Playlist: February 2020

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Warning: contains dairy

These Piscean days, I lose whole mornings to night. I spread every hour like butter to sleep, back to the melt-world with its length which is only the sentence, dripping at the end of the knife a line. These nights are nothing! Paragraphs are so conceptual and I am always failing to come inside them. I wake up to ill-formed texts and forget my dreams. ‘There is a type of daydreaming that can foretell the future’, Jenny Boully says, ‘a type of dreaming that explains why nothing is being written’. Nothing gives itself up this way. In the diner, pressurised to justify something of which I have nothing to say, I took my leave of the mirror. I watch butter drip from the knife that is poised on a plateau. Honestly, I would eat truffle fries with Deleuze any day. He’s like, ‘what a relief to have nothing to say, the right to say nothing, because only then is there a chance of framing the rare, and even rarer, thing that might be worth saying’. In saying nothing, I dream my days and nothing gets written. It is a process but nothing gets written. Yes you can take the menu away. 

As nothing happens, indistinguishable figures surround me and my space key sticks. The mark between will melt in your mouth. Some of the figures make violence, they bear what I can’t say of the happening. They are dripping with the fat that won’t hold language. So I am struggling to say this to you. I had this beautiful dream of the world’s oasis, its heart, not the world’s but you know whose, what that dream belonged to, what heartfreak is it the dream contends. When you cut the knife in the middle and it melts all the rainbows around it. 

Truffle smell is just vapourised rhizomes, baby.

A refuge cove, pastel-hued in some new time before dusk and dawn that was not night, unnameable, not even twilight. I feel it is a word only islanders know. I was swimming so freely in this cove, my soul was archipelago, and I knew it was the end of the world, breakfast, not the cove but everything breaking up, it was happening, at long last, and we were so calm. We were so calm in our pieces. Disaster is archipelagic these days. The other person was asking me questions, confused, and I was saying it is only that things will change, and you knew and you knew, like Nico. It all breaks up. Can I convey to you the beautiful feeling of the water, which always continues? How I touched that chalky rock like it was a planet, how I said (being spoken) it is told to believe, the scales are disordered; if we keep touching the rock it only can happen. The water surrounds us smooth as cream. The sea level rose around me; I felt rosy, I knew I wasn’t the only one — I couldn’t wait to feel truly atomic, after all. The violent figures would extinguish each other, I won’t say like love.

~

Have you heard Grimes’ new album? For me, it is more like, I felt so light I could fall above earth, like angels descending. We might catch each other on the way. Our wings would stick, like my hair in your glasses.

After the end of the world, like the single annihilation of a mountain, bmbmbm, a kind of love that eats you from the inside out. A love without purpose. I read this satirical piece in The New Yorker which goes something like, but what about when there aren’t many fish in the literal sea? What then? Is there an app for that? Someone keeps scrolling for other expressions

…and the fish will catch you back 🙂

~

The scene in my dream was like the one in Antonioni’s Red Desert, where she swims around the turquoise bay, she is so bronzed and this is the lightest moment, the music, before industry almost. Childhood’s idyllic shelter is water.

I wonder about the shelter of water. What is it to swim and not actually swim, from my perch in the city, a milky white cat at the end of my bed? You end the things you say with salt. Chalkmatter colours my black leather shoes. It only snowed or almost snowed; they salt the roads so poorly. At the end of The Topeka School, revolution just is the kid doing asphalt sketches in front of the cops. I read that book by an early winter, on the old Virgin, heading north. The full spectrum of my psyche swings between two types of moon: the black cat and the white, the lunatic cappuccino continuum. miaow / miaow / miaow. It is a foamy thing, otherwise slender, dusted w/ safest chocolate stars. I could mew for a future, should it work. I sleep through the pickets; I am wracked in guilt, I wake with a cold full of head.

Why don’t you tell me a story?
Why not yesterday’s?

Reality is bladderwrack.
My dreams are thickening; they scent so hard.

~

It is mostly, surely — I’ll tell it properly later — that the story has to come out backwards. You pull the child safely away from the water, you unravel the knotweed ribbons of time, you tweeze a poison stem from my lips. Why would you? I had forgotten the cove was an island, a place to be always alone. Robert Pattinson pulls the kelp from her belly. Why would you let her fall in love with the water? You can have these luscious, indulgent memories, salt spray, and still be unsure as to who they belong. This is our state of it now. How long had I lived in nature documentary, ambient music, instead of the freak of my heart? The freak of my heart was a golden foam. The island was upside down; its bowels were dripping into the sky, there was so much lava, gold-dripping lava. The sea all warm with thermal energy. The sea gone almost gold. I go to see a movie about the smallest glacier in the world, and Iceland is a word I cherish like fruit. 

So eerie, only the splash her legs make slicing the water. There was no sound

Two types of cat, they eat up my thoughts like golden commas.

It was between what I wanted to say. It was covered in gilt and leaf. Before I slept, thinking the unsaid is a tan line and surely if I took off these clothes you would see it, crinkling frost of gold, how the not-saying had burned the skin of my chest and back, how it was all there, so plain and white, negative scripture — what I had covered. If you could insufflate the measured lines, excoriated pores of deepest carat. Shame is expensive. Whose fault is that violence? The moon-cats, white and black, they blame the sun. The scratch little hieroglyphs from the skin of my arms.

~

It was the interruption of a ship. A wreck. I fell for it. She leaps off the rocks of her refuge cove. She fucks up, walking through the park in tears. It is only Monday. The ship is a ghost. What do we mean when we say ‘alone’?  It sailed away to a moonscape, burning. The child wants to know what that also means. Eudaemonia. The ship coming back, as it always will until the end, which is the after we’re in, we’re ever. 

I want us a mountain. The strangest isolated music, whose voice was all. I dreamt somebody was threshing corn, impossibly on the side of a mountain. There was an operatic howl from the sea. I could feel these landscapes start to collapse, this deep impending heat, inland and littoral, which would surely explode on a note I couldn’t reach.

The rocks resembled faces. I found my inlet. The rocks like flesh.

~

‘Walking thus, hour after hour, the senses keyed, one walks the flesh transparent’, writes Nan Shepherd in The Living Mountain, ‘But no metaphor, transparent, or light as air, is adequate. The body is not made negligible. But paramount. Flesh is not annihilated but fulfilled’. Am I afraid of this fulfilment? 

Every hour a transparency you catch on not-sleeping. 

Brain function down by infinite percent. 

Pareidolia is a symptom of material contingency. My transparent success of walking this back to air, a bodiless gratification, ephemeral as rainbow. It’s coming around. In time, to erase like a tan line, missing the call of a thought.

The train goes north to Aberdeen, and I want to keep going, to go as far as Inverness then west — so painfully do I miss the summer, the midges around the loch, the rich excess of Highland rain. We took photos at the mirrored curve of the road. The crazed church cat, wild heather and car rides, rice cakes. Now the light is pink on granite, there is snow on the hills. 

That break I took, listening in the corridor; ‘How to Disappear Completely’. Labour’s psychic debt is a cup of tea. And why are the blossoms here already?

~

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There’s this line by Karen Dalton in ‘Remembering Mountains’, ‘Do you think the seasons change? / Without your heart’. It’s a miracle when they do, and I hear Sharon singing it, and I love the name Sharon. I can’t stand the sight of snowdrops and crocuses, when colour still hurts because it throttles towards the overlap of the year, a loop I won’t complete. I wear it necked. They used to say I look like her. ‘Are you dreaming?’ asks the song, and I wish I was, as if I could sleep, and it is five in the morning of a Wednesday, indigo light / cheap lager, and I am watching Joan Baez on the BBC. It’s Edinburgh, 1965, and the crowd sing along in the chorus, and she is so beautiful and soft, the chords familiar, ‘O the summertime / is coming’ and I can hardly bear it, the fact of this five in the morning and the promise of leaves, long hair and warmth. Angel Olsen: ‘If it’s alive, it Will’, ‘So That We Can Be Still’. My heart among strangest cacti trembles. Whose purple heather belongs to the mountain? Her voice will carry me through the morning light, the screaming gulls, the missing sea. My cousin gives birth to a boy. And I melt on the blue I wake up to / in this flat that isn’t mine. And when the others sing along Joan murmurs, that’s beautiful

What are your favourite books to read? I used to think, I used to think…

Everyone watches in such stillness and awe. ‘I watch you grow / from a child of shimmer’, Julia Holter sings on a fragile, chiming version of one of Dalton’s songs, ‘My Love, My Love’. What belonging does the shimmer really want? It feels like the loneliest fragment, plash of a fountain, so significant. As I write this, it’s starting to snow: rich flakes of not-snow, the long and melt of it.

Remember when the world seemed plenitude. She was 24, her voice a soprano hillside, ribboned with crystal. 

Dude, the river is a drum machine.

~

There is an era I long for. 

~

When the rabbit appears, is it like Donnie Darko. 

When the rabbit appears, is it like in Donnie Darko. 

I guess I could never get the physics.

I always felt too meta. 

When the rabbit gets away.

~

‘Knowing another is endless’, Shepherd intones, ‘The thing to be known grows with the knowing’. I don’t exist apart from the knowledge of others. Somehow that’s soothing. Like never really knowing what you know of me, and not to know that. I give little pieces to the sun, like wine gums of soul. The sun could chew my life to its sugar and cinders. It gives me a tan line. I think about solar panels installed in the desert, a solar forest, a solace. Send a stupid text like, all of the funk is cherry coloured. Waft between; what bleeds of a middle, you press the knife in. They were playing it in the restaurant, ate to eight, and I knew this would happen forever, and I knew it had already happened. Black stuff gushing straight out from the centre. The bookings cease behind Billie’s lashes. She gets up to eat her ocean fish and the sky is an ocean eye, skinned by a knife.

Angelina, I had written so long — I wanted you to show me how to wash windows, like in the Pinegrove song, or how to paint the walls pink like in Betty Blue, or how to be painted that smutty colour of being extinguished. You would pull the ladder away. There is a ladder scene in a film you say is super beautiful but I haven’t yet seen it. 

~

Bright Eyes are coming back! Spotify has a playlist called lofi love. I have seven unread messages; I keep deleting the apps, choosing colours to flush the hours, wishing I was outside if I felt less ill, changing skins, crying in public — 

The republic of crying in public! The spun out sky is another seduction. I took notes, returning to Anne Boyer’s A Handbook of Disappointed Fate. I was particularly struck by her use of the word ‘encradling’. It seems this is something a cat can do. There is a fountain made of glass we cry beside where we used to make wishes. The secret is the fountain is a harvest of tears. In the dream where me or the girl was clung to the rock (who is she) and I knew that in touching the rock I would survive the end of the world. My paw on the rock, I would promise. Well the rock was whittled and polished and shaped, and now it’s a fountain. ‘The harm will come’, Boyer writes, ‘it never doesn’t’. We only cry beside it, cradling kittens. This is so metaphorical, he says in the movie. We can’t cry exactly inside the harm; it would be like trying to trace your own flesh with a cloud… ‘for the harm may also be like an entry in the encyclopedia of what has not yet been written’ (Boyer). Shamefully, I am still more interested in wishes than knowledge, even if the knowledge would allow me to be. 

                                        A waste of paint! 

                                         An elixir of less!

                                        A precious index!

~

Watching the figure skaters twist and snap their ankles on ice — temporality of wishes — love that spark snap kick when they leap and pull each other backwards, forwards. Some of them are infinite flowers. Halo selfie in lieu of sleep, so graceful I dream of the tessellating rainbows. Watching The Love Witch, Spinning Out, Parasite, Ismael’s Ghosts, The Lighthouse.

~

These Piscean days are strange and excessive. Spread rainbows from the jar by your dreams and remember the all-night messaging, the synchronised falling asleep two coasts apart on autoplay, other Aprils. You look cute without glasses. I get ID’d at Sleazy’s, give the bouncer my whisky to borrow. He’s like, ‘Good night?’ and foolishly I tell him of the day, one sip on the train. That is not what he meant. I go to Aberdeen and back. I read the whole of Patrick Süskind’s Perfume in one go. In the novel, the Marquis de La Taillade-Espinasse has a theory that ‘life could develop only at a certain distance from the earth, since the earth itself constantly emits a corrupting gas, a so-called fluidum letale, which lames vital energies and sooner or later totally extinguishes them’. So his theory is trash or whatever, but what if I am scared of the earth inside me? Mum, did I really eat mud as a kid? I gathered petals from roses and watched them float in a soup bowl, calling it rosy cologne. I love the bit about developing an angel scent, so ‘good and vital’, what happens towards the end is success. I am scared of the invented theory of an earthy sickness, so I eat truffle fries with Deleuze in my dream. I am trying to garner immunity. You have lamed my vital energies! I dab my wrists with liquid tobacco, maple and cherries. I want to seem resistant to the fluidal theory. I want the teeth to sink in my wrist, a taste of pulse. Maybe like Nan I need to get close to the mountain, melt with its snow and sleep there. ‘No one is the only one‘. I am totally extinguished. They would dredge me sick from my earthly perch and call me hahaha a virgo. Sleep has its pulse like a feline body of sugar and grass and plasma. Sorry, I’m feeling milky. Sick tidings, bro. What is the odour of fresh-fallen snow? In the library the scent is quiet. When I get stressed, sometimes I experience a phantom olfactory glitch. I smell what isn’t there, this extra-sweet and ersatz presence. What is the scent of a coming storm? Who is behind me? I joke that I can feel it in my breasts, some quip from a movie, bruising me.

Melt-world of the fridge makes ice of this milk. And who would pour it?

There are so many storms of this month you could fill a class of primary children with their names, and they would take off their coats to fly with the wind and in the Red Desert story, its central heartfreak, that was the tale of the kites, to fly by your coattails, his heart murmur that almost broke us. I was sorry to cattily tell you the story. And so to gather up those fish, get caught again, you stay inside the essay.

Pour me a storm? What of language catches.

~

From the stage on Valentine’s Day, Angel addresses the crowd, my sweet lad, and the dusk flavoured Buckfast on the walk to find you, darkest blueberry red assessed, and the gossip would settle its glitter on song, and we would have cried had she played ‘Sister’, but to fall upon ‘Lark’ was ultimate. As if she were singing Angelina, farewell or washing windows, as if we were singing along in the car and this was the long and winding road to Arran, St Abbs or Skye. We have all these earnest chats about burnout. It’s been a fair while since I’ve seen the moon, or even the news. It snows but doesn’t settle.

~

Free Love – Bones

Sufjan Stevens, Lowell Brams – The Runaround

Melody’s Echo Chamber – Snowcapped Andes Crash

Sharon Van Etten – Remembering Mountains (Karen Dalton cover)

Perfume Genius – Describe

Weyes Blood – Lost in Dreams

Culte – It’s Too Cold to Be Spring

Joanna Sternberg – My Angel

Joan Baez – Will You Go Lassie Go

Conor Oberst – The Rockaways

Julia Jacklin – Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You

Billie Eilish – xanny

Ratboys – Peter the Wild Boy

Deeper – Pink Showers

The Orielles – Come Down on Jupiter

Disq – Loneliness

Sorry – Starstruck

Kississippi – Cut Yr Teeth

(Sandy) Alex G – Salt

Nice As Fuck – Angel

black midi – Sweater

Hannah Lou Clark – Trigger Happy Kisses  

TOPS – Witching Hour

Hatchie – Stay With Me

Wild Nothing – Sleight of Hand

Grimes – So Heavy I Fell Through the Earth

Arthur Russell – I Kissed the Girl from Outer Space

Nekkuro Hána – Loverspy 

Tan Cologne – Cave Vaults on the Moon in New Mexico

Bonniesongs – Dreamy Dreams

Bright Eyes – Waste of Paint

Heather Woods Broderick – Wyoming

POLIÇA – Little Threads

The Concretes – Miss You

The Mountain Goats – Tallahassee

HOLY – Heard Her

The Hollies – Jesus Was a Crossmaker (Judee Sill cover)

American Football – Never Meant

Roddy Woomble – Everyday Sun

Radiohead – How to Disappear Completely

Lana Del Rey – Terrence Loves You

Perfume Junkie

(So I thought this article was kind of Christmas appropriate, given that in the familiar nativity story, the Three Wise Men bring Jesus the precious scents of myrrh and frankincense.)

***

‘Perfume is like a parenthesis, a moment of freedom, peace, love and sensuality in between the disturbances of modern living.’

(Sonia Rykiel)

‘To create a perfume you have to be the servant of the unconscious. Each idea evolves and transforms, but there should be a surprise with each note.’

(Serge Lutens)

Perfume is a strange part of our everyday lives that acts as a channel of sorts. The word perfume comes from the Latin per (through) and fumum (smoke). This conjures the image of an ethereal essence which, like smoke, carries through some kind of message. We might think of it as an unspoken means of communication, a way of emitting some essence of ourselves to those who happen to pass close enough to catch a glimpse of our secret aroma. One that releases itself only from certain spots on the body, places we have chosen to let the scent develop. I love the way that glossy magazines and figures of high fashion talk so indulgently about perfume. It’s like poetry: a complete decadence of revelry in words. It’s like reading a wine list and falling for a string of adjectives rather than the taste of the drink itself. Rich, smoky, full-bodied, bursting with dark fruits. The poetry of advertisement aims to seduce. So too does perfume: it is a seduction not only in a sexual sense but also a seduction of self. A seduction of memory.

I was probably about nine or ten years old when I made my first forays into the world of fragrance. Certainly, I was still at primary school. I used to sneak into my Mum’s bedroom while she was eating her breakfast downstairs and try on what she had. Her dressing table was never cluttered with pretty glass bottles (more like heaps of unusual jewellery and hair mousse), but she did have a couple of classic Body Shop numbers. There was of course the famous White Musk, which I started wearing often. I liked the soft but heady smell it had, not too overpowering as a floral but sweet enough to stir your senses with its blend of ylang ylang, jasmine, rose, musk and lily. Then a while later, she gave me a bottle of spray she didn’t want, this time the Body Shop’s Oceanus. Or was it Ocean Rain? – no, I am getting confused with an Echo & the Bunnymen song! It was actually quite a strong one, though it wore off fairly quickly. I suppose it was meant to smell sharp and fresh like the ocean, and actually it was quite a nice one to wear at school where P.E. and stuffy classrooms were never conducive to pleasant aromas.

We were of course, forbidden deodorant in P.E. This was at secondary school, where everyone was aware that they had, y’know, adult bodies now, bodies which tended to sweat after exercise (even the half-hearted exercise we attempted in class). The teacher would storm into the dressing rooms at even a hint of spray being used, demanding that the most suspicious looking pupils empty their bag in front of her to reveal the contraband goods. She must have hoarded a whole treasure trove of Charlie and So…? and all those other brands we clung to as adolescents. On such days I would hide my little bottle of Oceanus in a glasses case at the bottom of my bag and spray it liberally once the coast was clear. A sea tide of refreshment filled the room. The contents of that bottle seemed to last forever; in fact, I think I still have some left in my bedroom.

The first perfume that was gifted to me was a miniature bottle of Burberry Touch. It’s a pretty intimate scent, threading together notes which include jasmine, raspberry, pink peppercorn, vanilla and oak moss. It sounds sweeter than it actually is: this is a strong scent but also has an air of sophistication. It feels grown-up and even a bit masculine (perhaps that’s the base notes of Cedarwood and oak moss?). I was fourteen when I got it so it ran out fairly quickly, but I now have a big bottle of it on my dressing table.

I also, at quite a young age, acquired my mother’s bottle of Yves Saint Laurent’s ‘Paris’. Launched in 1983, this distinctive scent was meant to capture the spirit of Paris with its heady blend of Damascan rose and violet, which after hours of being on your skin transforms into English rose and whispers of mimosa, sandalwood and musk. There are other beautiful notes in there: orange blossom,  amber, jasmine, hawthorne, heliotrope. It’s so complex that I’m still working out whether I actually like it or not. I wore it all the time until I was about sixteen. It’s far too grown up a scent for someone to be wearing at that age, but somehow it matched my wearied spirit. It felt almost exotic, a smell from far away. Something about it matched the impressionistic notion of Paris I had; a Paris which shimmered with the seductions of beautiful art and mysterious, moody people. It was certainly a smell which took you out of the dreary realities of Maybole, if only for that first spritz in the morning. The pale gold bottle with its crystalline, faceted surface and satisfyingly chunky feel still has pride of place on my shelf back home. I’ll spray it every now and again – what’s left of it – when I feel the need for a bit of escapism or nostalgia.

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jsgutierrez/8778507488
Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jsgutierrez/8778507488

I like to think that when I’m using perfume I had years ago, I’m speaking to some secret old self, one that got lost in the ethereal tangles of time and change and forgetting. For Christmas two years ago, I asked for a bottle of Chloé perfume. Chloé was the first ‘proper’ fashion fragrance I bought for myself, when I was fifteen, in the Christmas sales of that freezing winter of 2009. To this day it’s definitely still one of my favourite scents. Along with Miss Dior Chérie (the orange one), which I also had as a teenager, it’s a romantic scent, sparkling with pretty florals and a dab of French sophistication. Both bottles are adorned with a ribbon to signify the femininity and lighthearted spirit they intend to convey. Chloé is quite a strange and unusual floral, with rose at its heart, honey at its base and the tartness of lychee as its top note. The blend is very smooth and does not induce headaches like some other more couture brands; it is at once instantly recognisable and also quietly luxurious on the wearer’s skin. When wearing it, you want to be riding a vintage bike through some sunshine street in Paris, where all the lamps light up for you, and your destination is a quiet picnic in the park, or a date with a good paperback under the canopies of a Montparnasse café. The bottle is quite short, almost stumpy in comparison to the tall thickness of Burberry Touch, but this makes it easy to cup in your hand to apply. It sits prettily on my dressing table, even with only a few dregs of scent left in the bottom, amid bottles of glitter nail polish and fragments of hair ribbon. If I had to pick a ‘signature’ perfume, it would be Chloé; a friend once texted me saying she was spraying it in a shop and instantly thought of me, which was sweet.

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/idhren/7171470710/in/photolist-aktUVr-8QgRJY-63ty7o-dp8nWE-8N2gQN-bVHEEq-bWrF59-bVHF4w-bVHEoJ-6u9PLc-ea9vW5
Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/idhren/7171470710/in/photolist-aktUVr-8QgRJY-63ty7o-dp8nWE-8N2gQN-bVHEEq-bWrF59-bVHF4w-bVHEoJ-6u9PLc-ea9vW5

When I got my second bottle of Chloé, the scent instantly evoked that feeling of being fifteen again. It wasn’t an entirely bad experience, it was a taste of having that smallness, that protected enclave of a childhood world again. Or at least, the experience of being on the brink between the world of childhood and the uncertain future of adulthood. Perfume, I suppose, makes an industry of Proust’s ‘involuntary memory’: the idea that under certain conditions, one is transported back to a clear, distinct memory. Not wilfully, but through some item containing the ‘essence of the past’, whose sensory associations stir up the scene of some personal history. For Proust, eating a tea-soaked ‘madeleine’ cake recalled a childhood scene where he ate such a snack with his aunt. For me, spraying Chloé makes me think of warm radiators and school mornings in the cold pits of winter, or getting ready to perform in jazz band concerts, sweating under the hot lights. Leaning against the window of the 361 bus, reading Margaret Atwood. Floating through Ayr on the way to college, stopping always at Debenhams to spritz on their testers. I’d spray the little pieces of cardboard they provide you with and slip them in my bag, so that all my notebooks smelled of my favourite perfume. Sometimes my friends and I would spend an hour or so trying on all the perfumes, until we left smelling like we’d fallen through some vat in a Dior factory, causing everyone in our near vicinity to sneeze violently. I still enjoy doing that, although these days I set my sights on the counters at House of Fraser.

Strangely enough though, the older I get, the more I’ve switched to simpler scents. Part of this is a side effect of student stinginess, but I also like the freedom of buying several scents and being able to choose between them, to suit the weather or the seasons. I guess perfume is just something I tend to waste my wages on, the way that others waste them on Asos, cigarettes or vodka oranges. I have too many Body Shop Eau de Toilettes to count. There’s Chocomania, a very rich and some might say saccharine rendering of lush dark chocolate – perfect for those gloomy winter mornings when already you’re craving your bed and some hot cocoa. The distinctively tropical Coconut, which is, admittedly, more Bounty Bar than fresh jar of cold-pressed coconut oil. Then there’s the clean bright tartness of Satsuma or Strawberry, refreshing for summer. The milk chocolate and almondy sweetness of Brazil Nut. Honeymania, which does what it says on the tin and makes for a perfect late summer scent. I suppose, at less than £10 each, these perfumes make great little gifts or stocking fillers, which last a surprisingly long time. You could mix and match your scents (I like the sound of chocolate orange, brazil & coconut or honey & strawberry), and the small light bottles make them portable for your handbag. And with Body Shop (I swear I’m not a brand ambassador!) there’s always the positive that everything is ethically produced, usually from Fairtrade ingredients.

In a pricier range of perfume, I recently revisited one of my favourite childhood smells, Penhaligon’s ‘Bluebell’, which I got as a present for my 21st. When I was a very little kid, my dad brought back from a trip to London a velvety purple bag full of Penhaligon’s samples. They had enchanting names, like Elixir, Gardenia, Elisabethan Rose, Levantium (oh to have a perfume with the top notes of saffron and absinthe!). The one that stuck with me was ‘Bluebell’, which felt the most quaint and old fashioned of all the scents. The bottle, for one, is gorgeous, a little bit Art Nouveau, a little bit of simple prettiness. I could easily imagine myself, smelling it now, as a little girl running about in a field of bluebells. It’s not over-sweet or stuffy; it reminds me of the kinds of luxurious scents that would be spritzed around in early twentieth century department stores. I think of Cassandra and Rose in one of my favourite books, Dodie Smith’s beautiful coming-of-age novel, I Capture the Castle (1948), as they wander through the fairyland of such a store in London and marvel over the bluebell perfume. You see, there’s more than just chemicals and packaging to perfume; it always has some kind of rich cultural and personal history living in its notes.

bluebells in Culzean woods
bluebells in Culzean woods

***

Do you remember your first science classes? Most of those memories are probably enriched by the strange smells concocted from an uncertain mixture of suspicious substances. The rotten eggs of sulphur, the acridity of various nitrates. What stands out most for me was a lesson where for some reason we were experimenting with burning different types of foodstuff over our Bunsen burners, to measure reactions to starch or something. Somebody’s Pickled Onion Monster Munch made the entire classroom smell like a Chinese restaurant. The process of perfumery, while aiming for more delicate blends of scent, follows, of course, a similar (but infinitely more sophisticated) chemical process. A perfume will blend natural sources – flowers, fruits, wood, roots, gums and resins – with synthetic productions of those ingredients which don’t produce their own oils naturally, for example lily of the valley. An intriguing guide to the complex scientific process through which these raw ingredients turn into perfume can be found here. I especially like the sound of the enfleurage step, where ‘flowers are spread on glass sheets coated with grease’. Over time, the grease absorbs the scent of the flowers, like a leaf absorbing rain water, just as expression collects the precious oils of various fruits. Alcohol and water are used to distill and preserve the fragrance. That’s why you should be careful not to spray perfume on your eye, or an open wound – or an open fire, for that matter.

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/karen_roe/
Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/karen_roe/

Interestingly, like champagne or wine, a ‘fine’ perfume is left to ‘age’ to let the blends develop. Maybe this is why Chanel No. 5, for instance, is such an iconic symbol of ultimate luxury. Its yellow-gold colour always dazzles in department store Christmas displays, but it also reminds one of a pale whisky or dark champagne. Like alcohol, it is intense, maybe even difficult to stomach. Infinitely seductive… complex to create…

Perhaps, like aromatherapy, there is a system to the choice of various scents and flavours. A science to how different people are attracted to different things. While some like a fresh burst of citrus, others revel in the dark sweetness of the likes of Thierry Mugler’s Alien perfume (not a fan). We can all guess that lavender makes you sleepy, lemon is awakening…but maybe there’s more to it all than that. A curious interaction of emotion, memory, desire, sensation… Maybe, after all, it’s the cold December air that led me towards my latest perfume purchase, returning full circle to my first White Musk perfume, only this time with the Body Shop’s newest fragrance, ‘Red Musk’. With its fiery bottle which blends amber, red and black, this Eau de Parfum combines the smouldering notes of tobacco, pepper and cinnamon with a layer of spiced musk. With cinnamon, it’s a dark, shadowy twist on a festive fragrance. Moreover, it’s about time perfume embraced androgyny, as this scent does with its hints of tobacco. Gone are the feminine florals of summer. So while I might be accused of being a hoarder, stashing my perfumes like a witch hoards her bottles of potion, maybe I can justify buying this particular perfume because anything that makes you feel warm (in a flat with single glazing) has got to be good, right?