now dancing away with Elvis & John Wayne two of her favourite people in the whole world."

"The moment I first detected the scent, I pictured myself standing on a shore with huge waves crashing onto the beach. I can't fully explain this image but it seems to be similar to a day in September 1988 when, aged 23 I stood on the beach at Aberystwyth looking out to sea day dreaming. The colour that came to mind, not unexpectedly, was light blue."

Following the success of the workshops in HMP Liverpool, Novus invited Mike to extend them to HMP Hindley near Wigan, using the tweaked material. HMP Hindley is a Category C prison with a mix of age groups, where Mike spent four weeks working with four groups spread over sixteen visits: one initial trial, two groups with 'recovery' prisoners (ie those who had committed crimes linked to substance abuse), and one with young offenders. He found that overall the process worked best with men over 30, who had clocked up more life experience, and hence had a greater store of scent memories to tap into.

It was at HMP Hindley that my bottle of Mme Rochas was deployed! - sprayed onto the coded scent strips, obviously. It was in the first group Mike held with five older men. I asked him what they made of it:

"The aldehydes are the one thing I do tell them about...the aldehydes are like that supercharged fizz that gets them, and that's got it. Some of the really classic perfumes with the aldehydes are the ones which take them right back to different places they didn't expect to be taken back to."

And here are the thoughts of a prisoner at HMP Hindley known as D, inspired by his scent sampling:

The more I can Imagine my future – the greater the possibility. 

What does my future smell like ? 

Does the world have a place for me 

The past was how I remembered it 

How I experienced it. It taught me how to feel 

I experience now through the mirror of the past. 

How I respond to the past effects my future.

HMP Hindley ~ Source: Manchester Evening News

Speaking more generally about the workshops, Mike added that top end rose-based perfumes were found to be very evocative.

"Anything with rose...a lot of the high quality perfumes that are more nuanced, so you'll get a direct reaction to one thing and an indirect reaction to something else in there."

Lavender and vanilla notes were also major triggers to scent memories.

"Anything that has got a base of lavender or vanilla in it, anything with vanilla in it - and most of that period of smells will have that - that gets them. Vanilla is probably the one ubiquitous thing which will always take them back to a particular place, partly due to the ubiquity of vanilla in different products. So it will be normally a matriarchal experience of bathroom soap - that's a really good one, and it is like a light going on for them."

Mike also singled out Chanel Les Exclusifs Cuir de Russie for special mention, because of the sheer variety of associations it prompted:

"It's so strange, because the links are so personal: I mean a newsagent's shop, or it could be a mosque,or it could be - you know, the inside of a cupboard."

Source: Manchester Evening News

In the next phase of his project, Mike was asked to carry out his workshops with prisoners at HMP Buckley Hall, near Rochdale. It is a facility for mostly long term inmates, who tend to be settled in a routine and more relaxed. The prison's Educational Facilitator had worked at Selfridge's and knew a lot about perfume(!), so she was keen to introduce the activity there. The environment was very conducive to conversation, and there was less churn in those attending the groups - a degree of which is inevitable in prisons, as people get moved on or released. As Mike observed: 

"It is better when there is more consistency - same environment, same guys."

I asked Mike whether over the course of his time visiting jails he had ever felt apprehensive about being in such close contact with criminals. He said not, because he was someone from outside the justice system and not an authority figure of any kind. 

"They really liked me: I'm part education, but I'm not part of the Education wing, I'm not part of the prison. Also, I'm not being marked on it, I'm not being assessed - they're really okay with me...I'm always treated as like an exotic thing."

"I move between the academic world and the prison world. My colleagues are always thinking I am going to be killed or have boiling water thrown at my face, or [redacted!]...They will attack another prisoner, they will attack an officer if they bear a grudge, but they are not going to attack a stranger. It's a myth. So I never feel uncomfortable or vulnerable - I'm quite relaxed about it. I do enjoy it."

Moreover, over the course of the project Mike gained a lot of experience about the types of characters who are in prison, what their "stories" are, and what makes them tick. He did concede though that the whole dynamic would probably have been very different had he been a woman... 

Mike has now been invited to take his Perfume Stories back to Buckley Hall in April or May of this year, where Madame Rochas will be having another outing. It might be a bit of a stretch to imagine that perfume therapy with inmates on its own could dramatically reduce the recidivism rate on their release, but the promising response so far to Mike's work certainly gives me hope... 


Saturday, 21 January 2023

On the lash: UKLash Eyelash Serum - a six and nine month update

My by now rather battered tube and box!

Back in July I wrote a "before" and "after" post about my results with UKlash Eyelash Serum, one of the many brands of such products on the market in this ever growing sector about which I was completely ignorant till I started dabbling in it myself at the beginning of May. Here's a reminder of my stubby apologies at the outset:

May 1st, 2022

The last photograph in that post dates from July 3rd, and shows some definite growth, which did surprise me, I'll be honest, as my default assumption tends to be that all beauty product claims are either hyped up or downright false.

July 3rd, 2022

The second photo above was taken about 91/2 weeks in - there is nothing otherwise significant about that precise interval, I hasten to add ;). I carried on using the product regularly till mid-October, and there is still a bit left in the tube, but my trapped nerves kicked in then and lengthening my lashes was the last thing on my mind.

Now I said in July that I wouldn't come back and revisit this topic at the twelve week mark, as I didn't expect anything more to happen, plus I didn't want to scare the horses unduly by posting too many photos of my bizarrely-shaped selfie-snapped phizog. But I decided to do an update after all, as the serum did in fact keep on working...!

So here I am, without make up still, last October - please excuse the very unflattering angle, which makes my nose look like a laboratory flask crossed with Concorde. The difference since July is subtle, but I do think the lashes have grown a bit more:

October 14th, 2022

And here are a couple of shots of me around that time, but with a light application of mascara:

October 7th, 2022

I am at least looking straight ahead in the next one, rather than sporting the demented "Look up!" expression not usually found beyond the optician's chair. I still look a little "scary stary", mind. And veering towards silvery badger in the fringe department, though that is being sorted next week.

October 10th, 2022

So where am I now? I learnt from the comments on my earlier post that the serum merely interrupts the natural shedding cycle, so that the lashes continue to grow. I haven't applied it more than half a dozen times since October due to my neck issue, when you are meant to use it daily to maintain the length or coax the lashes to become even longer. Frankly, by October they were at the height of what I'd call an acceptable length, and starting to grow out in strange directions and develop bent tips like mosquito legs with a kink in them. It was also very easy to create ridiculous doll-like looks with even one "normal" coat of mascara, so even if I hadn't fallen ill, I would doubtless have laid off the serum to stop this relentless sprouting in its tracks. Also, I could almost hear my eyelashes rustling when I blnked, which was a little disconcerting. I'd say my lashes are now back to where they were in early June, say, so really nothing remarkable, but not quite the little stumps of yore.

21st January, 2023

So would I recommend this product?

Absolutely, if longer lashes are a particular quest of yours. To be fair, I do think that even when mine were at their most stunted, they came up remarkably long thanks to the telescopic miracle worker that is modern mascara. But if you don't want to wear make up every day - and I rarely do now - having naturally longer lashes does give you more confidence to go out without shopkeepers asking if you can see properly out of those tiny eyes.

Tuesday, 10 January 2023

Perfumes in purdah: Les Néréides Impérial Opoponax (the sequel), Prada Candy, and Guerlain Shalimar Millésime Tonka

Sniffing Truffle's head

I'm back! A belated Happy New Year to everyone.

Nearly two months to the day since my last post - possibly the longest hiatus in the 13 year history of Bonkers about Perfume (or one of them) - and I am now attempting to type a full draft in the normal way for the first time, and see how that feels. The conservative approach I was recommended to take by the osteopath of cancelling all social plans and leading such a quiet life that it could qualify as a "retreat" appears to have paid off, and I am much better now. I have at last re-mastered the arts of driving, housework, shopping, knitting, and pretty much every other manoeuvre in everyday life except manhandling the loft ladder and opening tins. I wouldn't want to drive many miles yet, or knit a whole scarf in a day, but I am well up to dipping my toe back into these abandoned activities.

Yes, "retreat" is a good word...or "purdah" might be another to describe this strange time I have spent away from society. I hasten to add that I mean "purdah" in the generic sense of "seclusion", and not the practice in certain Muslim and Hindu societies of screening women from men or strangers, especially by means of a curtain, in case I lay myself open to charges of cultural appropriation. That said, I did acquire a front door curtain in December.

Les Néréides Impérial Opoponax (the sequel)

Notes: citrus notes, opoponax, benzoin, vanilla, amber, sandalwood

In my last post I mentioned how much I had enjoyed wearing Les Néréides Opoponax most days until my decant ran out. I would like to give Rachael Potts (whose decant it was), a shout out for kindly donating the rest of her bottle when the Royal Mail stirred into life in the New Year. The bottle is called "Impérial Opoponax", while I referred to this scent as plain "Opoponax" in the previous post. I have since learnt that the name was simplified over time, and Rachael's bottle has the original one on it. I am glad I didn't erroneously strip the perfume of its lofty rank - that would be like referring to the Duke of Sussex as Harry Windsor, though it is tempting.

Prada Candy

Notes: musk, benzoin, caramel (I daresay there are more than these!)

When I first found myself without Impérial Opoponax - and notwithstanding the fact that I have some 60 bottles to my name and countless other decants and samples - I felt bereft, and as though I didn't know what to wear now(!), for I was really craving something in that purring vanillic vein. Then at the end of November I spied a bottle of Prada Candy in a discount chemist in town - 30ml for £34.99. Ever since its launch, and despite loving the scent with its cosseting toffee haze, I had not felt I could justify the cost of a 50ml bottle, and had never come across the smaller format, never mind at the magic price of (more or less) £1 for 1ml, which used to be the norm back in the day, even for niche scents.

Despite this great deal, I continued to wrestle with my conscience and fought the urge to buy it, for based on current stock levels I will never need to acquire any more perfume in my life again. Though I realise that it depends very much on what you mean by "need". Plus I was in pain and deserved a treat. So I decided to let the decision be made by Victoria of Boisdejasmin, whose taste in fragrance has proved down the years to be spookily congruent with my own. I said to myself that if she had awarded Prada Candy four stars in her review (I didn't doubt that there would be one) I would take that as a sign that I should proceed with my purchase. And of course she had, haha...;)

Oh,and look what Colbourne, a reviewer on Basenotes, had to say about the opoponax note  - he mentions "toffee", which is of course in Candy. And props to him too for giving "effulgent" a rare outing in any context: 

"an exudate from the Commiphora eyrthraea tree, this resin has sensuous warmth, a sweetness of toffee contrasted with bitter, leafy herbal undertones, powdery, efflulgent, yet rich, mythic."

Guerlain Shalimar Millésime Tonka

Notes: bergamot, almond, rum, iris, jasmine, rose, tonka bean, vanilla and opopanine.

I am very out of touch with perfume releases - never more so than in recent months - yet my purdah was penetrated by news of this new Shalimar release from sources both sides of the pond, and as a born again lover of Shalimar in most of its incarnations, I immediately dropped £9 on a tiny sample from Etsy. I should point out that I was feeling a bit delicate on the day I tested it, but while the notes sounded promising, and as though Millésime Tonka might serve as yet another comfort scent in this reclusive period, the reality on my skin was a disappointment and triggered an instant headache. The composition was hijacked by an off-kilter accord I can best describe as furry lighter fuel. A bit like my experience with Tauer's Lonestar Memories, which also has jasmine, tonka bean and myrrh, but is way more fizzy. 

I think a retrial is definitely in order, so here goes...

Okay, no headache and no unpleasant notes, but Millésime Tonka is darker and murkier than the original, and a little more bitter.almondy maybe? I think it is probably absolutely fine though, like a "Shalimar Noir" if there was such a thing, and it may only be a question of time. I will wear and enjoy this sample and get my money's worth. For nine quid for 1ml is a bit steep to shell out even on a prize lemming. I think feeling as I did when I first tried it, frankly any perfume might have triggered the headache, and this version is rather rich to be fair.

And now see what another Basenotes reviewer, Shahbaz_2009, says of Impérial Opoponax, comparing it to Shalimar!

"Upon spraying we are hit with the familiar bergamot-lemon-cream opening,which is very sweet and almost reminiscent of Vintage Shalimar and Oscar"

Eyeballing the notes, there appears to be an opopanax-esque component. I have been unable to google the word to clarify the point, however, as my search keeps defaulting to "dopamine".

So it is clear that while ill I was drawn to fragrances with quite a lot of compositional crossover without realising it...vanilla-forward, toffee-ish purrfumes, we could perhaps call them.

Source: Fragrantica

In closing, I would like to thank all my friends and neighbours (not that they are likely to be reading this) for acting as a spare pair of arms in so many useful ways over the past few months - it was a huge help. And Truffle, for sitting on me so comprehensively in what seemed at least like an empathic way. I am sorry to report that her head that I am sniffing in the photo smelt unmistakably of wee - clearly not her own as that would entail a feat of gymnastics beyond the capability of even her athletic frame.

Lastly it occurred to me that I must be feeling better to embrace the right royal faff of adding accents to two of the three perfumes featured, especially the Impérial Opoponax, which has three on its own!