Thursday, 19 January 2017

Cracking up, falling damp, and a bit of a bonkers bad patch

I am sorry for the delay in my usual (loosely weekly) posting schedule/habit. My Facebook friends will know that I don't put a status update on there if I can't either think of something funny to say (or something intended to be funny, more like - who knows what people actually make of my comments?) or haven't got a new picture of Truffle in an amusing pose. Or Truffle just being impossibly cute in a slightly - some might say imperceptibly - new way. And the same is true on the blog, pretty much. Even when I report on the misfortunes that periodically befall me - and there have been a fair few down the years, notably on my business travels, but also after I moved into this house - by and large my posts set out to be entertaining, as opposed to merely a cathartic rant about outrageous fortune and her pesky slings and arrows...though they are that as well.

All the same, I felt that sufficient time had passed for it to behove me to put my head over the tumultuous parapet and give you the topline on what has been happening lately. Perfume reviews, a Truffle winter special and a bathroom refurb report will follow, but right now I am in the midst of a particularly worrisome twist in that particular renovation saga. It is a bit of a spoiler alert to mention it now, but unfortunately, on the day that I put the finishing touches to the room - a few ornaments and pot plants with appropriately toned dark green foliage - I could no longer deny the fact that both the bath and shower were separately and jointly (joint possibly being an operative word!) leaking through the floor and into the kitchen below, causing a number of big damp patches at the top of one wall and all around the track lighting. Why, there's a good excuse not to bathe - it's an electrical hazard!

Additionally, last weekend 20+ longish cracks appeared out of nowhere on walls and ceilings all over the house, one or two the entire length of a room. It felt as though the place was haunted, for no sooner was my back turned when another one or several popped up! I spent a couple of dark nights of the soul googling the small print of my buildings insurance policy to find out the amount of the subsidence excess, and getting ballpark estimates for underpinning(!) the foundations in case the worst came to the worst. In the event, these particular cracks, though legion, leggy, unsightly, and downright alarming, only register as a Category 2 on the architectural equivalent of the Beaufort scale ('fine structural'), and it seems the house - though subtly shifting beneath me - may yet stand for some years to come. ;) I did half wonder whether Truffle may have precipitated the movement by persistently clawing at the dining room door every morning to be fed(!), but a friend who trained as a surveyor reckons the cracks are more likely to be linked to the many, varied, and violent kinds of weather we have been having lately.

So I have put my crack problem behind me (got to be careful how I phrase that, on several levels!). However, the unresolved matter - and associated horrible piquancy - of a brand new bathroom that was five months in the making leaking from multiple undiagnosed and mostly inaccessible sites, remains with me. So I may be liaising with my plumber - and possibly other plumbers! - on an ongoing basis until we can get to the bottom of everything. I have myself done a ton of forensic investigation: this has involved every kind of water volume/pressure, from jet spraying with the shower's own diverter to pouring from a watering can, squirting with a spray bottle designed to banish Truffle's arch enemy, the interloping Tootsie, and administering small amounts of water into the casing of the bath taps via a pipette. I have also isolated certain components from the water blast as a 'control' using a freezer bag and some gaffer tap. Ooh, 'gaffer tap'! Freudian slip...On the plus side, I have learnt an awful lot about the gubbins behind a mixer shower, including the plumbing meaning of the word 'escutcheon'.

My stress levels are compounded by the fact that I am entering a hellishly busy work phase, though I should not be sorry for that, in case some money has to be thrown at the problem one way or another...

Finally, hats off to Truffle for showing a great deal of empathy this week - I'd say 'a rock', but that way lies Princess Diana and that rum bodyguard chappy, Paul Burrell. I swear she (Truffle, not Diana) knows I am run ragged with it all. In the mornings she has taken to sitting on my neck for a bit like a furry comforter, and staged a dedicated vigil outside the bathroom door when the problem was first diagnosed. But that may just have been because she was dying to explore the airing cupboard where the action is all going on!

Monday, 9 January 2017

The Scent Crimes Series: No 17 - Mistakenly thinking gin and scented bath products are interchangeable

Well, thank you for all your feedback on my last post about the 'direction of travel' of the blog. Ooh, how I hate that phrase, whether or not it happens to be a direction that is also 'going forward'. And it seems that travel as a topic is okay! Yes, it was great to hear from so many people all at once, including a few back channel: it galvanised and re-energised me, and confirmed that the blog is in a broadly congenial groove rather than in a rut. And also that some people are still having technical difficulties when they try to leave a comment, for which I can only apologise. I am sorry that I don't even know what to suggest to get round the problem, though in my experience commenting from mobile devices can be more hit and miss. And copying your comment beforehand is a wise precaution to preempt that very understandable phenomenon of 'eaten blog comment rage'.

One of my several gin accessories

Now I had planned to write a post featuring a miscellany of Truffle's winter antics this time round - but something came up yesterday, so I thought I would get that off my chest first. You see, one of my more novel presents this Christmas was an empty gin bottle. It is porcelain rather than glass, with a charming monochrome woodcut design on it, possibly involving a weasel**. The idea seems to be that you decant some gin you already own into it. Or maybe make your own and pop it in there. The bottle has a pump mechanism which is also novel, as personally I don't mind pouring my drinks of whatever kind.

My small but select gin family

The friend who gave the bottle to me apologised for the unusual nature of her present - I would say 'gift' to mix things up a bit, but I hate that word with nearly the same passion as 'gifting'. If you ever catch me saying 'gifting' on here in an absent-minded moment, please come round and shoot me. But back to the bottle, which was bigger than my friend imagined - it would contain at least a full bottle of gin, possible of any denomination, including the 1 litre size I rarely buy, in case people think I have a 'drink problem'. My friend thought I could deploy it as an ornament in my new bathroom, on account of its neutral colour scheme. With the added bonus that a gin bottle positioned at the end of the bath or even - more discreetly - in a corner of the room, would be a bit of a talking point when visitors come.

New bathroom decor spoiler alert!

So I tried the container in various spots around the bathroom, but felt that on balance - quite literally in some ledge-type locations, which were too narrow for it to perch safely - it was on the large side. Plus I am reluctant to start filling up this minimalist, supposedly zenlike  and calming space with too much bathroom-related tackle, never mind potentially controversial alcohol-themed accessories. But my friend had certainly sewn the seed of finding a bathroom-related purpose for the present, so I kept thinking along those lines. Finally I came up with the idea to decant large bottles of bubble bath into it instead - those big plastic ones that aren't pretty enough to display, or whose packaging has a clashing colour scheme - and squirt a bit into the bath via the pump supplied. For easy access, I could store the gin bottle in the airing cupboard, so it would be nearby, but not taking up space - or connoting a dysfunctional relationship with Mother's Ruin.

So I reached for my bottle of Abahna Jasmine & Orange Blossom bubble bath, which has nice packaging, but whose dominant colour is unfortunately bright pink, which won't do at all in there - because the designated accent colour is in fact blue - and poured the whole lot into the gin bottle.

And pumped. And pumped. I know these things take a bit of priming, so I primed a bit. And pumped. And pumped some more. And nothing, but nothing came out.

A sample of my gin glass collection - please don't buy me any more!

So that's torn it. I probably couldn't even wash the bottle out now and put gin in it, even if I could get my head around the concept of a pumpable alcohol delivery system. I could perhaps remove the pump and POUR the bubble bath into my bath. That is probably my best bet, so as not to waste a quality T K Maxx bargain.

And the moral of the story is that I should have known about the variable viscosities of different liquids. Meanwhile, I am thinking it would make a nice lamp, if I could figure out how to affix all the electrical gubbins to the top.

Whoo - I see someone has already done it!!

Source: Bee and Anchor UK's Etsy shop

Are there any electricians out there?

Have you ever pumped gin into your glass?

Or used a present for a lateral thinking kind of purpose that you have later regretted?

How are you on viscosities?

**Oh I say, I was right about the weasel!

UPDATE: I am happy to report that I have now got the pump working! I thought to turn the bottle upside down and that helped coax the bubble bath up the plastic tube. Then when I turned it the right way round again, it was still working. I wonder whether I should have used liquid soap rather than bubble bath to start with, as soap is less thick and gloopy - I think I will next time, as it may have better flow characteristics.

A lamp waiting to happen

Sunday, 1 January 2017

New Year, old perfume, musings on (all kinds of!) ageing, and other random retrospective stuff

New Year's Day - a time for Solpadeine and regret, and if and when the hangover eases, quiet introspection. Maybe a spot of knitting. Maybe more Solpadeine. I blame my friend Gillie, who egged me on to have a second glass of Malbec, on top of the first one - and the glass of Sauvignon Blanc I had earlier. She got as far as a fourth glass, though in fairness some of glass No 2 went over my dress during an exuberant pointing episode - but I think I managed to pass it off as another red accessory (see below).

New Year is also when you finally start to have tantalising glimpses of the back of the fridge. And when you fashion oddball fusion dishes from faintly fermenting leftovers, because you would rather play Russian roulette with salmonella and listeria than accept that you went a bit mad with the big Christmas shop.

That said, I did get into the habit lately of sniffing my food before consumption, as well as scrutinising it for obvious signs of mould - and thus it was that some fizzy and oddly sweet-smelling parsnips with mushy middles got the chop smartish. As in didn't get the chop and go in the soup I was making!

"Sprouts are not just for Christmas."

Then New Year makes you realise your friends' eyesight is ageing at the same rapid pace as yours, as their festive messages - while warm and uplifting - are full of typos and predictive text gibberish.

It is also a time for writing appointments in new diaries in exceptionally neat handwriting, while knowing full well that your painstaking script will turn to complete rats**t as the year progresses.

New Year's Resolutions

And let's not forget those New Year's resolutions. This was a popular topic of conversation at the party I attended last night, and it amused me that in answer to the question: "What do you wish for in 2017?" one friend said "World peace" while I said "Teeming neurons", an oblique reference to the beneficial effect of aerobic exercise on hippocampus tissue. I did at least go for a long hike the other day with two friends, each of whom had two dogs. On the way round we met so many other people out with their dogs that it got mighty confusing, and in the ensuing furry melees I felt sure that people must just have been glad to go home with the same number of dogs that they set out with.

The lady in red is wearing a cashmere scarf I knitted!

I do have other resolutions, mind - all equally selfish it must be said: to read more books, and knit more, and sell a load of old clothes on eBay. And ideally eat less sugar, having recently scared myself witless about the deleterious effects of refined carbohydrates with this Long Read. It really is long, I must warn you. As I said on Facebook, where I posted the link, I think I could romp through 'Girl on a Train' quicker. It even made me eye up my four pack of Double Deckers with a newfound suspicion. That particular New Year's resolution isn't going at all well, however, as the very first thing I ate today as I walked home from the party was half a cranberry muffin, distributed free to departing revellers by our host. It was quite delicious, and on balance I think I will carry on eating my favourite confectionery and biscuits, and the devil and the dentist and the doctor take the hindmost.

Patchouli paws

Because it was the holidays, I relaxed my usual rules and allowed Truffle to sleep on the bed with me - but only in the mornings, if I was having a lie in. I associate this time with the rich scent of patchouli, for often her paws would have traces of earth on them from night manoeuvres on the allotments.

Diptyque Eau Duelle: the boomerang bottle with a duo of botched sales

So yes, now  that I am in my late 50s and things are starting to fail on multiple fronts, health issues are very much on my mind. Not helped by the slew of celebrity deaths this year, some of them younger than me. Though one or two had rather caned it in their time, one way and another. But maybe that is ultimately okay, for it is not about how long you live, but how fully, and how alive you felt while you were at it. (See muffin mention above.) I sense a discussion on the pros and cons of living in the fast lane / a rock 'n' roll lifestyle - or even one with occasional treats, haha - could warrant a whole other post sometime, albeit not about perfume, I know.

But on to the health of my fragrance collection, and specifically the unfortunate effects of ageing on my 70% full 100ml bottle of Diptyque Eau Duelle. I have owned it since 2009 or 2010 at a guess?, so quite a few years it must be said, and recently tried selling it on that UK Fragrance Sale/Swap/Split site. I put it up for a reduced price of £25, which was intended to reflect the bottle's age in a non-specific way. The first person to buy it messaged me shortly afterwards to say that she had compared my Eau Duelle with a recently acquired sample and found my bottle to be all about the vanilla, and missing "some of the more smoky woodsy notes".

I wrote back, most apologetic, and explaining that I had sort of "grown old" with my bottle, as it were, and had not noticed how it might have morphed over that time. However, I quite understood that she was in a position to check on the difference that ageing had brought about, and promptly refunded her money.

A little while later, another would-be purchaser came through, offering to buy my 'boomerang bottle' of Eau Duelle - so I had now received dual offers, you could say! I told him what had happened with the previous buyer, and this chap replied that he only wanted to use the scent as a room atomiser, and wasn't too worried about all the nuances of the notes being detectable. So the bottle was duly despatched before Christmas, with an even more reduced price of £19. Though this time I suggested to the buyer that he only pay me if he was happy with the perfume. And now it is sadly on its way back again... ;) In a message I learnt the reason for his not wishing to keep the bottle:

"Although I like the smell I think it has lost a lot of its strength. I tried it on the aroma diffuser but it was very weak and I could not really smell it."

I have to say that Eau Duelle is quite strong when applied as a perfume, even in its EDT concentration, but for his particular purpose it was clearly not fit, so no money changed hands and it seems this bottle is destined to stay put!

These incidents have brought it home to me that it is very difficult to sell a bottle of perfume you have had knocking around for a while, because the buyer expects it to be just as it was when it was new. And this got me thinking about the notion of ageing in broad terms, and how women too are expected to look as they did when they were young, or at least to give the arresting of the effects of ageing their very best shot! And that is a shame - the fact that something or someone is only acceptable if they are as they once were, even though the changes may not necessarily be all bad - just different. My Eau Duelle doesn't smell off; it still smells as pleasantly vanilla-y as many a vanilla-forward scent such as Annick Goutal's Vanille Exquise, or L'Artisan's Vanilia. But like me, I accept that it is missing some of its faculties - I mean facets!

Miscellaneous retrospective stuff

On the world stage, it goes without saying that 2016 was a pretty diabolical year, with spiralling levels of conflict and political turmoil. Frankly I am not too hopeful that 2017 is going to be much of an improvement. Or rather that things may get worse before they get better...

In a much more minor way, 2016 was a bit of a bummer for me personally in that I developed eyelid eczema in the spring, which still flares up from time to time, though I am more aware of the triggers now. I plan to do a separate post on how I have got on with various skincare products, now that I have been using them all for a while - some of them recommended by readers!

Highlights of the year on the social front included the great gathering of the clans in January for Portia's PLL talk, and subsequently knitting beanies for her ;) - I will get onto the next commission in good time for your winter! - along with Pia and Nick's highly enjoyable Smelly Cakey Perfume Meet Up in October. Then in May I spent a birthday to remember when I visited Liz Moores again, this time with Tara. My trip to France in August to visit my friend L was also one of my happiest times this year - a life changing one, no less, in that it planted the seed that I might one day retire over there, while the recent band tour in Germany was the usual rumbustious and 'sleep when I'm dead' fun.

Portia, me and Angela

Favourite perfumes of 2016

Of all the years I have been blogging, this is going to be my sketchiest selection, as I have tried so few of the new releases! With that caveat here is my little list - I have fellow bloggers to thanks for introducing me to quite a few of these - Val is responsible for three,and Undina two! As Undina found in her own recent round up of the best of 2016, my list quite fortuitously runs to ten...;)

Jo Malone Mimosa & Cardamom

Aroma M Vanilla Hinoki

Aroma M Geisha Noire (my new favourite furry animalic amber)

By Kilian Amber Oud (as above, but sweeter, and less hoochy)

Ruth Mastenbroek Oxford

Puredistance SHEIDUNA

Chanel No 5 L'Eau (briefly tried on skin in store, but I liked what I remember)

Hermès Doblis (I have no words! The ne plus ultra ambrosia of leather scents. Okay, I had a few.)

Le Jardin Retrouvé Citrus Boboli (review to follow)

Source: aroma M perfumes

What I would really like to try!

Aftelier Perfumes Vanilla Smoke
Afterlier Perfumes Amber Tapestry
Hiram Green Arbolé Arbolé
Galop d'Hermès
Sarah Jessica Parker Stash

Fellow bloggers have massively piqued my curiosity about these.

Losing the plot?

On a housekeeping note, I noticed that in 2016 my page views went up quite markedly to nearly 40,000 a month, while the comments on my blog fell. I am not sure what is behind that dual(!) phenomenon, though if I had to guess I'd say that some of the new traffic is probably a fluke-y spike. As for the reduction in comments, it may be that I am now too much on the margins of the perfume scene to be regarded as a bona fide - or even a particularly enthusiastic! - voice on developments within it, compounded by my possibly annoying propensity to go off with alarming regularity on tangents (travel posts, skincare posts, and manifestations of off-topic silliness of every stripe). But I may never know the reason, as those readers may now have stopped reading as well as commenting! And it may not be that the lack of interaction by readers is a protest vote at all, but is due to something else entirely. I have no way of knowing though - that is the conundrum - so as a blogger it is natural to question the merits of what you are doing first. (Especially when you factor in middle-aged paranoia, haha.) But seriously, I would be glad to know what people think of the topic mix, and whether I should stick to perfume on here, and create a separate blog for the other topics. Or even drop the perfume side and just focus on travel periodically - I don't know. I do wonder whether Bonkers might have become a bit of an unholy mishmash now, and people are just too polite to say so. ;)

I can assure you though that I will be reviewing some more perfumes soon. Also, the bathroom renovation really does deserve a post of its own - for the comedy value of the whole sorry palaver alone! - though I realise that would be another digression. For yes, as you may have noticed, I am rather Bonkers about Bathrooms - and sanitary- and brassware in particular. Yet in this picture I took last night (several sheets to the wind it must be said) I completely failed to get the all-important taps in!

And finally, I would like to wish everyone out there - regular readers, occasional readers, or those who have landed here by mistake! - a very Happy New Year, or as happy a one as we can collectively contrive in this mad, mad world...

Ooh look, I have managed to get back to Sunday posting after a bit of a 'temporal drift' of late.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Big cream taxi: On tour with The Monochrome Set in Holland and Germany - Part 2

Not even mid-December, and Santa has had enough of Xmas!
So Christmas has been and gone since my last post...I didn't agonise about the turkey nearly as much as in previous years, and it was surprisingly succulent all the way through. It did take me ages to get everything together, mind, and Truffle could have been...ahem!...a bit more hospitable to my guests, but on the whole things turned out fine.

Then today has been spent replacing blown light bulbs and troubleshooting a myriad of stains and dirt: from mud on a bike to spilt wine on the carpet (my overexuberance while watching an Agatha Christie), to adhesive marks on a lamp, tea stains on a door, and sundry food splatter on pretty much every kitchen surface. And on a favourite top...So you can readily imagine that writing Part 2 of my tour report was preferable to soldiering on with a panoply of futile solvents, including 'Still There!' (aka Vanish) and surgical ('God help me if I was actually ill rather than just removing glue') spirits.

As in Part 1, I shall stick with the thematic format...

Seat number Sudoku

One of my jobs as 'Logistics Manager' was to marshal the troops on the exact spot of the correct platform where our train was going to pull up, thereby minimising aimless walking around railway stations encumbered with gear and luggage. With everyone in one place, I then proceeded to call out the numbers of our seat reservations, so that if our party got split up during the inevitable melee of boarding the train, we would all know where to aim for. The act of committing these seven numbers to memory became known as 'seat number Sudoku', which we agreed was a helpful plank of our collective dementia-deferring strategies.

Leipzig Hauptbahnhof

You can whistle for Bachpfeiffen

One of the more unusual missions with which I was entrusted on this trip was to track down a box of Bachpfeiffen - a chocolate speciality from Leipzig in the shape of organ pipes! As the name suggests, they are a tribute to the composer Bach, who worked in the city and is buried in the Sankt Thomas Kirche. The singer had the bright idea of getting some to give as a birthday present to the keyboard player, whose instrument is after all an electronic relative of the organ, and whose birthday coincided with our visit to the city. A spot of googling fetched up two outlets for this chocolate novelty, both in the old town. I secretly briefed the taxi driver to make a detour to the more accessible of the two shops en route to the station, and, with the singer a few steps behind me, I hurtled in, breathlessly demanding that the two sales assistants produce their Bach-themed wares at the double. My urgent, panting request was met with a look of disdain and the curt explanation that Leipzig's most celebrated souvenir had been discontinued 18 months ago. Well, so much for the Tourist Board's website being bang up-to-date.


There was a further chocolate-related disappointment later in the is the singer, off duty in Hamburg and looking every inch the Milk Tray Man, minus the all-important chocolates! I daresay you could cadge a cigarette off him, but that's about it.

Assorted closed things

This complete dearth of Bachpfeiffen leads me neatly on to my topic of 'closed things', starting with the railway station in Holland where we were headed on the first day. It is a suburban stop in Utrecht called Zuilen, and has the advantage of being bang next to the venue. The Belgian national rail company had, moreover, sold us seven tickets to this specific destination. In hindsight they may have done so out of mischief, as Zuilen station is currently closed, not unlike Mornington Crescent tube station in the 90s. Anyway, that realisation prompted the first of our many requisitions of a big cream taxi...


Later, on the band's day off in Hamburg, we trooped en masse to the seaside - I hesitate to call somewhere so cold a 'resort' - of Blankenese. There would have been serious shopping potential in the many festive-looking gift shops, however, owing to their luxuriously long lunch breaks of up to three hours we ended up buying nothing and taking silly photos by the sea instead.

The bass player doing a fine impersonation of The Invisible Man

Before I went away, when I mentioned where I was headed to friends, most would immediately pipe up: 'Ooh, all those Christmas markets!' And sure enough, that was one of the aspects of the tour to which I was most looking forward, not least for their excellent Christmas shopping opportunities. Ironically - and most tantalisingly - we did not manage to make it to a single Christmas market in any of the six towns and cities on our itinerary. Or rather we made it to one moments after it had shut for the evening, and to another while it was still closed in the morning - but comprehensively failed to coincide with any markets during their opening hours.

By way of compensation, in Weikersheim the band decided to stage a nativity scene of their own, in which the Three Wise Men offer the baby John Paul gifts of gold (a bauble nicked from a nearby unmanned market stall), 'He's Frankincense', and fur.

Gnomes a gogo

We may have been foiled at every turn in the Christmas market department, but we didn't go short of gnome statuary on this trip - in Weikersheim at least, dotted around the Lustgarten (sic).

There were even one or two 'personalised' gnomes: a drummer for the drummer, and a lady gnome who was clearly empathising with me over the fact that I had left my phone charger in Hamburg.

Incestuous intra-band device lending

So yes, much to my alarm I left my phone charger plugged into the wall of my hotel room in Altona (that's room No 3 for anyone keeping scores). I need not have worried though, for having gone over to the dark (as in Android) side, there were now about five people in our party who had compatible chargers, and I ended up borrowing one off Dave, the husband in the husband and wife merchandise team. Meanwhile, the singer had pulled his phone charger out of the wall, but accidentally left his adapter behind, so I lent him one of my two adapters for the remainder of the trip. And lastly, the keyboard player lost his mouse somewhere along the way - which he had been using to programme special effects during the gig, I infer - and was delighted to borrow the one I was using with my netbook. On the last day, somewhere between Cologne and St Pancras, devices were duly returned to their rightful owners.

Dry ice in the house

I have just googled 'dry ice' to check that it IS dry ice that creates those smoke effects on stage, and learnt that there are in fact many ways to skin the 'theatrical smoke, fog and haze' cat, not least the fact that there is so much more to the effect than mere smoke. Dry ice is commonly implicated in the creation of 'low-lying fog', certainly. Anyway, I just wanted to explain that right from the first gig in Holland there were joking calls from band and audience alike for this theatrical fog - though I can't tell you exactly how they termed it. As you can see, sometimes people got more than they bargained for, and it was hard to discern the band members in the resulting pea souper!

"There are offers on everything green"**

A highlight of the tour for me was the striking light show at several of the gigs, most memorably in Frankfurt.

I told the club owner afterwards - who had personally done the lighting - that I hadn't seen anything so impressive since Genesis at Knebworth in 1978. ;)

Speaking of fetching colours, the keyboard player with his coordinating stripey jumper proved to be an interior stylist's dream at this restaurant in Hamburg.

While at the Roter Salon in Berlin, a wonderfully retro function room within the famous Volksbühne Theatre, the red theme was rigorously respected.

Courtesy of Caryne Pearce

It was also at that gig that one of the venue staff laughed at the description I gave of my role on tour. I used the German word 'Gefolge', which roughly approximates to 'retinue'. "That's very good", he said. "Say that, as it is a step up from 'entourage'. Entourage may just be hanging around, while retinue are there by appointment."

Source: Alex 1011 via Wikipedia

(** For the benefit of those not familiar with the band's music, this is a quote from the title track of their new album, Cosmonaut.)

My big red big cream taxi shame

While on the subject of all things red, and in case I have given the impression that I acquitted myself uniformly well throughout the tour in the fulfilment of my duties, I have to confess that this was not at all the case. For on the morning of the second day I let the side down so spectacularly that I still cringe to remember the incident in question. It all came down to my having two phones with me: one with a SIM card that had automatically switched to continental time, and one (my old iPhone) that is Internet-enabled, but still resolutely on UK time. So having ordered a taxi for us all for 8.20am, I proceeded to set my alarm for 7.20am...on the wrong phone. Accordingly, at 8.20am the next morning I was woken by the reception ringing to tell me my taxi was there (she drew a diplomatic veil over the additional presence of five members of our party, all packed and ready in the foyer - the sixth having taken it upon himself to bang on my door and politely inquire where the hell I was!).

In five minutes' flat, I was dressed (in last night's discarded clothes I hastily scooped up from the floor), and packed and downstairs - unwashed, unmade up, dishevelled, with mad bed hair and a sense of mortification so deep that it lasted well into the next day. We didn't miss our train at least, and some time later the bass player amiably remarked that he had appreciated the delay, as it meant he got to stand in the warm hotel reception that little bit longer...

A word on perfumes!

Well, the truth is that although I took about 10 different perfumes away with me, I ended up only wearing four: Mona di Orio's Tubereuse (a curious choice you might say for cold weather, but it seemed to hit the spot), Dawn Spencer Hurwitz's Cimabue (I drained my purse spray, boo!), Aroma M Geisha Noire, and Amouage Journey Woman (for the journey home...).

Beyond satsumas...

As the tour wore on I began to grade venues not so much by their food - though we had some lovely meals along the way - but by their tea making facilities. To be fair they all measured up pretty well, even if you had to rummage in the tea bag selection to find the classic yellow Liptons under all the more or less 'out there' herbal stuff. But the first venue in Utrecht comfortably took the tea station prize!

Two of my favourite foods from the tour would have to be a pumpkin-flavoured hummus and a honey and salted almond Ritter chocolate square. Yes, I did manage to get hold of some chocolate eventually!

And I have good memories of the wine too, from a rather special black Riesling - who knew there even was such a thing?! - to the very drinkable house red on offer everywhere we went...

Next up - a New Year's post of a kind - just not the usual kind!

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Big cream taxi: On tour with The Monochrome Set in Holland and Germany - Part 1

I realise that this is the time of year when it is customary for perfume bloggers to publish Christmas Gift Guides featuring a tempting selection of fragrant things, followed by a retrospective post about the year's releases and/or discoveries. I feel so remote from the perfume scene these days that I doubt I will be doing either of those this year, although I do have a few perfume reviews in the pipeline. For even in this becalmed plateau stage of my hobby, a few of the more persistent perfume houses manage to cross my path with their new launches, some of which - I am pleased to say - genuinely stir my slumbering mojo!

Yet in my own small trend-bucking corner of the blogosphere, the event that is still on my mind - more so even than the upcoming festivities - is my recent trip to Germany and Holland with The Monochrome Set, this time in the slightly ramped up (but still essentially nebulous and ineffable) role of 'Logistics Manager'.

The tour has stayed with me because it was the most intense and full-on of any I have been on. Every day felt like a week, and I was so wired all the time that sleep proved chronically elusive.

And normally while away I keep a daily record in a little notebook of amusing incidents or observations of band life. Sure enough the notebook came out with me, but for the entire ten days of the trip this is all I managed to jot down...!

So rather than adopt a chronological approach as in past years, I will go with the thematic format I used to adopt for write ups like this one of my overseas business trips, back in the day.

But first a word about the title (with apologies to Joni Mitchell)...basically, because we were travelling around by train and staying in some out of the way places not readily accessible by tram or bus, we ended up taking a number of (to my mind quite extortionate) taxis: all of these vehicles were of the people - and gear - carrier variety, and all without exception cream in colour.

Source: Taxi 730101

Rum hotels

Now I know that on their travels some readers may stay in reliable hotel chains like the Hyatt and the Marriott - and even in one or two of comparable quality not ending in ''-tt' - as I used to myself on work trips to the States, say, but sadly that is not my reality now - or even that of the band's every once in a while. For example, I spent the first night before we left London in the amusingly named Beaver Hotel in Earls Court - the sort of place where you are unfeasibly excited to find a plug socket in your room, and where there is a very real risk of meeting a man with an enormous paunch and wearing only his underpants on the way to the shared bathroom.

Source: Tripadvisor

The balance was quickly redressed by an Ibis in Holland and a business hotel in Leipzig - even though it was so far out of town it may once have been technically in Poland - before things took a dive again in Berlin. Although my ill-defined role as Logistics Manager related mainly to booking train travel, I also made a couple of hotel reservations, one of them at the Easyhotel in the Mitte district. It was close to the venue, modern and cheap. I still haven't fathomed in what way the hotel was easy, mind you - for the punters at any rate. The rooms were so tiny that when lying on the bed your feet were practically in the shower, and the complete lack of space around the bed took me right back to childhood caravanning days.

The difficulties of negotiating our 'easyrooms' in Berlin paled into insignificance, however, compared to the dizzying array of malfunctions that awaited us in the Stadt-Altona Hotel in Hamburg, the choice of the record label this time, who one can only infer must have enjoyed preferential terms. To give you an idea of the inherent unsatisfactoriness of this accommodation, I had three different rooms during my two day stay, while the merchandise team and the bass player had two each. We built up a comprehensive photographic record of all the snagging issues we had found, and it became a competitive sport to wave our camera phones around, as we bigged up our own rooms' shortcomings: "But I had more clumps of fluff on my (weirdly sealed with gaffer tape) air vent than you did!" "Ah, but I had actual rust spots on my radiator, not just an inaccessible knob!", and much more in that vein.

My inaccessible radiator knob in Room 2 of 3

Within the overarching category of 'rum hotels' there should perhaps be a sub-thread on the lack of full - or even three quarter length - mirrors in the rooms almost everywhere we went. I took it as a sign from on high not to be so vain as to wish to see if my hastily donned outfits worked as an ensemble, but over time it did lead to a slightly disembodied feeling from not having seen my reflection below shoulder level since leaving England.

Rum toilets and graffiti

Regular readers will know this as a well worn theme of past tour posts, and the selection of graffiti-strewn conveniences on this trip didn't disappointment.

Hafenklang, Hamburg

Not to mention those facilities featuring unexpected pop art:

The ladies' toilets in DB's, Utrecht

While at NAUMANNs in Leipzig there was a Waterhouse in the Water Closet.

Source: Caryne Pearce

The toilet theme really did have is some (consciously?) amusing signage from a Russian restaurant in Berlin:

Oh, speaking of graffiti, we were back in the same venue in Frankfurt this year where the singer had made his mark on the wall on our previous visit - one of the more wholesome examples of self-expression on the wall, it must be said.

So obviously he had to have another crack this time round...Take 1 reads, with the merest soupcon of numerical irony: "1) This is my second attempt at graffiti. I find this far from unsatisfactory." Then Take 2 reprises his tone of British understatement: "2) I have returned. I am not entirely displeased."

Passive smoking

Between the higher proportion of Germans versus Brits who are smokers - especially in Berlin! - and the fact that half the band are also prone to lighting up, I did an awful lot of passive smoking while away. So much so that I really feel it qualified as active smoking. I didn't actually inhale directly from a cigarette at any point, but I did agree to hold one for the singer very briefly while standing in the doorway of the club in Cologne...under a red light. Let's just say that I shan't be doing that again, as I think the pose I unwittingly struck may have given out quite the wrong signal to a passing local.

Source: Caryne Pearce

One of my roles as Logistics Manager was estimating in advance whether the stops some of the regional trains made in small country halts were long enough to enable the keyboard player and the singer to nip onto the platform and have a quick puff. So I would get off first, scurry along the platform at full tilt to find the conductor, and put the question to him. On one occasion, the sight of him having a smoke with the driver gave me my answer right there. On another, the singer was asleep when the all-important fag break window hove into view. The keyboard player immediately hopped off when I told him he had 13 minutes, but I let the singer sleep on. I checked with him later and he would actually have preferred to have been woken up for the express purpose of having a cigarette. Which I didn't see coming either.

And it wasn't just the people who smoked on tour - it turns out that that these dancing bunnies from Berlin - who have featured in action in previous tour posts - also like a crafty ciggy at the end of the night.

Mould growth

Aha, not what you may understand by 'mould' - the heading refers to the steady progress I made with my knitting of a scarf commission for a friend. Because the wool was cashmere and inherently furry - as well as being a sort of bluey-green colour - we  had no sooner left St Pancras when the bass player observed that I was knitting 'mould'.

From that point onwards, my handiwork was known as that, such that people would encourage me to "get another row of mould done" before the next stop, type of thing. Despite the joshing, I carried on undeterred, while also acquiring excellent night knitting skills in the tenebrous venues where we spent many hours waiting around before the gig. I am pleased to report that the scarf - fashioned in five countries in the face of great provocation and ribaldry ;) - is finally finished and on its way to its new owner.

The satsuma rider

On arriving at a venue for a sound check - even though dinner is often catered in within the hour - it is usual to provide a band with a spread of food on which they can ravenously descend - or graze ad libidum through the course of the evening. In German, this buffet literally translates as 'arrival snacks', and the name stuck. Right from the first gig in Utrecht - possibly for seasonal reasons, or the perception on the part of the promoter that your average musician could succumb to scurvy at the drop of a hat - we clocked the inclusion of a crate or bowl of satsumas everywhere we went. Even though no one had specified it - J-Lo and the anti-clockwise-stirred cup of coffee-style - this fruity leitmotif came to be known as 'the satsuma rider', and we all took to stashing them away for the journey. It was rare in fact for someone to have fewer than five on their person at any given time, and I even found a couple that had snuck into my wash bag.

Part 2 follows shortly! (NB There will only be two instalments this time, notwithstanding the length of the tour, on account of the paucity of my note taking mentioned above. ;) )