This Christmas was a marked improvement on last year, when the months of trapped nerve pain in my neck managed to segue seamlessly into Covid. This year (apart from an alleged shadow on the lung, of which more anon) I was in much better shape, and de-stressed the big day by opting for a high welfare chicken rather than a turkey, not even one in a conveniently legless and bacon-draped format. I had to traipse round four supermarkets, mind, to find a chicken that had had anything remotely approaching a reasonable life, which was in itself a bit stressful. Also, the only one I could find in the end fed 7-8, and there were only three of us for dinner, including a vegetarian. Looking back, I would still declare the meal to have been a resounding success, because everything came together on time, notwithstanding the usual musical-baking-tins-on-oven-shelves malarkey; my perennially teetotal elderly friend downed two Snowballs, and the only thing I burnt was my hand. The day was additionally bookended by breakfast and supper at a friend's round the corner, and midnight saw me bin diving for lobster in the alley behind her house. With the owner's permission I should add, as she had found it texturally disappointing and overly labour-intensive, which is fair enough.
Then I don't know about you, but I always buy myself a clutch of small presents and put them unwrapped under the tree, as a sort of self-gifting comfort blanket, I suppose. (Did I say "gifting"?!? Feel free to take me out and shoot me, as I swore I never would never stoop to using the cringe-making verbified form.) This year my purchases included some socks, a box of Turkish Delight, which somehow managed to become two, a Thermos flask to replace the one I foolishly put soup in that smelt strongly of onions, several bars of sandalwood soap, a pre-owned pocket Filofax, an elephant key ring, and two candles. I had thought of buying a 30ml travel spray of Boujee Bougies Gilded on a blind basis (another shooting offence, as we all know!), but decided on balance that that was too risky, and defaulted to the safety of the smaller candle instead - a 60ml baby one in Gilt. I have only just caught up with the fact that the candle and perfume have different yet confusingly similar names, hehe, and Pia from Boujee Bougies kindly pointed out the distinction:
"In Gilded perfume, the drydown smells similar to the hot throw of the candle. The top note of the perfume (of aldehydes and saffron) might seem startlingly different. Spice / aldehydes / incense / amber is the perfume."
So now I want to know what a hot throw is, and whether it is a point on the trajectory of a burning candle that you might easily miss, like an eclipse, or a meteor shower?
Aha, here we go...;)
"Hot throw: The term used to describe the strength of fragrance while a candle is burning. This evaluation is typically done after the candle has been burning for at least two hours but no more than four. Cold throw: In contrast, describes the strength of fragrance before a candle has been burned for the first time."
So all those times I have sniffed candles in T K Maxx, I have been smelling their cold throws!
Speaking of T K Maxx, that is where I bought the Elemis Regency Library candle. It retails at £42, but I got it for £19.99 as it was boxless. Not only that, but the label on the top was misspelt - the three fragrance notes were listed as Cade, Cedarwood and Sandlewood. My gain. So while the Elemis candle - or should that be candal?? - is nearly four times as big as the Boujee Bougies one, the Gilt mini does smell very refined and high end, or high altar indeed, for its scent is distinctly ecclesiastical. Its cold throw is so mesmerising in fact that I can't see how its hot one could top it. The Elemis is also a cut above most of the candles I sampled in T K Maxx - much as its spa body products are for that matter - but it is a "colder" scent, partly due I sense to its cooler blue label compared to the golden livery of the Gilt.
Now if I were a proper reviewer I would light them both and report back, but I can't bring myself to do that yet - I have other candles on the go I feel I should finish first, not least my Roja Dove one from years ago that I scored (rather aptly!) in some kind of fire sale.
So instead I will reprise a selection of the intriguing things I learnt about candle usage from a previous purchase of Aldi's Jo Malone dupes - full post here:
"First and foremost, we are advised: "WARNING: CANDLES CAN CAUSE FIRES". Crikey, I would never have considered that. But that is just the start of it...We are also told:
"May produce an allergic reaction"
"Harmful to aquatic life with long lasting effects"
"Avoid release to the environment"
But hold on, how does one go about burning a candle in the first place without releasing its smoke / emissions to the 'environment' of one's living room? Or does the advice relate to the great outdoors? Are they saying it is okay to gas yourself and your goldfish quietly in the comfort and fragrant ambiance of your own home, but not to allow noxious particles to escape in your street for passers by to inhale? It's a conundrum. Interestingly, Red Roses is NOT deemed harmful to aquatic life. I just toss that titbit out there in case you were considering investing in a three pack and splitting it with friends. Give the fish owners the rose one, that would be the smart move."
The warning on the box of Gilt is along similar lines in terms of allergies, risk to fish and to the environment. I daresay it would be on the Regency Library candle too if it had a box. I learnt on the Gilt packaging that you should burn a candle all the way to the edge, from between two to four hours. When you think of all the Christmas house parties taking place up and down the land, how many hosts -especially after necking a few too many glasses of Cava and mushroom vol-au-vents - remember to keep a note of their candle burning hours? And five years on from that post I quoted, I have still not got to grips with wick trimming, snuffing, or the proper placement of "hot bottoms".
Which leads me lastly onto the notion of burning things and lung care...At the end of November I was recalled for a routine chest X-Ray as part of the panel of investigative tests I am undergoing for Sjogren's Syndrome (or Sjogren's Disease, as it is more properly known now, and which should also have two dots over the "o"). The X-Ray purported to find a "ring shadow" on my lung, so I was sent to another hospital for a CT scan a fortnight later. The extremely harrowing parking situation at that hospital easily took several years off my life, never mind my putative pulmonary problems, and I missed the appointment by some margin; luckily the staff at the mobile scanning unit were able to squeeze me in within half an hour.
From the time I was told about the shadow till the letter arrived saying that the second scan had shown "no concerning or untoward features" - a period of three weeks or so - I had ample time to look back on my relationship with lung irritants down the years...there's the open wood fire in my French house, which billows black smoke into the room like the cooling towers of a condemned power station; there's a smattering of passive smoking around mainly musician friends, there's my joss stick habit - I fear that I always stayed in the same room as the incense to enjoy it rather than stepping outside while it burned or keeping it next to an open window ;) - and my much more occasional use of scented candles. Could I really have done some mischief to my lungs, and if I had, how would I change my home fragrance behaviour "going forward"? I realised that I would find it hard to give up joss sticks in particular, and also candles now and again, because of the sense of calm and well-being they confer. As with so many things in life, something can be both beneficial and hazardous for health at the same time. I've also started to burn logs in the grate in the front room, which surely can't be ideal, but it feels so cosy - and warm!
So yes, moderation in all things is probably the best policy, and you can't go through life being scared of every possible risk to health or you would go mad. Just as I burnt the candle at both ends socially over Christmas, and didn't once think of the Covid risk from gatherings, as I might once have done. Yes, life is for living,and fragrance in all its forms is very much part of that...