Scents and Scentsibility

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It’s well-known amongst those close to me that I’m a bit of a perfume addict. I’ve spent a long time trying to find my signature scent, starting from the days of a quick dab of my gran’s Tweed, Charlie or a dab of 4711 cooling fragrance stick when it got too hot. Occasionally I’d be hovering around Mum as she got ready for a night out and would be on the periphery of her YSL Opium cloud. During my teens I flirted with Impulse body sprays, had a long-term fling with CK Obsession and even a secret affair with Chanel for Gentlemen.

See, even that far back I knew that perfumes smelt different on me to other people. I preferred musky, leathery, woody scents to floral, citrus or green. The days where everyone wore CKOne were an affront to me and my nose.

Eventually I discovered Jo Malone’s Pomegranate Noir, a unisex scent that made me want to bury my nose in my own neck. That’s still an old favourite, rotated with their newer offerings Wood Sage and Sea Salt on my lighter days and their Saffron Cologne Intense for other times. Currently in my perfume cupboard (dark, cool and away from any light) I have Thierry Mugler’s Angel and Alien, Estee Lauder’s Modern Muse, Dolce & Gabbana’s Light Blue (not my choice, but a freebie!), Calvin Klein’s Truth, Chanel’s Coco Noir (inherited from Mum), Liz Earle’s Botanicals No. 15 and TokyoMilk Dark Arsenic No. 17.  Not a bad collection but still nothing that made me think “Yes, this is the one smell I always want to be associated with.”

Then, a recent trip to Rome led me and a long-suffering friend to a local department store with a modern architectural feature of a helicoidal staircase that I really wanted to see – and a food hall! On entering La Rinascente, we got accosted by a very lovely Italian man on the Dolce and Gabbana counter. A confusing multi-lingual conversation ensued but he came up trumps by offering me a sniff of their limited edition Velvet Collection Desert Oud. Musky, smoky, amber – it worked and I was totally and utterly sold, despite the little shocked voice doing money exchange calculations in my head! Here it costs around £200 but by supporting the local economy I paid around £170… Anyway, it came in a velvet lined satin box which was inside a heavy, embossed black box and the aforementioned full-size bottle of Light Blue so good value, yes?!

I’ve worn this pretty much every day for the last six weeks and had many people comment on it, despite the fact that I can’t smell it on myself at all. Then this morning, I was emptying out my last BirchBox and remembered a sample of Penhaligon’s Iris Prima so decided to have a change. I wasn’t expecting much, something flowery and candy like but was pleasantly surprised and am still enjoying the smell now, two hours later when the heart notes have fully kicked in. I decided to look at the link to see what it contained that was so appealing to me and seeing the words bergamot, pink pepper, leather, sandalwood, vetiver it all made sense. What didn’t make sense was the perfume’s actual description…

“A fresh and transparent bergamot opens the dance: its citrus freshness mimicking the graceful  flight of the prima ballerina as she leaps into the spotlight. Green amber softens the effect and contrasts with sparkling pink pepper, which resonates like the steps of the ballerina on pointe. Iris soon takes centre stage, eclipsing all around her with her natural grace and powdery charm, until she begins a sensuous pas de deux with potent Jasmine Sambac. In the base, Alberto introduces an intimate, musky leather note to represent the pointe shoe and then light touches of sandalwood, vetiver, vanilla and benzoin to signify the soul of ancient theatres.”

Umm, WHAT NOW?! I prefer my version, it smells good and could well be my next perfume purchase. In the meantime, bring on the oud. That’s the resin created when a mould attacks certain South Asian evergreen trees, not the many tentacled, telepathic aliens in Doctor Who!

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Mental Health Aware. Really???

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There’s been a little flurry of posts on Facebook again in the last few days asking people to share a load of words about supporting Mental Health Awareness Week. Leaving aside the fact that this actually took place between 11th and 17th May this year so you’re already two months behind, these posts then and now have really irked me.

I’ve had a couple of shitty years. In the grand scheme of things, they weren’t that bad. I still had a home, a job, a loving husband and amazing kids. But I lost several close friends to cancer, my stepfather to somewhat ironically, a stomach infection after years of heart failure, my mum very quickly and totally out of the blue. I worked full time with spare time spent on launching a website with a friend and all the wonderful events that arose from that. My work got very difficult with a massive renovation project which took a huge amount of time, ran massively over schedule and created some very awkward work atmospheres, particularly when a dear colleague also became ill and our work team of four became three.

A recurring tooth infection left my immune system in tatters and led to a week in hospital with an entirely different and very serious infection. All of this led to a bit of an inability to function normally, sleeping constantly and complete apathy. Eventually I acknowledged that this wasn’t normal for me and dragged myself off to the doctors where as soon as she was nice to me, I burst into tears. Embarrassing but needed to happen and a clear indicator that something wasn’t right.

After listening to my woes, my lovely GP prescribed me antidepressants and signed me off work for two weeks. I left the surgery feeling better than I had done in weeks and somewhat smug that I had faced up to the fact that I needed help rather than just struggling along and sinking more. A very clever friend listened and shared some words she’d been told “sometimes there’s just too much stuff in the bucket and it overflows so you have to let some of it out”. That was exactly how I was feeling.

Ironically, part of my job involves me listening to other people’s worries and had someone come to me with my stories, I would have sent them straight to see a counsellor. Physician, heal thyself.

Anyway, I don’t have a stigma with taking drugs to heal my mind. I take them to heal my headache or my stomach pain or whatever else ails me so why is the mind any different? I also don’t have any concerns about telling people that I’m somewhat low and in need of drugs to get me through. Obviously I’m not going to shout it from the rooftops but I don’t mind being open.

However, there’s an awful lot of people I told who surprised me with their reactions and that’s the point of this half-hearted rant. Their response, on hearing I’d been prescribed anti-depressants was to say something along the lines of “Oh you poor thing, do you really need to take them?” These are sensible, nice people who apparently can’t get their head round the fact that just because I’m on anti-depressants I’m not going to be jumping off a bridge or institutionalised any time soon. These tablets are simply medicine for my brain and my soul which needs a little assistance to heal.

So please, before you post about being mental health aware, think about what your response would be if a friend or colleague tells you they’re taking medication to help them through a difficult time, whether it’s six months or six years. Don’t make them feel even worse by hinting that these drugs are one step away from being a Class A drug addict.


Star Wars Identities – Lyon

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Our recent trip to Lyon was not to explore the French countryside, sample the food and wines or even just go for a relaxing weekend. Instead it was to visit a travelling exhibition and create our very own Star Wars hero. Or villain as the case may be.

Star Wars Identities is backed by Disney and LucasArts and Sony, along with various other major companies that I couldn’t be bothered to register. Obviously Disney are part of it, the involvement of LucasArts means the show contains some pretty epic props and artwork, and Sony are involved to give a slightly different experience than your standard exhibition. The idea is that when you arrive, you’re issued with a bracelet that is pretty similar to Sony’s SmartBand wearable. As you go through the display, you complete several interactive areas, recording your own answers to the questions by holding your wrist over the appropriate and relevant answer. After ten questions, your responses are collated to give you your own Star Wars character – your responses determine whether you will be Jedi or Sith….

Inbetween the questions there are displays on all the major characters and information on how they were conceived and their personalities shaped. A big part of it is how Luke and Anakin shared such similar backgrounds, yet went in completely different directions. Was this down to genetics, upbringing, events or just one of those things?

The props were obviously alarmed and behind glass so photos didn’t come out brilliantly, there was a lot of original concept artwork – the original designs for Yoda were bloody awful and Chewie looked a bit daft to start with. The scenic artwork was stunning and I would happily have bought a lot of them had they been available as prints. Given the amount of money I did spend in the inevitable exit through the gift shop, it’s probably a good job they weren’t.

In the end, Josh ended up as an evil Wookie bounty hunter and I was a senator from Naboo, who balanced the line between good and evil….

It’s on in Lyon until April 19th then it moves to Cologne from May 22nd to November 17th http://www.starwarsidentities.com



Weekend in Lyon

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A quick hop across the channel to the city of Lyon, where the rivers Seone and Rhone meet, with the city on a peninsula in the middle. The purpose of the trip was to visit the Star Wars Identities exhibition (in another post) and see some of the city but not to sample one of their local delicacies, donkey snout. Given that I was travelling with my teenage son, I didn’t get to verify Lyon’s claims of being France’s gastronomic capital. We did discover an odd little pizzeria, full of Italian style mosaics, paintings and a random collection of somewhat disturbing china dolls! Surprisingly good pizza and an excellent plate of hangar steak with poivre vert sauce and amazing frites. I also discovered one of those dishes that will linger in the memory for yeats – duck magret which was just fabulous. Apparently it’s the breast of a mulard or Barbary duck that has been force fed in order to produce foie gras and it’s incredibly rich and meaty. Worth going back to Lyon for this alone!

We found Lyon a contrast, partly because we stayed on the outskirts of Perrache which is undergoing major redevelopment and has a slightly defeated and beaten air with lots of brutal, German style architecture. Totally at odds with the opposite side of the river which has a very Renaissance feel. Exploring later in the day we realised we’d only seen a very small part of the city and wished we had more time to go further afield, particularly up Fourviere to the basilica. Next time.

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Doing Porridge

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Today I had porridge for breakfast. I didn’t intend to, I actually went downstairs to make my usual cup of Yorkshire tea. For some reason that didn’t appeal & I found myself at the microwave pouring oats and milk into a bowl. It was only when I was sat at the kitchen table eating them that I started to get mildly irritated by porridge.

My porridge was made with skimmed milk, the totally skimmed stuff not this 0.34gms of fat shit and definitely not full fat that coats the roof of your mouth with its greasiness and invariably sends me off to the nearest loo. A generous drizzle of real maple syrup and it was ready to eat. Done.
None of these weird toppings that have become all the rage, more prevalent since January 1st when everyone had an epiphany that it’s another year, they’ll be older and what the hell happened to that gym membership card anyway. My Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are full of sweaty people in lycra, laboriously and incessantly posting about their run/workout/spin class. I’m used to seeing these and skipping past them but what really irks me is the pictures. Oh, the lovingly plated, filtered out of all recognition, display of food. And by food, that’s a very loose description.
I want to see my timelines full of good, wholesome, hearty dishes. Not a plate of something that Gwyneth would serve up – have you seen how much happier Chris Martin looks?! Admittedly, I’d be happy with JLaw, she looks like she enjoys her food. And the pictures of porridge do actually make me stabby. Perfectly normal people, who I know enjoy a dirty burger or a cheese fest pizza have suddenly discovered seeds that were previously only ever seen in the bottom of that mad auntie’s budgie cage. They are sprinkling berries harvested by almost extinct monkeys at the stroke of midnight on alternate full moons from a jungle inhabited by a pygmy tribe. They are drizzling the liquid of a plant that should only ever be used in a shot glass with a pinch of salt and a wedge of lime.
Let the really devoted ones have their cat litter muesli and let porridge go back to being a proper breakfast. You’ll be back on the Crunchy Nut before you know it anyway.
FYI my breakfast was actually Ready Brek. Bite me.


Alice? Who the f*ck is Alice?

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For those of you who haven’t been paying close attention to our recent love story on social media, Alice joined our family ten days ago on 6th November when she had just passed her twentieth birthday. Alice is a 1994 Rover Mini Cooper 1275cc in original polar white with a gloss black roof and trim. She comes to us with just under 65,000 miles on her clock, with a thousand of these in the last four years.

Originally Alice had a fuel injection engine, introduced to Mini engines in 1992, but although the injection system was supposed to improve fuel economy and reliability, Mini purists preferred the hands on approach that carburettors provided and so Alice’s fuel injection was removed and reverted back to the old style, installing a HIF-44 carburettor. Other than that she’s fairly standard with the Cooper 12″ wheels, bonnet stripes with John Cooper’s signature, the Cooper chrome grill and the twin spotlights.

We have big plans for Alice but first she’s off to our lovely mechanic at www.eastoxfordgarage.co.uk for a full engine check and bodywork inspection.

Oh, and people have asked us “Why have you bought a Mini?!” Well, firstly I grew up with Minis – my recently deceased Mum always drove Minis and was a rally driver in the RAC rally when it was still an amateur event, secondly we’ve always been into cars and thirdly, she makes us smile so what better reason is there?

A weekend in Berlin

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I’d been promising my oldest son a trip to Berlin for ages, it’s the logical place for someone with a military history obsession to visit. Interestingly, we both focussed on WW2 whilst there but for me, seeing the remnants of the Berlin Wall really was recent history. My father was one of the British soldiers who was stationed at Checkpoint Charlie during the Cold War, before being deployed to Northern Ireland in 1969. To see the Wall and how Berlin has reinvented itself whilst not shying away from it’s turbulent past was fascinating.

We did a lot of walking during our weekend, the majority of it on a walking tour run by Insider Tours http://www.insidertour.com which we highly recommend – five hours of walking but so much information that you don’t really notice time passing! This covered all the relevant history with a fair bit of trivia chucked in too.

Booking a hotel with our flights through British Airways proved to be a lot cheaper than booking separately and we ended up staying at The Ritz Carlton which was as amazing as you’d expect! Highlights included the Yeoman porter, Lee who officially opens the Curtain Club cocktail bar at 6pm every day with great pomp and ceremony, the stunning rooms and of course, the other clientele!

New York – it gets better

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Monday morning started off at a local deli, cold brew with a toasted bagel stuffed with cream cheese and lox. Successfully navigating the metro system again got me to the Highline which a friend had strongly recommended I visit. It’s an old elevated rail tracks that have been converted into a park and offer a different perspective of New York.

From there I managed to get another subway train down to the World Trade Centre memorial. No words are necessary to describe being there.

After that, a quick walk down Wall Street which was somewhat unimpressive before yet another subway journey up to 86th St and the Guggenheim Museum for their exhibition on Italian Futurism. I have to be honest, I was there for the architecture rather than the art, but there was some interesting pieces on display. I was more intrigued by their cafe which was serving Lavazza coffee and a cookie that contained peanut butter chips, chocolate chips, pretzel pieces, pecans and sea salt!

A wander around Central Park followed, round the reservoir, up to Belvedere Castle – keeping an eye out for Gargamel, chatted to a volunteer who, upon learning I was from Oxford, asked how I coped with all the murders there. I replied that Inspector Morse likes to be kept busy and refrained from an eye roll. Down through the Ramble to the lake, across the bridge where I got accosted by an older lady from Connecticut who was lost and asked me to walk her out of the park – the third American to ask me for directions today. I must have a know-it-all look on my face as I stomp around. And then I hit 5th Ave which is kind of ridiculous.

Fifth Avenue led me to 51st St and a visit to the FDNY Store for a little something for my sister which is going to make her VERY HAPPY. Radio City distracted me so I had to backtrack to see Jeff Koons Split-Rocker piece.

Finally a walk through Grand Central, where I had dinner with Flora and the evening finished with a cupcake from Magnolia Bakery. A successful day!

New York – the story so far

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I was undecided about whether to continue with my planned trip to New York on my way home from San Francisco, especially given recent events. But an out of the blue email from a student who had just moved there and wanted to extend an invite seemed to be a sign and so here I am. It didn’t start well, a ninety minute wait for a shuttle at JFK airport made me seriously consider changing my return flight to flying home right then. The shuttle eventually turned up and took me to my hotel in midtown where my credit card was declined for some bizarre reason (it’s working now thank God!) but luckily I had a second one with me. Things started to look up when I was told I’d been upgraded from my booked single room to a double.

Saturday night was a walk up to Times Square, past the iconic New York Public Library where I geeked out a little. Sunday consisted of Lexington Avenue street market, donuts and cold brew, navigating the subway system to Brooklyn, watching International Day of Friendship performances in Columbus Park, Smorgasburg at Brooklyn Bridge and an evening cruise around the Manhattan skyline.

New York – I don’t love you like I do San Francisco, but you’re pretty cool. Let’s see how you do tomorrow…

Funny bugger

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My stepdad died almost a year ago. Not unexpected but still a massive shock to us all. He was a big bluff Yorkshireman, who despite living down south for over thirty years, was still proud to be a Northener. The white rose of the House of York was always around him and so, as an act of remembrance, I decided to plant a white rose in my garden for him.

We visited several garden nurseries in search of the perfect rose. It had to be scented, not one of those new-fangled poncey scents but a proper rose smell. It had to have big, petalled blooms and glossy dark green leaves. And it had to be big and sturdy, just like he was.

Eventually we found one.  Called Meiburenac – Rose Swany, it promised a flourishing, prickly shrub of a metre tall, with dark glossy foliage, clusters of white double petalled cupped blooms and an old fashioned scent. So we bought it.

Today it bore it’s first flower. I sighed, and then laughed, as I like to think he would have too.