Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Nearly Busted Again!

The Spanish Inquisition ~ Source: Wikimedia Commons (Bernard Picart)
Almost a year to the day since I had my knuckles rapped by the Royal Mail for attempting to send consignments of perfume abroad, last week I came close to being busted again - or so I feared. Not all of the wrongdoing was my own, however, as you will see.

By way of background, I should explain that in tandem with the (not overly successful!) bottle sale on Bonkers the other week - which may of course be partly down to this fact that I cannot post abroad - I have been lobbing a few bottles on eBay, and letting them take their chances. The other day I was lucky enough to sell one of these, for a quite decent sum too. It was a not quite full 100ml bottle, so - mindful of the risks of leakage in transit - I parcelled the bottle up with elaborate care: first I put tape round its collar, then popped it into a gauze bag, which I placed inside a plastic mailer, before swaddling the plastic mailer in bubble wrap and laying the whole thing gently in a nest of tissue paper inside a gift box. I closed this box tightly with elastic bands, before wedging it inside a sturdy cardboard outer box lined with polystyrene chips and scrunched up bubble wrap. That box was then firmly sealed on all edges with parcel tape.

So far so good. Then, at my local post office, from the moment I asked for an ID8000 label everything started to unravel. The postmaster is used to my frequent shipments of perfume, and these days the most he ever asks me is: 'One bottle or two'. On that afternoon, however, his elderly mother was serving at the counter, and proved to be an absolute stickler for the rules. Anxious to create a good impression, he acted as her Greek chorus, chiming in with her ever more impossible stipulations. "Is it in the original packaging?" "Yes." I replied. "In its original box?" ", it's not in a box." "It must be in the original box with the cellophane still on." All of a sudden, the postmaster whipped out a blue demonstration bottle of a men's fragrance to show me what his mother meant by a perfume bottle. "This comes in a box, wrapped in cellophane. Is this what you are sending?" ", but to be honest, I am not sure it ever had cellophane - I am not even sure it had a box. It might have been a bag." "That's the only way you can send the original box, in cellophane."

So that was me told. Browbeaten and crestfallen in equal measure, I slunk off to the next nearest post office, a little sub-branch inside a grocer's about half a mile away. Once again I asked for an ID8000 label, and this time hoped against hope there would be no grilling about boxes, let alone cellophane, or the small matter of the missing 15ml... The lady behind the counter looked at me as though I were an alien. "We don't have those. I have no idea what they are", adding in a peeved tone, as though I was trying to make her life inordinately difficult - at 4.45pm to boot: "I only work in the shop a couple of days a week - I don't normally deal with this side." In vain did I ask her to have a rummage in the drawer in case one of her colleagues had put some of the all-important labels by. "No, we don't have them. So do you want to post this then?" Suddenly, a Royal Mail delivery man hove into view, a huge, strapping hulk of a man, who wordlessly began humping big plastic sacks of parcels to his van, before returning and loitering with intent as I decided if I was going to post this package 'commando' or not. "You are my witness that I did ask for a label?" I piped up in a tone I had intended to sound cheerily upbeat, but which came out as wavering and doomed. "Hey, I don't have anything to do with postage and all that." Of course he doesn't - he is Royal Mail and she is a small outpost of Post Office Counters within a convenience store.

In desperation, I decided to chance the package with tracking, but without a hazard label. At least I hadn't been asked any awkward questions, but now the box had to take its chances in the Royal Mail's system, subject to random - or possibly even systematic! - scans and spot checks of its contents. I could so easily come a cropper, and what if it were a case of 'three strikes and you're out'? And straight into Stafford Gaol, as quickly as Rolf Harris was smuggled out the back at dawn the other month.

HM Prison Stafford ~ Source: Wikipedia (Stephen Pearce)

Cue a nailbiting 48 hours, which was the shortest timeframe in which a second class parcel could arrive. Meanwhile, I tried googling the scenarios under which Royal Mail parcels travelling within the UK are likely to be scanned. Could it be first class only? Special delivery? Ones going on a plane, even within the country? Tracked mail of any class? Some combination of the above - or even a completely different and more random set of criteria...

I also sought solace in a fragrance selling and swap site on Facebook. Members piled in to regale me with tales of their own daring and derring-do in dodging the authorities - many involving creative renaming of their parcels' contents as a  'statue', 'collector's toy', 'cosmetics samples', 'CDs', and 'books'. One comment in particular really helped allay my nerves:

"Ohhh don't sweat it. You'd probably get sooner taken for a ride by a dodgy buyer than have Royal Mail give you a headache with your parcel."

Kittens assuaged, I did take the precaution of alerting the buyer to my postal problems, and reassured her that I would issue a full refund in the event of the parcel being intercepted and confiscated. She was most understanding, and said she'd keep her fingers crossed for - and with - me. We sat tight for two days. Then on Day 3 at 11am I received an email from her saying the parcel had landed safely, without any sign of misadventures en route. She thanked me for packing it so securely, and for the free sample, while I thanked her for her patience. Then I thanked the members of the fragrance site, as their stories from the coal face of perilous perfume posting had been a comfort at a worrying time.

Source: Nestle

It was some days before I ventured out to my local post office again - with two big parcels this time. The postmaster was there, with his wife serving, and the mother nowhere to be seen. The wife weighed each package and made no comment - not even to ask me which service I wanted it to go by(!), so I chipped in to specify second class. The fact that they asked no questions is less significant than you might think, a) because the parcels were both returns - one to an Amazon supplier, the other to Nestle (two defective boxes of Cheerios, since you asked ;) ) - and b) because they didn't feel or look remotely like the sort of package that could contain perfume. Though I could so easily have lost a decant or two in one of the Cheerios boxes. But nevertheless, the near silence was in complete and utter contrast to last week's Spanish Inquisition.

I don't know if this marks a turning point in my relations with my local post office...I cannot be sure the postmaster will revert to his laissez-faire self on a future occasion, even if the mother is not on his case. So I think I should find a post office that is in possession of ID8000 labels, but which displays at best a cursory interest in the contents of my package.

And someone needs to tell the Royal Mail that not all new perfumes come wrapped in cellophane...

Do you have any perfume posting war stories - from either side of the pond? Do tell! (I might feel a little less beleaguered. ;) )

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Let bygones be Byzance: a tale of two house clearances, featuring a guest post - and a surprise spot of rapping! - by my (late) mother

Travel poster by Harry Riley
A few months ago, Liz Moores of Papillon Perfumery kindly sent me a partial bottle of Rochas Byzance, remembering my nostalgic association of the scent with my mother, albeit for reasons upon which all bona fide perfumistas would frown. The full story may be found here, on the remote offchance that there are still any readers who have managed to escape my repeated references to it(!). Now hopefully Liz won't mind my mentioning that she recently celebrated her 47th birthday, while my mother would have turned 97 in May. The 50 year difference in their ages I find oddly portentous, I don't know why, and despite the immense cultural changes that have occurred between 1920 and 1970 I feel sure they would have got on famously, not least through a shared love of food - and drink (which in my book is A Good Thing ;) ).  And like Liz, my mother was a free spirit, and managed to turn the heads of locals in Halkidiki on a solo cycling holiday at the age of 76.

The trigger for this post was the recent sudden death of an old work associate and neighbour, who lived round the corner from the house I used to share with Mr Bonkers. This lady's only blood relative, a cousin in the South of England, rang me up the other day to ask if I was coming to the funeral, and mentioned in passing that at some point he would need to come up again to sort his cousin's house out. I told him I knew just what that was like, having done two 'long distance' house clearances myself for each of my parents (who didn't live together in later life). As I am local, I offered to help this chap out on the ground, should he need it when the time comes.

And that got me thinking about a remarkable house clearance that my mother carried out, which led to her writing a feature about the experience that was aired on Woman's Hour in 1968. Her voice on the tape is so cut glass as to be hilarious - almost as royal-sounding as the Queen! I am sorry you can't press a button on here to fully appreciate her plummy tones. I have no recall of my mother ever talking like that, I might add - and I was nine at the time, so was old enough to notice such things - maybe she was putting on her poshest voice specially for the BBC. ;)

So here is the transcript of her broadcast instead - Mother's 'guest post' if you will.

"Do it! You should just see the muddle. But two days were all that I could spare away from the family. So in spite of the warnings, off I went on the plane to Exeter, to sort out the effects left by Aunt Ina. The last time I had seen my aunt was over thirty years earlier. On that occasion I was fifteen years old, suddenly orphaned by my mother's death. At a grisly meeting I sat mute while Aunt Ina and three of my uncles discussed the question: 'What shall we do with Peggy?'. I think what increased the grisliness of the meeting was that it took place in the refreshment room of Victoria Station. Almost as bad as being found in a handbag on a platform for the Brighton line. But the line was immaterial, and so was the refreshment room, except that it was there that my aunt said that she could neither have me to live with her nor contribute to my upkeep - and that was the last I saw of her.

As it happened we got on well together at the meeting, and though we corresponded at intervals, I have never seen her again. Now she had made me her residual legatee and I had to sort out the residue. And although I had been warned, when I was actually in my aunt's house I was taken aback by the task that confronted me, for it seemed that my aunt was eccentric in that she could never throw anything away. Drawers and cupboards were full to overflowing. I could hardly walk around the sitting room. The solicitor said: 'When I went to see your aunt, she'd be sitting at the table, and she'd simply push with both hands until all the things on it would mount into a hill at the back, and then she'd have a space on which to write.'

It was strange getting to know my aunt after she was dead, but one can't go through a person's possessions without having a pretty complete portrait of the person who possessed them. No one could live in such confusion without having a total disregard for housewifely pursuits. The drawers revealed such things as empty cigarette cartons, half empty boxes of forgotten sweets, Christmas cards from way back. There were also papers on how to win on football pools and how to develop a system of betting on horses. Which is odd, for the second thing I discovered about my aunt was that she was quite detached about money. In every drawer I emptied there was money: half crowns, sixpences, even farthings. All with that odd feeling to the touch that long unused coins have. There were pound notes in old purses - or just left in the pages of an old notebook. There were coins in the kitchen drawers and pound notes in the pockets of her coats. But the crowning discovery was a roll of eight five pound notes lying behind her bed. It's odd how money found in these circumstances doesn't feel quite real, just paper. I suppose because it's in a sort of limbo, neither earned nor given.

I had a bonfire going for two days steadily, burning letters, old clothes, magazines, newspapers and photographs. Ah, those aunt had obviously been a keen photographer and there were thousands of photographs: groups of happily smiling people who meant nothing to me. There were some of my mother and father that I'd not seen before and I was glad to have these. But I felt sad as I saw those records of her happy days going up in flames. There's no point in keeping meaningless snaps. And yet I felt ruthless in destroying a tangible past. And ruthless I had to be to clear out this mess in two days. But there were moments when I had to pause, when I dug up real bits of treasure - to me at any rate. I began to see the reason for the lack of domesticity as I found evidence of the adventurous life my aunt had led in her youth.

A small black book, closely written, I discovered to be the log book of a small boat in which she and two men - one her first husband - tried to circumnavigate Africa in the days before journeys in small boats were commonplace. And then a yellowing sheet from a Sunday Herald published in 1925, in which she describes life among the Rif in Spanish Morocco, where apparently she was the only white woman. Exciting enough, I thought, until I came across another from The Times of that year which told how a beautiful English woman known as 'Lovely Nellie' had been held hostage, as her husband and another man had been caught gun running.

How I wish then she was there to tell me of the adventures only partially revealed by these tantalising snippets! She obviously made friends easily judging by her foreign correspondence, and she was popular with the local people, although she was reserved and did not speak of herself much. She had an inventive mind, and I came across draft inventions she planned to have patented. What else did I discover about my aunt? She loved earrings and brooches and makeup. She collected  stamps and cigarette cards, pens and boxes of matches. It wasn't until four o'clock on the second day that I finally cleared the space in her bedroom and gathered together the things I wanted sent to me in Northern Ireland. Things I knew she wanted me to have: a Japanese rosewood chair that belonged to my grandmother, some Japanese vases, and some slices of family history which I shall enjoy piecing together. I felt then that I'd come through a long, dark tunnel. It had been a chastening experience in several ways. Chiefly I'm thinking of all the lumber one accumulates over the years - that someone might have to do this for me. In a modified way, it's true, but do I really need all the stuff that's in my attic? And are all the letters in my desk really worth keeping?

But chastening and exhausting though this experience was, it had its rewarding side, and I felt I could close my two days in Devon by making an announcement: 'Gained posthumously, an aunt'."

I can picture some of the treasures from Great Aunt Ina's house - little lacquered tables and sets of drawers, all manner of jewellery, a ceremonial sword and a scimitar, one or both of which are now in my brother's loft. And I 'inherited' a lifesize toy cat with white fur. At least I hope it was a toy - it was worryingly realistic, I do remember that...If I still had it, I could make it stand sentry at the back door, to scare Tootsie away. ;)

Now I have just looked up Ina in our family tree and found out some other interesting titbits about her. She got married to her first husband, a shipper and ship builder, in 1922, when she was 22 and he was 54! One of the witnesses was named as F C Voysey, eerily close to C F Voysey, but surely that would be too much of a coincidence, even though he was living nearby at the time...

Source: Wikimedia Commons (SpudGun67)

 Also, Ina and her first husband lived at 118, Long Acre, in Covent Garden, a hop and a skip away from Bloom! Where it seems Dame Margot Fonteyn also lived, but not at the same time, and doubtless not in the same flat. ;) Then Husband No 1 died in February 1930, and Ina was married again by June of that year! Husband No 2 was only 48, and she was 31. Ina clearly liked older men, though at least they are getting progressively younger with each union.

What else has come to light? Ina was one of only three female members of the Royal Southampton Yacht Club in 1927. (Mother donated Ina's copy of the Rule Book from that year to the club in 1985, prompting the reply below from the club's secretary, which probably isn't legible, I know.) To be a member as a woman in those days you had to own your own yacht, and Ina's was a 50-foot long wooden sailing yacht called Silver Crescent, built in 1886. The secretary adds that out of 800 club members, there are 80 women now, so it sounds like even back in the '80s, the glass hull was well on its way to being broken.

And I have to smile reading the broadcast back, because it was me of course that got the gig of sorting out Mother's effects after her death. I immediately rehomed Ferraby, the plush duck, and Pinky, the towelling pig. The latter had been sitting in her wing back chair ever since she was hurriedly taken into hospital, waiting patiently for her return.

Pinky's new chair in Stafford

Then Mother's paperwork was contained in a single concertina file, and fortuitously her bank account had just enough left in it to cover her funeral. The only part of the house where she had exhibited 'Aunt Ina-like behaviours' was in the kitchen...the drawers were crammed full of old corks and buttons and safety pins and pennies and broken pottery and oozing tubes of Savlon - and much more in that vein - while the pantry was a treasure trove of pre-1982 spices. This being...ahem...1999. But it was a privilege to tie up the loose ends of my mother's life, and I didn't begrudge the triage of a single odd or end. Disposing of someone else's belongings is a weighty responsibility, characterised by a myriad of quick fire decisions that require a judicious blend of empathy and - as Mother herself says - ruthlessness.

And what about the bottle of Byzance I had given mother so thoughtlessly three years previously? Not a trace. I did, however, find this bottle of Opium in her sponge bag, that has morphed 18 years later into a rich and treacly concoction, while smelling by no means 'off' to my nose. I have dated it to the early 90s, which sounds plausible. I don't know how Mother came by it - a gift from a friend, her bridge partner, an impulse purchase in Boots, like me with the Rochas - who knows? It's well over half empty though, suggesting she did rather like it.

And this story would not be complete without a mention of Liz's rescue hen, Peggy, whom she kindly named after my mother. I knitted Peggy a jumper when she first arrived at Papillon Animal Sanctuary, to keep her warm until her threadbare plumage grew back. And I am pleased to note that Peggy the chicken also likes a tipple. ;)

In a bizarre turn of events, ex-Mr Bonkers turned my mother posthumously into a co-rapper in this song, along with Birmingham-based rapper, Tijhs Jordan. She really gets a groove on, and if you listen very closely, you may just be able to hear her repeat the phrase 'a small black book', interspersed with Tijhs's own take on Ina's travelling exploits. I'd say he is 'riffing' off them, but that might be a pun - and an 'f' - too far. Oh, and actually, you can get an idea of her plummy voice in the song!

Link to the track ('Hope/The River') here (and further background on it here - it is a partly original (very original!!), partly cover / tribute piece).

The last artefact I came across relating to my great aunt was this copy of a letter sent to my mother in April, 1959, in which Ina hopes that her 'forthcoming event' goes smoothly. Why, that would be my own arrival, a month later!

And although there is mention of Ina liking makeup and jewellery, of perfume there is nary a word. With her smoking habit (maybe she even had an actual habit - and cap - like Rachael Potts' husband Tony?!), and love of betting - not to mention her swashbuckling seafaring persona - I could see Ina in Tabac Blond, Habanita or Cuir de Russie, perfumes all squarely dating from the time she dating - and getting hitched!

Finally, here is a photo of Mother's old house in Swindon, which is currently on the market, I see. It was my house first in fact, before I sold it to her when I moved to Stafford. Those are the very shelves I put up in 1986! (I may have had some help.)

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Another Bonkers perfume sale!

I have been having a torrid week so far, including several more whiffy incursions by Tootsie. The only humorous aspect to any of the predominantly bad things that have been kicking off lately was the sight of Truffle leaping backwards several feet in the air after clawing her scratching post, for all the world as though she had seen a cucumber (that mythically frightening vegetable). Then, perplexed at her dramatic reaction to a familiar toy, she went back for another attempt - doubtless to check she wasn't imagining things - and instantly leapt backwards again! When I sniffed the pole I knew immediately that it was Tootsie's malodorous calling card that had freaked her out to such spectacular effect. Anyway, the scratching post is in the bin, with another on order. A chap whom I can best describe as the upholstery cleaning equivalent of the SAS has been in today to deep clean the sofa, the target of previous urinous acts of terrorism.

I have also been suffering from an identity crisis, following the receipt of these emails:

"Greetings from Vicky of Threeway Steel Co., Ltd China
Glad to know that your esteemed company is in the market of steel pipes."

AND this, from a PR Executive with the incomparable name of Flo Birmingham:

"We are hosting a beauty event on Thursday for the launch of Spotlight Teeth Whitening. It is a pop in event open from 10am to 6pm and there will be manicures, blowdries, braids, goodie bags and dental consultations with the Spotlight founders, dentist sisters Dr Lisa and Dr Vanessa Creaven. We'd love to have you there."

Too right it is a "pop in event". And I would have quite fancied "popping in a whitening strip" and chatting to the namesake dentist sister and my fellow attendees with (presumably) a couple of horsehoes of plastic in my mouth.

But I can't really slip down to London at the moment. Meanwhile, I lost one big job prospect and may have gained a smaller one in its place. In view of the precarious work situation overall (as in I haven't had any since April), I decided that it was time for another bottle and decant sale. This differs from past sales in that I am putting forward some perfumes I am happy to part with, plus others that I would happily have kept. Realistically, however, I have too many, and they are more useful to me at the moment in 'liquid' form...that's not quite the metaphor I am searching for. ;)

I will organise the stock into two main categories: Newly Listed Bottles & Decants and Old Suspects! The latter have all been reduced in price, to allow for a bit of depreciation since last year. As you know, I am only able to post perfume within the UK, due to being a convicted felon. I can at lesat offer a range of postal options ie 1st or 2nd class, with or without recorded / signed for delivery, though the latter is a bit safer, I always think. Allow an extra £3 to £4.50 depending on your preferred option.

Newly Listed Bottles & Decants

Cuir de Lancome 50ml (c47ml remaining) - £45 [SOLD]

This is a 50ml bottle and there's a few ml missing from the top, though I have a little bit left in my current one so I am a bit puzzled as to why this should be. However, I can only conclude I must have done a little decant for someone from it.

Oh, and the bottle has that notorious wonky top, without which no bottle of Cuir de Lancome would be complete!, together with the built-in shape sorting puzzle of the box that prompted a post all on its own.

Why oh why did they discontinue this beauty?

MAC Naked Honey 20ml (c9ml remaining) - £12

This (also discontinued) scent from 2009 became a bit of a cult classic, and is noted for its unusual honey and linden note combo. The bottle design is rather wacky too, and should appeal to Undina and beekeepers everywhere.

Armani Prive La Femme Bleue (c4.5ml) - £17

For lovers of chocolate and incense, this is a beauty: I paid £40 for a 10ml decant. I see that Surrender to Chance are charging $80+ for a 3ml spray vial, which is over £60, or an eyewatering £20 per ml! There is a slight sticky residue on the collar, which I haven't tried to get off with acetone for fear of contaminating the scent. I could decant this into a fresh atomiser if people would like.

YSL Opium Fleur de Shanghai (c13ml) - £15 [SOLD]

This is a decant of the 2005 flanker (a sort of summer edition) to Opium, also sadly extinct, though in fairness I think it was launched as a LE. Ayala Moriel is a big fan and it was her review that drew me to seek this one out. I much prefer it to classic Opium, Coco Chanel, and other heavy hitting spicy orientals. It isn't light as such, but has a brighter feel due to the inclusion of notes like magnolia.

Serge Lutens Chergui (c14ml) - £16

I am pretty sure this is a 30ml bottle, and the fill level is about half. Chergui needs no introduction, which is just as well, as it is so cosily weird that I wouldn't quite know where to begin.

Hermes Hermessence Santal Massoia (c13ml) - £25

This is a travel spray of which I have used a couple of ml. It's worth having just for the adorable cloth bag in my view, though it does smell lovely as well.

Tom Ford Cafe Rose (c17ml) - £30

I swapped my partial bottle of White Suede for this in a blind swap, but while I am a lover of rose, I am not a coffee drinker and this was 'insufficiently rosy' for me, to quote my friend Jessica's phrase.

NB I was umming and ahhing about selling my half bottle of Tauer PHI Rose de Kandahar, but am not quite able to let it go yet. Check out the next sale though, just in case!

Old Suspects! 

Still looking for their forever homes, as black cats are wont to do, though to their credit, two of my fellow perfume bloggers have adopted just such colourways. 

Annick Goutal Grand Amour 100ml (a good 50ml remaining!) - £26

Bois de Jasmin is a fan of this one, giving it a solid four stars, and it would suit lovers of hyacinth, which is quite prominent in the opening.

Rykiel Woman Not for Men! 40ml (c17ml remaining) - £17

Don't be put off by the garish bottle...this could pass for a niche scent in a blind sniffing test. An amber/musk/leather number, beloved of Marla from Perfume Smelling Things (review here). I see a fair bit of crossover with Soir de Marrakech from Les Parfums du Soleil (though that is a bit obscure), and L'Erbolario Meharees (slightly less obscure!), which is in turn a bit of a dupe for Musc Ravageur. In that general vein, say. You can buy it still on Amazon, but only in the 125ml size for £150 odd, and no one needs that much of anything, obviously.

B by Boucheron edp 50ml (c45ml remaining) - £19 

Calling osmanthus lovers! Box available but a bit bashed, sorry.

Kenzo L'Eau par Kenzo Eau Indigo pour Femme edp 50ml (c28ml remaining) - £16

This bottle was pre-owned by Michelyn Camen of Cafleurebon. ;) Here's the entry from Fragrantica, which rates it 3.8.

Perfume-Related 'Merchandise'

And finally, I have tacked on a category to accommodate a perfume cushion cover to fit a 16"/40cm square pad. It is in a shot silk-like fabric (that may indeed be silk!), is based on a design by the artist Bridget Davies, and was one of only two she had left. Selling for £45 on its own, £50 with cushion. (See also the photo at the top of the post.) Close up of perfume bottle motif below.

And here is the reverse...

The main background colours are what I could best describe as gunmetal blue, and a greyish light blue. I can of course post this anywhere in the world at whatever international rate applied.

So there you have it. I am open to minor haggling around the margins, bulk discounts (I wish!) and other forms of BOGOF and promotional jiggery-pokery, but let's see how it goes. If there is something you are interested in, you can contact me via Facebook, if we are friends on there, or by email - flittersniffer at gmail dot com.

Monday, 3 July 2017

The Isabel Trail: a spontaneously circuitous sillage-seeking cycle ride

There's no more news to report of the war on Tootsie...well, other than the fact that I have swapped the positions of Truffle's water and food bowls around - so the food bowl is now by the entrance to the dining room, and hence that bit further for an incorrigible cat burglar to venture in pursuit of kibble contraband. Truffle seems mightily perplexed by the switch, and has taken to staking out her water bowl, lounging pointedly just in front of it and shooting me disapproving glances over one shoulder, even as I crouch a few feet away, rattling the contents of her newly relocated food station. Oh, and I also had occasion to chase Tootsie out of the garden and down the service road by the side of my house at 2.20am on Saturday morning, Anti-Cat in hand. He hunkered down under a white van for a while, before sprinting towards a garden wall on his own street and leaping over it to safety, so nary a squirt was fired. If there are any major developments, however, I will be sure to report back!

Source: Stafford Borough Council

Meanwhile, I have decided to get off my backside this summer and do some exercise. No, really. I know I include some variant of the 'exercise more!' imperative in my New Year's post with monotonous regularity - albeit it was couched as generating 'teeming neurons' this year - but you may be sure it is the  same hoary old resolution chestnut that is safe to disregard, just as I do. But a July resolution smacks of something more serious. Various things have conspired to make me feel like shaking a leg a bit more: I had my bike fixed recently, which set me back £75 for a new tyre and two inner tubes, so I feel I should get my money's worth from that repair; also Val the Cookie Queen of APJ has been bigging up the health benefits of squats recently, such that I have even started to do some sets every time I reheat my tea in the microwave (which is quite often!). Then on Sunday I also happened to take some promo photos of ex-Mr Bonkers, posing with a new gig bag he's bought - they are to be included in his application to the manufacturer to be one of their product 'endorsers'. As a thank you he offered to give me back the home gym I had given him some 17 years ago(!), which he has not used in all that time. I had in fact been thinking lately that even though I barely do exercise of any kind myself at the moment - apart from a fairly fitful attendance at a Pilates class - I do even less of anything resembling weight training, so I jumped at his offer.


With all these good intentions whirring round in my brain, I leapt out of bed this morning and got dressed to go for a jog. Only to find that the soles of both my trainers were hanging off and will need professional gluing by a cobbler. Okay, it's a bike ride then! Accordingly, I found myself uncharacteristically cycling the length and length (it's not very broad) of the Isabel Trail, a cycle path that weaves its way between the industrial estates of Stafford, from the northern perimeter of the town down to somewhere south of the middle. The path is overhung in places by a canopy of trees, and if it weren't for the intermittent cacophony of industrial noises emanating from factory units left and right, you could easily fancy yourself in the country!

Source: Google Sites

Occasionally I would overtake a jogger, or a walker on the path, including at one point a mature lady dressed in what I took to be the uniform of the Royal Voluntary Service, though I wouldn't swear to that. She wore a bottle green skirt and a button down white blouse, topped off with a lanyard, and seemed set on walking to the very end of the path. As I went up and down the trail, revelling in the faux-rural feel in the midst of an urban area, I passed this lady from both directions, When I came up from behind I could distinctly smell her perfume, though not when I cycled past her going the other way. Intrigued by her pleasantly powdery sillage, I made a point of cycling up and down even more(!) to catch further whiffs of whatever it was she was wearing. Eventually, it struck me that she might be a little alarmed by my repeated overtaking manoeuvres, so I decided to come clean the next time I approached, and ask her straight out what she was wearing.

A little side path I also rode down ~ Source: Jim Fogarty

"Kenzo Flowers!" the lady replied cheerily, to which I replied that I had the Oriental version, and that she smelt lovely in the original. "What a good start to a Monday!" I added, as much to apologise for my weird stalking as to compliment her on her choice of scent. She beamed back at me, and I was glad we had had that little exchange: my curiosity was satisfied and her morale boosted, or so it seemed - in short a win-win, as they say.

Once home, I went straight to the cupboard under the stairs and fished out my vial of Flower by Kenzo (to give it its official name) from a little plastic bag where it has been languishing for all of 8 years at a guess. I sprayed it on, and whilst I still prefer its darker and more edgy Oriental sibling, I can see why Tania Sanchez gave it a generous four stars, and why my go-to review resource of Bois de Jasmin (from whom I have pinched the notes) upped that to five.

Notes: "Wild hawthorn, Bulgarian rose, Parma violet, cassia, hedione, cyclosal, opoponax, white musk, vanilla."

In her review, Tania Sanchez mentions how Luca Turin spotted the striking resemblance between Flower by Kenzo and Caron's Royal Bain de Champagne, the bubble bath version of which I was kindly given by my friend Rachael Potts. I can totally see that connection, albeit Flower has more overt notes of rose and violet as far as I can recall, spiked with shafts of jasmine, like the sun dappling the path this morning through the tangle of trees. But that whole tender, expansive, vanilla / opoponax baby powder thing?...both scents have got it going on big style.

What is also interesting about this morning's events, apart from the Caron similarity which had hitherto passed me by, and for which I have the lady in green indirectly to thank, is that I could immediately visualise in which little polythene bag in which box my sample was lurking, even though I hadn't gone near it in years. Which got me wondering if anyone else reckons they have a photographic memory of their collection. I must say I surprised myself that I could drill down to the very plastic bag in question!

So...getting a bit of fresh air and exercise, and bonding with a Kenzo scent whose charms I had largely overlooked, was indeed a great way to kick off the week. I even sat at my desk with my feet on a spiky massage ball for a bit this morning.

Wherever will it all end? Doubled up in bed groaning? Yes, maybe...!

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Turf wars: tackling Tootsie, Truffle's neighbourhood nemesis, with a pungent personalised potion from Papillon Perfumery

'Anti-Cat' by Papillon Perfumery
After Charlie Bonkers died, and long before I ever thought of getting another cat, I noticed an occasional feline visitor to the garden and window sill of my new house. My first thought was how handsome he was, and how much he reminded me of Undina's famous orange and white cat Rusty. Much later, I learnt through a friend that this was in fact none other than Tootsie, who lived in the next street to me and was well known for 'breaking and entering' into anyone's house that took his fancy, especially those where the owner had thoughtfully installed a cat flap and left it on a two way setting. But back then, in blissful ignorance of his thug-like persona, I briefly changed my profile picture on Facebook to a photo of Tootsie(!), and went public with the comment:

"I would love to be cultivated by such a cute cat!"

The following exchange ensued - oh, that I had paid attention to the warnings contained within...

Jane: "This one could be staking you out...;)"

Gary: "A lot of feral cats have taken to wearing dinky little bells, just to get inside a trusting human's house and wreak HAVOC."

Jane: "Yep, sneaky little buggers they are..."

Gary: "The only way to be sure is to shave it and check for tattoos."

Jane: "I have tattoos but, sadly, no bell. ;) "

Gary: "Me too, loads of them, but I'm not trying to get into Vanessa's house and wreak HAVOC."

Jane: "That's what you are saying in public..."

Gary: "You can tell by his eyes that his focus in life is to soil some Farrow & Ball..."

Vanessa: "F & B desecration?!! Right, that moggy may not last the week if that is true."

Truffle surveys the double decker interlopers

Three years later, I was a cat owner again, and Tootsie was displaced as the Top Cat in the neighbourhood, who could claim every house and its garden as his own. It didn't stop him still trying to claim them though, and he became an ever more regular visitor to the garden, engaging in long, malevolent staring matches with Truffle from the safety of a high wall. Soon the situation escalated, and Tootsie would come into the house and steal Truffle's food, have a crafty p**s behind the kitchen door, and take a passing pot shot at Truffle if she happened to be about. Once, when I was away for a week, Tootsie managed to bludgeon his way into the house despite the cat flap being locked, and stayed there long enough to soil - not anything Farrow & Ball as such(!) - but several layers of bedding all the way through to the mattress. Months later, I found his unexpected calling card of a fossilised poo under the bed...

And there was worse to come...more recently, Tootsie bit a chunk out of Truffle's ear during a particularly vicious fight. When I confronted him outside - trying to make myself look as fierce as possible by screwing up my face into an expression of pure hatred, whilst waving a lump of wood in an agitated fashion in his general direction - Tootsie shot me a look of withering derision, his eyes as urinous as the puddle he had not long left on the utility floor. Then he lunged at the bit of wood with a dismissive swipe of his paw, and sauntered back along the wall, with an insolent swagger that was as defiant as it was maddening.

Truffle's 'cloven' ear

I happened to mention my bother with cat incursions to Liz Moores of Papillon Perfumery, with whom I have periodic exchanges via Messenger. Well, no one in Perfume Land knows more about animal matters than Liz(!), and she promptly offered to make me up a cat-repelling potion to deter Tootsie from trespassing in future. Ideally, I should get close enough to spray his fur with the disgusting liquid - a mix of hyraceum (as used in Salome, but only in trace amounts!) and civet. It was designed to fool the cat into thinking it had had a brush with another - big, scary, but not quite identifiable - predator. Failing that, I was to spray the wall or other familiar routes Tootsie used to enter the garden with the mixture, thus creating a similar, if more ambient, impression.

The 'Anti Cat' remedy, as Liz had dubbed it, smelt truly ghastly. I diluted it and put it in a spray bottle, and soon had my first opportunity to try squirting it at Tootsie as he ran away down the garden. Unfortunately the trigger mechanism jammed at the key moment, and if Tootsie had thought to look back at this point and note my disarray, he would surely have uttered a disdainful guffaw at my technical malfunction.

Anti-spray bottle!

In fairness that bottle had only cost a quid in Wilko or something, so the next time I was in Lidl I popped into Wickes and picked up a more heavy duty-looking receptacle for a  fiver. Slight overkilll, given the quantity of Anti-Cat in question(!), but I sensed the nozzle wouldn't let me down, and so it proved.

I didn't have long to wait before I found Tootsie in the corridor leading to the back door one night, and promptly locked the cat flap to cut off his line of retreat. Tootsie proceeded to head butt the flap in annoyance, giving me ample opportunity to spray his back thoroughly in Anti-Cat. I was careful to avoid his head, as that might have been a cruel and unusual punishment too far - I was sorely tempted, mind. With Tootsie now well wetted, I opened the flap and he scarpered sharpish, suitably freaked out by the foul smell of his own furry person.

Sadly, as happened that time Truffle fell through the hole in next door's garage roof, only to do the exact same thing again a couple of days later, cats have short memories, and Tootsie seems to have forgotten all about his unpleasant ordeal, and is as much of a pest as ever. Many thanks to Liz for concocting this stinky potion though - it was certainly worth a try!

(On a more fragrant note, the latest release from Papillon Perfumery, Dryad (review here) is due to be released on July 10th.)

Sunday, 18 June 2017

My tsundoku shame, and thoughts on blogging, and being a backwards burrowing bookworm

I am interrupting my planned cat and loosely 'perfume'-related post - so loose that the 'p' word has to be couched in inverted commas - plus I can't be technically 'interrupting' a post I hadn't started writing - to bring you some shock news about my book reading rate in the past 8 years, which also happens to be getting on for the time I have been blogging. I keep a 'book diary', you see, in which I write the year and month when I finish each title I read, so the data is there in all its inglory, which if it wasn't a word before, is now.

The topline is that in those 8 years I have read a paltry 48 books, or 6 per year on average. The rate varies between 1 book in 2012 (when I split up with Mr Bonkers and moved house) to 12 in 2015, for reasons that are not immediately apparent.

I posted this alarming statistic on Facebook, and two friends replied, one of whom has a speed reading rate that would blow me out of the water!

"56 pages an hour is my average rate. 12 hours a week is also a good average. 100 books a year allowing for 336 pages per book."

I love the precision of '336 pages'...that figure didn't come out of nowhere either, I sense, ditto '56 pages an hour'. I don't know for sure, but have a feeling my hourly rate might be nearer 20 pages. Plus there is the whole issue of print size and line height. I own some books which I think I might fancy reading, but as soon as I open them and see how densely covered in tiny type the pages are, I promptly shut them again, however engrossing they might otherwise be!

I don't watch much TV - or DVDs - either!

Another friend, who is a short story writer, posted:

"31 so far this year for me, thanks to having joined the FB group Read 100 books in 2017. Unlikely I'll manage the full 100, though."

So whilst not as voracious a bookworm as the first friend, she is still managing to read my annual average in a month, near as dammit.

I scratched my head for a while, puzzling at the massive disparity between these friends' reading rates and my own, before it dawned on me that blogging throughout that period will have accounted for a fair chunk of time...probably something of the order of 3,500 hours at a guess, which equates to two years in 'working week' terms, assuming no holiday allowance. But that still leaves the other six, haha, so further factors must also be at work.

For example, I recently discovered that I suffer from dry eye syndrome, and I do definitely struggle more with my eyesight for close work, despite having been told my prescription hasn't really changed in recent years. I don't own a pair of reading glasses as such, mind, and could probably do with one. For now, I am using an old pair of distance glasses from 15 years ago, which are not a bad substitute! And there was also the trouble with my old bath, which never seemed to keep the water hot for more than about five minutes, an ambient temperature not exactly conducing to a 'wallow and read' habit.

Then just this morning, it occurred to me to see if I had kept any records prior to 2008, and sure enough I had...all the way back to 2002 in fact. I got the idea off my late mother, about the meaning of whose system of ticks and crosses we can but speculate. She also noted where she got the tip off from to read a particular book, which ranges from The Times, to the 'S.T' - which I am going to assume is The Sunday Times - to The Oldie and The Spectator - plus occasional mentions of me!

Mother's book diary

And the upshot of my analysis of my own previous book diary is as revealing as it is concerning. In the 7 years between 2002 and 2008 I read 157 books(!), equating to 22.5 a year, versus my 6 a year nowadays. That is almost four times as many. And I was working A LOT more than I do today. I could imagine I got through a good few books on my trips away, in the absence of any human interaction. And also on those kind of beach-y holidays I don't take anymore.

So that is all rather sobering to put it mildly. Ironically, the fact that I read so little - I don't even take a newspaper now, which used to occupy entire weekends back in the day - doesn't seem to stop me buying books. ;) Why, only yesterday I bagged four for just over a fiver in Oxfam: two first editions, a Helen Dunmore that was new to me (in honour of her recent demise), and a Louise Doughty (on the premise that anything written by the author of the incomparable Apple Tree Yard simply had to be worth a punt!).

This compulsion to buy books is a trait I inherited from my father. At his death, he was virtually entombed by books in his tiny flat: they were piled high in the middle of the living room like the footings of an unfinished building, and the floor to ceiling bookcases in every room were double or triple stacked. There were books under the bed and in the bathroom, and none of the doors opened more than a crack because of a book-related obstruction lurking immediately behind. His library ended up filling 140 large cardboard removal boxes, which are in my brother's attic, still largely waiting to be sorted and sold, and are one of the subjects of this post from last September.


So yes, I am my father's daughter, and have tsundokus dotted all over the house, even if none of the gangways are impeded as such. ;) I regularly break them up into smaller piles so as not to frighten the horses, but the house is silting up with unread books all the same. I tell myself I will read them when I am retired, even though the government keeps moving the glimmering mirage of the state pension further off into the far distance. Hey, I have so little work at the moment that I am semi-retired already. Make that three quarters-retired even! And still I don't read.

No, I think the reason for my woeful book reading rate is partly the blogging, for sure, but it will also have a lot to do with social media and my propensity to fritter away time, and make a meal - and heavy weather! - of the simplest of chores. I have taken time wasting to the rarefied level of an Olympian sport. They say that mothers of new borns are the most productive people of all, getting more done in the odd 15 minutes they can snatch while the baby is napping than people like me achieve in a week.

And to make matters worse, I joined Instagram last week! I agree that the steady procession of arty photos people post on there is pleasingly restful, but I still prefer the verbal cut and thrust of Facebook, and I could never ever reconcile myself to that annoying thicket of hashtags. So I may not be on there for long...

I would be really interested to know what your reading rates are like, and whether they have changed lately.

If so, what do you put that down to? 

Some of these are admittedly hotel guides and dictionaries

Me, I am off to start 'The Trouble With Goats and Sheep', by Joanna Cannon, which was a birthday present from my friend Gillie. In a surprise turn of events, Joanna is helping out at her Alzheimer's choir group. I don't know what has brought her to Stafford.

Now I would lie in the sun for a bit, but I have 100 chemical and cosmetic allergens taped to my back, and the nurse was most insistent that I 'stay cool!'. Hopefully this will confirm the source of my eyelid eczema and may well prompt a further post on the matter.