Thursday, 25 May 2017

A spritzing blitz in London with Tara and Undina: Day 1 - Bloom Perfumery, a fried food frenzy, and a trickyHotel

Langley Court, home to Bloom Perfumery
Tara of A Bottled Rose and Val's daughter Hannah, aka the Blondeswunder, recently posted about their meet up in London earlier this month, including a sniffing, skincare and make up spree, some tasty street food, and a tour round Highgate Cemetery (not including George Michael's grave, as the guide was at pains to point out). For health reasons I wasn't able to make it down to join them for 'the graveyard shift', as it were, and though I was very sorry to miss Val, I had the opportunity to hook up with Tara last Sunday, along with Undina of Undina's Looking Glass and her vSO, whom I had not seen since our 2013 rendez-vous in Paris. They were spending a whole week in the capital, so it seemed like a golden opportunity to see them, given that they live over 5000 miles away in California.

Now I usually manage to pack quite discreetly for my trips, but Truffle happened to catch me in the act of fetching a case out from the cupboard under the stairs, whereupon the human's intentions were out of the bag, swiftly followed by my clothes going into it.

'I know those triangular things with clothes on, and they don't bode well.'

I think she also smelt a metaphorical rat at the sight of outfit contenders hung over the bed rail, and might reasonably have inferred I was going away for a week rather than one night. Hence her 'hangdog' look in the photo below. I've got all the animal metaphors going on, it would seem!

According to my time-honoured tradition - and despite considering myself a seasoned traveller - I forgot several things this time: antihistamine tablets, shampoo, and plasters (beyond the prophylactic ones I was stood up in - that were on my heels, I mean - which I knew would not survive a good wetting in the shower).

The journey to London was supremely slow, for on a Sunday the train wends it circuitous way through the little known outposts of Northamptonshire. I mean, whoever heard of Long Buckby, never mind wanted to go there any day of the week?

Tara and Undina had already got a few hours' sniffing under their belts and had lunch before I joined them around 4pm, though not before making a detour to my so-called easyHotel to check in. They were about to put me in a room on the ground floor when I reminded them that I had asked for an upper floor in the 'Special Requests' box, explaining that with the ground floor there is a risk people in the street might walk past your window and look in, possibly as you are getting dressed. So the hotel promptly put me in a room without a window instead, which I did not see coming. 'No chance of her being overlooked there', I bet they thought.

'The key to an easy night's sleep'...hohoho!

And not only did my room have no window, but it also lacked any furniture whatsoever apart from a bed - nor did it have any hangers, a bin, or a bedside light. Moreover, you had to choose between 'having the benefit of electrical current', as the estate agents say, and an unrelenting electrical hum. More on this anon, along with the geographical shortcomings of the electrical sockets. So yes, I am renaming the chain: 'reallyquitetrickyHotels'. And it is not as though I haven't stayed in this chain before, for example in Berlin last December, but the hotel in Old Street raised the bar in its testing of the customer's resourcefulness in the face of such compact and minimalist accommodation.

Having quickly freshened up (after a fashion ;) ), I made my way to Covent Garden, where I was due to meet Tara, Undina and her vSO in Bloom Perfumery. I was early, and popped into a nearby branch of MAC cosmetics to gaze in awe at the myriad shades of lipsticks that spanned several perspex display boards. I was drawn as ever to the pinky brown nudes of which I already own half a dozen variants, and accosted several young people eyeing up the same fixture to ask them to read the shade names that were in tiny lettering on the underside, before being momentarily sidetracked by two rows of astonishing Smartie-like colourways in purple and mauve, magenta and blue. I certainly did not need to know their names.

After a quick swoop on Holland & Barrett, where I picked up a bargain pack of sesame sticks and succumbed to an explosive piece of crystallized ginger they were giving away free at the till, I assumed a lookout position on the corner of Long Acre and Langley Court, the little alleyway in which the Bloom store lies tucked away. People-watching in London is as rewarding in my book as visiting any of the official tourist attractions the city has to offer, and even a ten minute stint didn't disappoint. I noted an emerging fashion trend for cut off bell bottoms-cum-sailor's trousers, while the sleeve style du jour that I can best sum up as an 'arm peplum' was also in evidence. And then all of a sudden Tara & co were there! Of course they arrived from the Floral Street end, so I didn't see them coming either...

Once in Bloom - notable for its open glass displays, exposed brick walls, and steel 'customer ladder' for reaching the uppermost shelves - Undina scoped the fixtures for brands that were either on her hit list or otherwise caught her eye, and got stuck straight in. My own MO was more desultory and haphazard, reflecting perhaps my current plateau phase in this hobby. I was genuinely curious about the Zoologist line, however, and tried a handful from that, including the upcoming addition, Camel. With a name like that it surely has to be a tobacco scent - as one of the others may be able to confirm. I do remember that my erstwhile nemesis Civet was surprisingly approachable, while 'floral fruity gourmand' Hummingbird by Shelley Waddington was a standout favourite.

Tara, looking winsome in 'Little Mermaid' pose

Later in the trip Undina rightly pulled me up for writing the name of a perfume on the same end of the blotter that I had sprayed with the tester. (Let me say right off the bat that I LOVE being 'straightened out' by Undina - she could do so all day long as far as I am concerned, with her uniquely endearing blend of common sense and motherliness.) Then additionally I see that I sometimes write on the opposite end to where I have sprayed, but then my writing may get jumbled up with the logo of the perfume house or store in question, such that I can barely make out the name later on. And occasionally, I do both ie spray and write on the end that already has writing on it.

We also had a browse through the Imaginary Authors range, whose bottles with their vintage scrapbook-like labels appealed to me, along with one or two of the admittedly quite straightforward - and inexpensive! - scents, though I am blowed if I can remember which ones now. I remember being intrigued by a perfume whose ingredients included 'the month of May', and marvelling at how they had managed to fit the whole of May in the same size bottle as the rest of the range. February might have been marginally less ambitious.

Then predictably the Beaufort range, which we briefly sniffed from the nozzle, only made me squeal ever louder with each one I tried. I am guessing their target audience is not lovers of dreamy summer florals like Songes. We also dabbled in the Dusitas, and I was quite taken with Issara, though I don't remember it reading as a fresh fougere, particularly. I also found myself muttering darkly over and over again that the sumptuously feminine floral, Melodie de l'Amour (featuring gardenia, tuberose, honey, peach and jasmine, to name some of the more punch-packing notes), would most likely give me a headache. 'Ooh, that would give me a headache....definitely give me a headache...oh yes, headache...mmm, headache...', and more of me banging on in that general throbbing, cerebral vein.

It was at that point that we spied a wrench** lying on the work surface, which is not something you see every day, least of all in a perfumery.

After about an hour Undina's vSO - who had peeled off to check out the menswear stores in the immediate vicinity - rejoined us, and we set off in an easterly direction in a bid to avoid the worst of the tourist crowds and find a quiet spot for a proper cup of tea (and coffee). Patisserie Valerie came up trumps, even though they expressly barred us from sitting at the far end of the cafe, for reasons none of us could fathom. Some kind of technical explanation was proffered - that involved opening a window, I think - but there were vital connecting bits of information missing such that whatever it was that they said simply didn't compute.

With the working week looming, Tara headed home after tea, while I led Undina and her vSO somewhat erratically on a walking tour of Holborn and Soho (the Holborn bit was accidental!), before we finally lit upon an inviting looking tapas restaurant just off Regent Street, where we had dinner. There was much ribaldry about my inadvertent menu choices, which turned out to be resolutely fried, from the chicken to the courgette to the cabbage and the parsnip fries.

A piece of fried chicken too far

And because our order as a whole was delayed, the management threw in some complimentary patatas fritas with that, which turned out to be...ahem...more fried food, clearly applying my pinky brown nude lipstick principle to Spanish cuisine.

'Have some fries with that, why don't you?'

After the meal, we said goodbye at Oxford Circus station, and went our separate ways until the morning. Back at my evermorechallengingHotel, I had the difficult call to make of whether to charge my phones overnight and put up with the electrical hum, or have a silent night and dead appliances in the morning. In the end I went with a compromise: silence till 5am, then I put my phones on charge and my ear plugs in. I was too perturbed by the claustrophobic concept of a windowless hotel room to sleep much anyway - in vain did I try to pretend I was on a ship!

Editor's note: I have just been informed by my bathroom handyman that these are in fact 'waterpump pliers'.

To be continued...


  1. I seem to be making a habit of being ill when you take my photo. I never realise how bad I was until I see myself photographed.

    Anyway, it was still so much fun to hang out with you and the wonderful Undina. I can hardly believe I've finally got to meet her and wasn't her v.SO a star for all his patience?

    Well done on all that fried food. It's allowed when you're out and with friends, don't you think? Just like my yummy, mountainous Mille Feuille.

    Waterpump pliers you say? Even better!

    1. Hi Tara,

      I didn't know you were ill on the day - what a trouper for carrying on regardless, as you did on our meet up last October, when I did know. I do still love your mermaid pose on that podium.

      So glad you got to meet Undina and her vSO, bad throat notwithstanding. And yes, he was endlessly patient and flexible - in a class of his own as non-fumehead spouses go.

      Your millefeuille was a winner in terms of custardiness, no question. ;)

  2. Umm, I've always assumed that both sides of a blotter strip were the same, so wouldn't it be possible to write the name and even spray the tester on the non-Bloom side?

    Thanks for another one of delightful travel/meet-up tales.

    -- Lindaloo

    1. Hi Lindaloo,

      Glad you enjoyed it!

      It would indeed be possible, if I were more organised. But I think if I understood Undina's point correctly, you should ideally not spray and write on the same area, even in the absence of a preprinted logo. So in this case it would be better to spray the Bloom end and write on the other one?

  3. Must not have made myself clear. I agree with Undina that it is better not to spray and write in rhe same space. If you used the reverse side you would have room to spray the scent at one end and still plenty of room to write the name at the other end without that bothersome logo interfering. ☺

    1. Sorry, Lindaloo, you were perfectly clear. I merely misread 'side' in a strictly lateral sense rather than a flippy over sense as you meant. ;)

  4. I had not heard of Long Buckby before, but I have heard of this disturbing trend of cut-off bell bottoms. They seem terribly unflattering on just about everyone, in my opinion!

    1. Hi Yuki,

      LOL at your being distrubed by cut-off bell bottoms. Such a truncating look indeed!

  5. Perfumista meet-ups are the best!
    I have yet to try the zoologist line, but I love the labels. And Truffle photos too ❤️

    1. They are indeed, and you have a major one coming up!

      The Zoologist line was a lot of fun and the perfumes not at all gimmicky. I loved the labels too.

  6. The first time I heard about rooms without windows was a couple of months ago when I was booking a room in the Stockholm hotel, from which now I'm writing this comment. This hotel has regular rooms, rooms with extra windows (as my current one since it's a corner room), rooms with windows to the internal garden/gym and rooms without windows. I would be though really surprised if those came also without furniture.

    I think I could wear 9 or 10 of those lipstick shades.

    1. Hi Undina,

      Whoo, you are in Stockholm now! I know a perfumista there I could have fixed you up with, but a) she's in Greece at the moment and b) you may have come there for the regular sights anyway.

      I am intrigued by the detailed 'menu of windows' that come with different rooms. I like the sound of the one you have best. ;)

      I think you surely could wear a lot of those shades, especially the plums and magentas. I realised I would also be happy to give the pink one bottom left a spin.

  7. Love your blog, I am curious to know if you tried the jardin d'ange T Ormonde Jayne. Incidentally the boxes behind the middle bottle at Selfridges (that is a sort of pale gold) are actually labelled as ONE, their other exclusive. I think the white gold perfume does come in a white frosted glass bottle, not the I have seen, or tried this... could you describe it more? I have tried the jardin d'ombre though and I love that. The dry down is very different on me, sandalwood perfection...

    1. Hi Anonymous,

      I hope I have mostly answered your questions in Part 2, but will try to give you more of an idea as to how White Gold smells. It is a floral woody musk, I would say, with quite a pronounced accord of pink pepper, musk and ambrette, creating a serene and quite modern feel to the scent. The floral notes are very quiet. It reminds me of APOM pour Femme but without the orange-y tang to it! It is so quiet you might feel there's not much going on at all, but I do like it. It's the perfume equivalent of one of those ambient soundscapes.