I didn’t intend to include anything in this blog which isn’t either on my F-List or which isn’t to do with hydrocephalus. But actually it’s quite nice to have something to write about which a) doesn’t have an October 24th deadline hanging over it, as items in my F-List do and b) which isn’t about medical issues, sickness and surgery. And hey, it’s my blog. I can write whatever I like!
I do believe that everyone needs a little indulgence in their life. It doesn’t have to mean spending loads of money, but it does mean having something you enjoy that feels special, a treat – something that generally doesn’t have any purpose other than making you feel good and relaxed.
It’s so easy to worry about money (especially at the moment – and with very good cause) and I do feel that as a nation we’re very good at working hard but feeling guilty about indulging ourselves, whether it’s going on a holiday, buying a new pair of shoes, getting the latest iphone, buying a bottle of wine or even a slice of cake – whatever floats your boat. We can extol the virtues of the free joys in life – spending time with family and friends; watching a beautiful sunset; swimming in the sea – until the cows come home but when it comes to a treat which involves parting with money, I think we tend to feel a bit sheepish about admitting to doing it. Obviously, I’m not talking about buying expensive treats all the time and running up debts on credit cards; I’m talking about keeping them as little highlights to look forward to and to pick you up when things are feeling a bit glum. As I can only work part-time due to the hydrocephalus, my income is – ahem – ‘modest’ to say the least. As a result I tend to be careful with money. Not stingy – just careful. There is no use running up debt to my mind because my circumstances don’t exactly allow me to be able to pay it off! When I was ten, I formed a club with my friend Daisy, who lives in London. We called it the ‘Secret Savers’. Just why we thought it was ‘secret’, I’ve no idea; everyone knew about it and we made little paper badges with ‘SECRET SAVERS’ emblazoned across them in neon pink felt-tip pen. Hardly hush-hush. But when you’re ten, most things have to have the prefix of ‘secret’ before them. We would save our pocket money for months until a planned day when we’d be staying with each other – usually during school holidays – and use the money to spend on a big treat together. It was pretty good actually; we saved for and bought two tickets to go and see ’42nd Street’ at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane when I was staying with Daisy during the school Summer holidays. I think they were about £26 back then but they were fantastic seats. We went by ourselves, feeling very grown-up and important. The next ‘meet’, when it was Daisy’s turn to stay with me, we saved for a shopping spree in Brighton. We had lunch, bought some clothes in Tammy Girl, went on the Palace Pier and had a generally fantastic day, feeling very grown up. Unfortunately, when Daisy and her family had returned that evening to London, I was violently ill from the posh fresh cream chocolates we had bought from a chocolatiers in town; they may have been posh but the ‘fresh’ cream had been anything but that. We managed to save like this for a few years; needless to say, our parents actively encouraged it! When I eventually started earning my own money (at a small gift shop which sold specialist paperweights in The Laines), I instinctively put some away each week. I didn’t need to think about it; I had simply been doing it from the age of nine. I didn’t have a separate bank account for this; I just had a pot hidden at home where I’d stash extra money until I could pay for whatever it was I’d been saving towards. Once I had enough for whatever (Bros concert tickets were one of the ‘goals’ – cringe!) I’d pay for that ‘goal’, empty the pot and start all over again with a new one. This way, even when I didn’t really have any spare money at any one time to afford luxuries or treats, I knew that in a few months, I would be able to get those new shoes/go to that gig/go for the weekend to Paris with Kate. It was something to look forward to. And I still do it to this day. Only now I don’t stick it in a pot at home; I do have a separate bank account!
For the past year, my saving fund has been for the one thing I could spend an absolute fortune on, were I lucky enough to earn loads of money: perfume. Perfume is a part-hobby/part-obsession for me. I’ve always loved it. I think partly because I truly have a massive nose; having one this size would be a bit daft if I didn’t like smelling things. May as well put the thing to good use. The first perfume I wore as a teenager, around the age of fourteen to sixteen, was Mum’s L’heure Bleue by Guerlain. I would beg a spritz before going to Oriana’s Nightclub on the beach (fake ID in tow) and that smell always reminds me of her and – more trashily – those sweaty, loud but fun nights at Oriana’s. I think this is why I love perfume as a concept in itself; the thoughts, feelings and memories that scent can produce. I know that sounds a little bit poncey and in no way do I want to become one of the many perfume reviewers on various perfume blogs and sites who, instead of stating whether they like the fragrance, how they find the longevity and sillage (how it wafts around you so others can also pick up on it) and what perfume notes they can detect, choose to write some weird story instead, as in this recent review I read for Caron’s ‘Tabac Blond’: ”The nights at the ‘bar-tabac-bierre blondes’ are long, and though perhaps not what they should be or once were, in a world turned upside down, on a weather-beaten winter’s night, they are without doubt the best show in town. For their part, the women ranged against the creme Anglaise coloured walls, dresses polka dotted pinks, blues and violets smell sweetly of last summer’s improvised flower water, iris and a little citrus blossom, and of the musk of their profession, the oldest.” – gaaaaah! STOP IT! Each to their own and maybe I should embrace their creativity a little more but in truth it makes me want to hide my head behind a cushion instead of continue reading. And it certainly doesn’t make me want to smell the perfume.
When I was fifteen, I also discovered LouLou by Cacherel; I was seduced mainly by the television advert showing for it at the time – the one where the girl looks up from her dressing table, doe eyes gazing at the camera and says, in a melted-chocolat French accent, ‘oui? C’est moi’ in response to the faceless but oh-so-sexily-voiced male purring out ‘Loulou’ repeatedly (solely for the purpose of reducing female viewers to a melted heap on the carpet).
It is a strong scent; it is based around the scent of the Tiare flower, which is a very sweet Tahitan symbol of welcome. It also has plum, blackcurrant, orange blossom, vanilla – all very foody (or ‘gourmand’ as perfumistas like to call them) notes. It is rather a ‘Marmite’ scent; people do seem to either love it or hate it. I loved it. And it suited my perfume-drinking skin. I absorb perfume like blotting paper. It’s seriously annoying. Within an hour- sometimes as little as half an hour – perfumes can vanish from my skin completely. I have tried all the suggested tricks; making sure my skin is moisturised and not dehydrated, spraying perfume onto my clothes to make the scent linger for a longer time (this sort of works depending on the perfume; some just smell musty once sprayed onto fabrics), spraying it into my hair, hair being another apparently good perfume-retainer. It has been tempting to give it up but I love perfume too much. When I was nineteen, I bought a bottle of Cabotine De Gres by Caborchard. Released in 1990, I had been smelling it on a couple of friends for some time and always wondered what that wonderful smell was. That Summer, I went to the Czech Republic with my parents to visit my brother, Luke, who had gone out there to teach English at a little school in Brno.
It was an odd trip; we went by coach and boat (it took about thirty hours but it felt like a month) and I was by far the youngest one on the trip. It was a sticky, hot two weeks and this being before the days of GHD’s, my naturally curly hair simply couldn’t handle the humidity and grew in size day by day until it was almost afro-like; I looked like a human microphone. I had bought a bottle of Cabotine on the ferry in the Duty Free and it was lovely in the sticky, claustrophobic heat. It’s a crisp, green fragrance and I still really like it. I can’t smell it now without being transported back to Brno, sticky and hot, frizzy hair almost knocking people over as I pass them. It’s cheap-as-chips now but I still consider it a really good perfume and I always got comments when I wore it (complimentary ones!). The other perfumes of my teens and twenties were:
- Venezia by Laura Biagiotti: originally released 1992. (Top notes – ylang-ylang, black currant and plum; middle notes – osmanthus, jasmine and rose; base notes – vanille, sandalwood and resin). An oriental floral which has now sadly been discontinued in its original form but was simply yummy.
- Gucci Envy: released 1997. (Top notes – hyacinthus, lily of the valley, rose, jasmine;middle notes – green notes, magnolia, iris; base notes – woods and musk). I LOVED this. Again, it was recently discontinued. Why? Why do they stop the good ones?
- Coco Chanel: released 1984. (Top notes – coriander, pomegranate blossom, mandarin orange, peach, jasmine and bulgarian rose; middle notes – mimose, cloves, orange blossom, clover and rose; base notes – labdanum, amber, sandalwood, tonka bean, opoponax, civet and vanilla). Gorgeous but potent; strong enough to suffocate a busload of people if you squirt just one too many times. Lasted all day on me which is one of the reasons I loved it so much.
Some years ago I visited Les Senteurs in Mayfair on one of my many hospital check-up trips. Mum and I popped in to for a diversion from yet more hospital issues. It was a bit of a revelation for me. Up until then I had stuck with high street perfumes. The ones in Les Senteurs (‘niche’ as they’re known) were absolutely not available on the high street and some were eye-wateringly expensive to my mind. But omigod, the difference in the scents themselves! The higher price tags reflected the higher quality and purity of the ingredients. They also ‘unfolded’ far more noticeably as the hours wore on; I hadn’t really experienced that with high street perfumes. Anyone who has an active interest in perfume will know this but for those who don’t, every perfume has its top, middle and base ‘notes’, or ‘layers’ of scents which develop in that order after application. The ‘top’ notes are what we smell when we spray a tester onto a strip of card, once the initial alcohol whiff has receded. These are usually very bright, sometimes quite ‘fizzy’ notes and don’t last that long – about fifteen minutes before they evaporate and reveal the next level; the middle or ‘heart’ notes are the true essence of the perfume, what it is based around – and usually what it is named for – and develop just before the top notes start to dissipate. These are more stable and tend to be rounder than the volatile top notes. The base notes develop last of all and tend to consist of musks, woods, resins and amber. They can linger on the skin for hours after the top and middle notes have disappeared, sometimes for up to twenty-four hours afterwards. Some perfumes unfold in this way beautifully; others can be more linear and the scent as a whole doesn’t really change.
For my birthday, my parents bought me my first bottle of ‘niche’ perfume. They didn’t know what to get me, I didn’t know what I wanted, so Mum suggested that and I agreed with alacrity.
It was Rosa Flamenca by the perfume house Parfums de Rosine. Oooh, it was nice! It has orange blossom, bergamot, neroli, jasmine, fig leaf and sandalwood as well as the inevitable rose. It lasted almost exactly a year but by the time the bottle was empty, I wanted to move on. This wasn’t going to be a long-term relationship. I found it a little heavy for every day and although that may be unrealistic, I want to have a perfume I can wear every day in every season; a ‘signature’ perfume I suppose. I don’t want to have to buy different bottles to suit different weathers and I can’t afford that either! I want a bottle that suits me. In many ways, this did suit me; it had a bit of spice to it, a bit of kick, which is what I like a perfume to do. If it’s all floral and soft and pretty I’m not interested. Too safe. I want a little bit of the unexpected, a bit of twist or a surprise. My life has been full of unexpected surprises so I want my signature perfume to be the same!
For my next forage into the world of niche perfumes, I sampled a Serge Lutens offering (again from Les Senteurs); Fleurs D’oranger. The notes in this were fairly similar to the notes of Rosa Flamenca (orange blossom, jasmine, rose) and, to be honest, I bought it as a result of a truly fantastic sales pitch by the shop assistant at Les Senteurs. The man who sprayed it on me clearly loved this perfume and his enthusiasm was completely infectious. I like the staff at that shop; they are very knowledgeable about every single scent on the shelves, they clearly have an equal passion for perfume bordering on bonkers and they are never pushy or intrusive. I bought Fleurs D’oranger knowing that I could actually wear this every day and it is truly a beautiful perfume.
But it was just. Too. Safe. It verged on boring to be honest (sorry, Serge).
Another year, another bottle used up, another birthday; this time I was determined to get on the right track and find something striking – maybe not necessarily ‘beautiful’ – and with the required kick. This time I did venture out to other perfume stockists (Liberty, Harrods, Selfridges et al) and sprayed until my nose became confused. I researched the newer perfume houses I hadn’t yet tried and found one which sounded very interesting; L’Etat Libre D’Orange. That ‘orange’ theme seems to be running right through the middle of my ideal perfume hunt. Maybe because it matches my hair…? Listed as a ‘young and creative perfumery from the heart of Paris’ and offering up ‘an alternative fragrance experience’, I thought they might have what I was looking for. The bottles were quirky, the names – well, some were just downright weird. ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong, Baby’, ‘Fat Electrician’, ‘Delicious Closet Queen’ – I mean, seriously? It seemed so gimmicky that I was nearly put off but Les Senteurs (of course) had the entire range so back I went. And quelle surprise! They are actually beautifully crafted perfumes and very, very clever. ‘Fat Electrician’, by the way, smells creamy, spicy and has a bit of a tang, which somehow fits. I was taken with ‘Jasmin Et Cigarette’. Yep. Jasmine and a fag. Classy, eh? It was just gor-juss. Obviously, the notes aren’t only jasmine and a couple of Benson & Hedges because that wouldn’t smell all that great. It starts off with a blast of strong tobacco, but smooth, and a smack of real, earthy jasmine. SO lovely! Then it softens a bit into a more floral smell but the tobacco still lingers in the background, accompanied by hay and apricot and then the base has tonka beans, cedar, amber and musc. I adored it.
The only problem, again, was the longevity. I knew it didn’t stay on my skin long because I had a sample to try after leaving the shop. But I loved it so much I bought it anyway. Love at first sniff….you can’t beat it.
After that bottle ran out – rather quickly – I decided to save up myself for my next bottle instead of waiting for my birthday. It has taken me eighteen months to save up enough. I went back to Les Senteurs after a couple of sessions at Liberty perfume department and Bloom perfumery (newly opened in Spitalfields – lovely little shop! Do pop in if you’re passing and if you’re not passing, change your route so you can go there). I sniffed and fell in love with a perfume from a range which I’d completely dismissed over previous years because I just didn’t like the sound of them. This approach, I have discovered, is stupid. No matter how much we may like the sound of what a perfume may smell like, we will have no clear idea of how/if it will suit us until we’ve sprayed it on ourselves. The trouble with this particular perfume was that – again – it didn’t stay long on my skin. But it was another Jasmin Et Cigarette moment…when something smells that gorgeous, a girl has just gotta have it. I did the right thing; I took a sample home, tried putting moisturiser on first, tried it on my clothes and hair as opposed to just my skin. It didn’t really seem to matter; longevity is a couple of hours tops on me. But I didn’t even want to toy with the thought of buying another, longer-lasting perfume. I wanted this one. So I bought it, early one morning, on a damp, dreary day in London. The shop hadn’t been open five minutes when I strode in, declared to the slightly alarmed-looking assistant what I wanted, and made the purchase on the spot. The assistant was, frankly, impressed by my decisiveness. Usually, he said, it could take several visits before a customer decides what they want. He was new and I hadn’t met him before but the fact that this was actually about my sixth visit in a couple of months and I had bought five different sets of samples from them online also in that time proved his theory to be absolutely true. So now I own Ciel D’Airain by Huitieme Art. Translates into ‘bronze sky’; the perfume is meant to reflect an orchard on the banks of Lake Como in a storm, with the fruits and woods responding to the rain.
I fell in love with it because it is actually spot-on in terms of what it is meant to smell like. Living in the country, I love the rain and often stand in the (vast) garden during a deluge just to inhale the smell; the flowers, the grass, the woods of the trees and indeed the fruits – as there is an orchard in the garden too – seem to explode with aroma in the rain. It’s a scent like no other and I have often wished somebody would bottle it. And Huitieme Art have. The notes are simple and interestingly, there are no top, middle and base notes in this perfume. The Huitieme Art range works in a way that all the notes are released at the same time so you get a linear, but complete sense of the perfume. It doesn’t ‘unfold’. I love this because I don’t have to go through a ‘stage’ which I might not be too fond of, as I’ve often experienced with the usual perfume ‘pyramids’. The notes are fresh fruit, pear tree leaf and bark accompanied by olive twigs and grey ambergris. And it. Is. Gorgeous. It truly is like standing in the middle of a light rain shower with the smells of nature also washing over you. It’s not in-your-face fruity; I don’t smell like a pear drop. It’s a subtle, warm, slightly salty scent and the ambergris gives it that ‘wet earth’ kick which may sound awful to some but it works perfectly. It doesn’t stay long on me. It will be gone in a few short months and then I’ll have to either look all over again or stick with it and just accept that a bottle of this is never going to be a long-laster with me. But I care not. I love the smell and the bottle, which is like a miniature work of art in its own right; it feels like a smooth, polished pebble in my hand but looks like a sculpture – unusual but beautiful, much like the perfume it’s carrying. I’ve already started saving for my next bottle, which will take a few months anyway. For now, if you see me inhaling my wrist deeply with a big smile on my face, you’ll know why.