Posts Tagged ‘cool’

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summer kick.

July 5, 2012

When I was little, summer was my least favourite season of the year – and this is despite 8-week long summer holidays! There were two main reasons for this – 1) I had a major phobia of wasps. Nowadays I still don’t like them, but I have learned to control my fear; back then however, I used to go crazy if they even came near me. It got to the point where I would never open my bedroom window, even in summer; I was afraid that if I did, the wasps would come in. I went through a phase of sleeping with a can of bug spray within arm’s reach. At about the age of 11, one of my worst nightmares came true – I would wake up every morning to find a handful of dead / dying wasps on my floor and even lying on my clothes (which I would hang up on the rocking chair in the corner). It was traumatic (eventually the summer ended and the wasp deluge with it), but in a way it helped me, because it forced me to deal with my fear.

2) The heat, and the sweating. In the winter, you can always wrap up warm, and there are few things that are more lovely than snuggling up in front of the fire with a blanket. However, in the summer, when it’s stifling, it feels like there’s nothing you can do to combat the oppressive heat.  As I’ve grown older, I have learned how to deal with sweating (mostly – see my post on how to dress for a British summer) and I have grown out of the really bad phases I used to have. During the year that I lived in Spain, I realised that it wasn’t the heat that I hated, but the humidity that comes with it (or even comes alone) in England. Living in Spain, I developed a healthy, natural tan, and although the temperatures would rise up to 30 degrees and beyond, it was a dry heat so it was totally comfortable.

Just as I learned to conquer my fear of wasps, I learned to love the summer. I love the sunshine and the way that it can kickstart a day and give one an optimistic outlook on life. I love the freedom that a nice day gives you – it opens up your opportunities to go out and about, wherever you please. I love that there’s less traffic on the roads, and so getting out and about is easier and more pleasant. My musical tastes become bouncier, more exuberant and more worldly in the summer. I love going out for a leisurely walk through the park – even simple, unplanned or mundane trips can become pleasant experiences. The fact that I can do this while getting a tan is icing on the cake!

Just as our clothing gets lighter and often less restrictive, so does my taste in fragrance. In the winter I like to wear fragrances that give me a sense of comfort, sophistication and warmth – they tend to be heavier, a little spicier and more opaque. However, although I may still wear this kind of fragrance on a summer evening, generally my summer perfume choices involve something a bit more exuberant – bold fruity combinations, floral bouquets with a splash of green freshness, and sweet scents. Although I am a believer that fragrance has no gender, I tend to wear more women’s fragrances in summer as they are genuinely fresher, sweeter and freer than decent men’s fragrances (obviously this is a massive generalisation and I also own exceptions to this rule; but I’m not a fan of men’s “fresh”/”cool”/”sport” fragrances, and ozonic perfumes bore me). Just as in fragrance, I change what I drink to reflect more fruits – I always love orange juice all day every day, but in summer I mix it up more with pineapple juice, mixed fruits and my new favourite: coconut water. Although it was initially an acquired taste, the freshness and hint of Caribbean sensuality makes me feel healthy, happy and sunny. This is my summer kick – I just wanted to share a little bit of my seasonal happiness and feelings of freedom with you all 🙂

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Describing Scent workshop at Les Senteurs. (review)

April 15, 2012

On a bright Saturday lunchtime in April, Toby and I headed to Marble Arch to attend Les Senteurs‘ “Describing Scent” workshop, hosted by my good friend Nick (who also happens to be the Store Manager of the Les Senteurs store on Seymour Place). We arrived and as the shop starting filling up with attendees, we made our way downstairs to be greeted by a large table, laid out with place settings which each had a slice of orange on a neon plate, a loop of string, a coin, a rubber band and a glass with ice. The dozen of us seated ourselves, introduced ourselves to the group (among us was a florist, a composer, a student of fashion journalism, a mathematician, a chemist, and the rest of us who were also fans of perfume via various avenues) and then Nick proceeded to explain the purpose of the workshop. Part of it would be smelling scents (starting with the objects on the table, and then followed by a range of perfumes passed around the room on blotters) and experiencing fragrances mostly stocked by Les Senteurs. But the real point, as hinted at in the name of the workshop, would be to describe the fragrance. Not only in terms of smell, but in terms of taste, colour, light, shadow, temperature, textures, shape, sound, the kind of place it evoked and so on. It’s extremely difficult to describe a scent effectively using only the limited vocabulary of adjectives normally ascribed to smell – scents are intangible, and so they evoke a range of images, sounds (interestingly, “notes” and “accords” are used in the language of perfumery), textures and emotions in each of us.

As we proceeded through the objects on the table, and then onto the eight fragrances, we discussed how each of them made us feel, and what they evoked in us. Nick guided us through each of the perfumes, which we firstly smelled ‘blind’ (i.e. not knowing anything about the fragrance – neither its name, nor the brand behind it) and then were tasked with describing as fully and accurately as possible. It was a comfortable environment for us to be honest and unguarded about what the perfume evoked, as we were all passionate about fragrance and we all understood that perfume is personal to each of us. Nick would eventually reveal the perfume’s name and brand, composition and concept. It was intriguing to see what notes each of us picked up (which frequently included ingredients not listed in the perfume’s composition), and how different our own thoughts were from others’. For example, Toby’s scientific knowledge was able to explain various smells and associations in a way that was completely beyond me, but at the same time I made other connections for different reasons. Moving through fragrances by Creed, Parfumerie Générale, Heeley and others, we exposed the different connections and our own varying preferences between a range of scents. But whatever we preferred, be it niche or “high street”; leathery or floral; warm and introverted or cool and expansive – this workshop worked because we were all passionate about fragrance, and because Nick facilitated the workshop in such a way that we all felt comfortable to express ourselves.

At the end of the session, we all filled out a feedback form which asked some intriguing questions – among which were:

  • “Is this kind of event something you would talk to your friends about” (evidently so!);
  • “What is most important to you in a perfume?” (for me, a fragrance has to smell beautiful, but also different to everything else in my collection, so that it complements one of my moods. I am far too fickle / moody to have a ‘signature’ fragrance that would suit me every day, day in and day out! I also think that it’s important that the fragrance has a well-chosen name and attractive bottle, as these are the things that will initially attract me towards trying it out.); and
  • “Are there any events you would like to see that haven’t been suggested already?” (I feel that I would love to attend workshops that would each focus on ‘classic perfumes’ – such as Joy, Chanel No. 5, Chanel Pour Monsieur, Poison and Opium).

I can’t recommend the Les Senteurs workshops highly enough for anyone even slightly curious about perfume beyond the Superdrug counter (for their list of events, please click here). Toby and I both had an excellent time, and it was both luxurious being able to spend an afternoon smelling such wonderful scents, and intellectually stimulating being challenged to describe them and contemplate how others react to fragrance. At the end of the day, there are few rights and wrongs in one’s experience of perfume, and this workshop served to underline how intangible and thus personal fragrance can be.

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if i weren’t me.

April 29, 2010

Last week I spent a full week at university, which by this point of the course has become pretty much a rarity.  I was pretty down last week (which culminated in a weekend of feeling so ill that my head was going to drop off… I wonder if it was psychosomatic? Who knows.  I’m more or less better now though 🙂 ) and had a lot to think about, a lot of voices in my head and a couple of voices in my ear.  Ultimately, the situation has been resolved for the moment and I feel a lot better about it – it’s always best to be honest in a relationship.  Anyways, I’m not going to talk about that because I believe that a relationship is best kept private, and neither me nor my boyfriend would want things to be splashed across here publicly.

But while I was feeling down, I withdrew into myself somewhat, and it was interesting what I noticed.  A couple of people whom I don’t normally talk to on my course were quite concerned and asked me how I was, but then I’m not close enough to them that I really wanted to go into details so I just brushed it off and diverted the conversation onto something more general, less specific.  My close friends knew what was up and were genuinely helpful and listened without being overly cloying, which I really appreciated.  But for some people, I ceased to exist.  Now, in one way I really appreciated this because I didn’t want everyone coming up to me and being all in my ear like “Alan what’s wrong? You seem like this” or “You should do this” or “You’re normally so bubbly”.  I can decide how to tackle my own problems and I don’t need anyone’s pity or for them to point out my mood, because that’s not going to make things any better or help me.  But it was like I was invisible; if I didn’t make the effort to be friendly and say hello, they didn’t even acknowledge my presence.  It was funny how machiavellian it all seemed; I am a friendly acquaintance but not a good friend, so they don’t need me and therefore I don’t merit even a civil greeting, because I haven’t put myself out there first? I won’t forget that.  I’m very lucky that I have enough very good, beloved friends who do care about me and are genuine because that behaviour in the past would have made me insecure, whereas now it doesn’t matter to me.  But it doesn’t mean I didn’t notice.

I remember when I first started on the course, I was quite outgoing, confident and very sociable, organising nights out and gatherings.  I really threw myself into it and everyone seemed to really like me; I somehow managed to say hello to everyone and be everyone’s friend.  One person whom I barely talk to even called me “the glue that holds our course together”!  Now, there’s nobody I dislike on the course and I am pretty sure nobody dislikes me, but at this point we have formed our own cliques and allegiances and we don’t really deviate from those.  The only time I am generally a talking point these days is if I have a new tattoo or if I am somehow connected to a large group activity.  So from my shell looking out, I noticed last week how different I am from Mike, how much more laddish he is and how easily he can mix with other people socially.  I mean, it’s all superficial and I am not very good at shooting the breeze on a superficial level with someone with whom I know I have little in common.  But I wondered, why are we such good friends if we’re such different people? Like, we have different interests, differing music tastes, and yet we’ve always had so much to talk about and the same opinions on a lot of things.  I can’t quite quantify it and I’m not sure what the working formula is, but I am glad it does work and I hold our friendship so dearly.

And although I was looking at myself toughly wondering why he might want to be friends with me, I looked at the other members of our group: Emily is absolutely hilarious, quite filthy and very Welsh; Vikki is similarly Welsh and very family oriented; Gina is sweet and lovely with a heart of gold, but quiet as a mouse.  And I think that I’m quite interesting, I definitely have my quirks, but I don’t need to shout about them and I don’t need to be noticed, so I guess that I fit into that group because I’m not overly opinionated, and I also don’t have an off-kilter, geeky sense of cheesy humour aspect to me that even the “cooler” people in the big clique on our course have.  I like my friends and I think I fit into our group perfectly, that I wouldn’t want to belong anywhere else and I don’t feel I need to.  But I miss the community sense of friendship that was on our course in those initial months.

If I weren’t me, would I be more deserving of their acknowledgement? Maybe. Maybe if I could talk about sports or about marriage or about wandering around South America or whatever it is they talk about, I might fit in better.  But that’s not me, that’s not who I am.  By this point, I’ve worked quite hard at uncovering, discovering and improving the man that I am that I quite like myself, generally speaking (though this depends on whether you catch me on a good or a bad day 😉 ).  I am also very grateful that I have the friends I have, that we all care about each other and we are so close.  Life isn’t a popularity contest (though I have never been unpopular), and I know where I stand and I think I am happy here, it’s just interesting to contemplate if I were different, would my friendships be different? Would Mike and I have more in common, and would that change our friendship for the better or for the worse? I can’t imagine us having a closer friendship considering what we have achieved in the last 8 months, and I am truly blessed and I wouldn’t want that to change in the slightest.  I sincerely hope nothing ever changes between us and that we are friends forever (I can’t see anything changing this in the future, but you never know).  I still went on a guys’ poker night and that went perfectly well (I was deceptively skilled, which impressed the others), so although I am not quite as laddish as Mike or the other guys on our course, I must be fine and I guess that my differences are to be cherished: I am unapologetically myself and people do respect me for that, which I appreciate.  I guess it’s useless to think about being a different person, because we can only be who we are.  I am happy with who I am, I just wonder if there are sometimes ways I could act which would be better, or more charismatic to attract other people to me.  Food for thought.

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90s baby.

August 27, 2009

Okay, I confess, I was born in the 1980s.  But apart from a few songs, the majority of what I grew up with was 90s music.  As you know, Mariah Carey is a massive influence on me, and my mother bought her very first single, “Vision Of Love”, on vinyl back in 1990.  Right through “Dreamlover”, “Without You” and “Fantasy” to the  Butterfly and Rainbow albums which closed the 90s, she was an epic atom bomb dropped on my life.  But if you know me, or you’ve read certain previous entries, you already know that and I’m not going to delve into it further here.

As a preteen and young teenager bearing the combined musical influence of my mother and my school friends, I would listen to songs by the Honeyz, En Vogue, Shola Ama, Backstreet Boys, No Doubt, Solid Harmonie, Peter Andre, Blur *shudder*, Aqua *cringe*, Aaliyah, Monica, Brandy and Usher, to name but a very select few.  The magazines I read (Smash Hits, TVHits, Top Of The Pops) were aimed squarely at teenagers who were of a sunny pop disposition, and although I was much more aware of the charts then than I am now, I still felt a little bit like there had to be something more.  Beyond straightforward manufactured pop (however good a product it may be), I started to lean towards more urban music.  I discovered garage (2-step) music, R&B, rap and hip hop.  Ms. Dynamite, Shola Ama (and the remixes), Honeyz and Kele Le Roc represented British R&B to me, while the American singers such as Toni Braxton, Aaliyah, Brandy, Usher, Monica, TLC and Jennifer Lopez were an emblem of something smoother, sexier and edgier.  Janet Jackson’s Velvet Rope opened my eyes to how well an album could be constructed, seguing effortlessly between different moods, concepts and tempos.  Missy Elliott’s Da Real World smacked me upside the head with a combination of weird bassy dark production and super-explicit lyrics that I wasn’t familiar with.  Jennifer Lopez’s video for “If You Had My Love” left me with the undeniable impression that a star was born, from her ridiculous beautiful looks to her insanely polished and expressive dancing.  Brandy & Monica’s “The Boy Is Mine” ended up on my cd player before it dawned on me just how much of a classic that song was going to be.  TLC’s Fanmail sounded like the future.  Aaliyah’s One In A Million album sounded like effortless sexuality, and sounded like nothing and nobody else.

All the aforementioned artists, albums and songs still hold that exact same resonance for me.  Perhaps it’s just the fact that I was growing up and those singers played an integral part in my adolescence, but music just isn’t the same anymore.  Show me a singer as effortlessly sexy and sophisticated as Aaliyah.  Show me a group as fiercely cool as TLC.  Find me a singer with a voice, body and songwriting skills like Mariah’s.  A rapper as off the wall as Busta Rhymes, as influential as 2pac or Notorious BIG.  I mean no disrespect to all the musicians and artists in the game today, because they have a hard job living up to these stars, who to me represent the golden age of urban music.  Ciara, Beyoncé, The-Dream, Electrik Red, Robin Thicke, Pitbull, Lil’ Wayne, Black Eyed Peas all hold down the front line.  Perhaps it’s just that I’m older, but despite their best efforts, I can’t help reminiscing.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Because I’ve found music in the last 3-4 years to be somewhat dry, I’ve discovered music from that golden age that passed me by the first time round.  Unbelievably, until 2 years ago, I had never listened to a Jodeci song.  Obviously I’d heard of them and their songs must have played very occasionally on the radio or tv, but I’d never really listened. Now I know where Dru Hill got their ideas from!  R. Kelly and his protégée Sparkle crafted some classic 90s R&B.  SWV and Total were some bad-ass girl groups!  Listening to the Notorious BIG’s albums and Puff Daddy’s older output allows me to see where Diddy, Lil’ Kim and Bad Boy Entertainment stand today and plot the journey and progress in between.  The joy of this has been that it is an entirely personal quest, because nobody else, in my past or present, is into the exact same music as me.  I’ve managed to convert some of my friends to some urban music, but I don’t really know anyone in person who’s into in the same depth.  The people who seem to understand most where I come from musically are on the internet, in forums and on urban music blogs.  Quite often, different posts educate me.

And that’s why I get so frustrated at the state of music today.  For one, every song seems to be a recycle of something else.  Beyoncé’s “Halo” = Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love” = Kelly Clarkson’s “Already Gone” = Jordin Sparks’ “Battlefield”.  Lady GaGa’s “Poker Face” = Britney Spears’ “Gimme More” = Eva Simons’ “Silly Boy” = Rihanna’s “Shut Up And Drive” + “Umbrella” = a large part of The-Dream’s subsequent output = Electrik Red.  LeToya’s “Not Anymore” = Ciara’s “Never Ever” = Monica’s “Still Standing” = Nicole Scherzinger’s “Happily Never After” = Ne-Yo’s “So Sick” = Rihanna & Ne-Yo’s “Hate That I Love You” = Ne-Yo’s “Because Of You” = Ne-Yo’s “Sexy Love” = Ne-Yo’s “Mad”.  So damn formulaic.  And as Jay-Z has finally noticed, auto-tune is everywhere.

Another thing: why does music being released right now sound like it is 20 years old?  Aaliyah’s self-titled album sounds like an edgy, modern masterclass nearly 10 years on.  TLC’s Fanmail sounds more futuristic than Keri Hilson’s In A Perfect World…despite the former being released in 1999 and the latter released in 2009.  Whitney Houston’s latest “greatest” “comeback” album I Look To You is an utter mess, because instead of a graceful attempt to keep up with the times as on My Love Is Your Love (a burnished masterpiece) and even Just Whitney (which has held up surprisingly well), she decides to go time-travelling.  The ballads fare well, with “Call You Tonight” a classy modern song, while “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength” and “I Look To You” are classic ballads which are strong, even without the power of Whitney’s old voice.  “Salute” is the best song on the album for me, because it is pure timeless R&B.  But the uptempos…. oh no.  “Million Dollar Bill” revisits old-school R&B and falls asleep, “Nothin’ But Love” presses the 90s synth button repeatedly, “Like I Never Left” should be titled “Like I Never Left The 80s”.  The major disaster is “A Song For You”, which was performed sublimely by Herbie Hancock and Christina Aguilera a couple of years ago.  Here, the first half of the song is typically piano led, but Whitney seems to jump through the hoops a little bit.  No matter, it’s not a problem compared to what happens at 1:30.  Hex Hector and Peter Rauhofer must have cried a river when they heard this tepid 90s-dance mess. I listened to this and had to skip to the next track, because Whitney was done a pure disservice with this song.  Words fail me…

Whitney Houston is not the only victim of this dated-modern fad… even on Trey Songz’ fantastic third album Ready, the melodically lovely “Love Lost” boasts a musical backing that sounds like it was created in 1987.  And Monica’s latest leaked song “Betcha She Don’t Love You” sounds like Missy Elliott vomited up an old record and told Monica to sing over it.  (Aaliyah would never have stood for it, I’m sure.) I have no problem with being inspired by the past and appreciating heritage and history.  You can honour the classics in a tasteful way. But when it seems that it’s so difficult for artists to be forward thinking that they recycle old songs and pass them off as ‘new’ or ‘retro-cool’ when in reality they are just lazy, that really pisses me off and makes me rifle through my older CDs, listening to music that is forward thinking, doesn’t sound at all dated, but is timeless.  There’s a big difference between the two that a lot of today’s music industry (both A&R honchos and artists alike) would do very well to learn.

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the cool kids.

August 24, 2009

Today I had my induction at the hospital (despite the fact I’ve already been working there for three weeks) and I learned such valuable things as the different colours of bins and their bags, that you should never inject someone in the spine with vinchristine, and how to pick up a box.  Occasionally there was a relevant tidbit of information, but I could have quite happily skipped the induction without being any less the wiser.

However, I did make a couple of friends, which made the whole thing worth it!  Two girls, Kim and Hannah, ended up with me outside the building during a cigarette break, and we got talking – it turned out that Kim and I had both worked in the Galleries together (she recognised me from during my time at the Perfume Shop), and the three of us would giggle during the funny bits of the presentations (whether they were intentionally funny or not) and get filthy looks from a spoilsport old woman who was taking the whole thing far too seriously.

We got to know each other during the course of the day and its multiple breaks, and we had a good banter and sense of humour.  And the strangest thing happened… during the end of the lunch break before everyone gathered together again for the afternoon talks, people would come up to our little group and ask if we knew what was going on etc.  They said that they “recognised us from their group”.  I’m not entirely sure why, because we were no more prominently sat than anyone else, and we contributed just as much (read= little) to the morning discussions as anyone else.  But after our while, our group grew and we comprised 5, 6, 7 people who were smiling, laughing and conversing and swapping jokes about the day. It was something curious, but it made the day a bit more light-hearted and bearable in the midst of insights such as “Anger is an emotion”.

I got to thinking.  In our group, there were the obvious computer geeks and social awkwards who didn’t wash as often as they should.  There was a mixture of races, genders and personalities.  There was the annoying guy who kept kicking our chairs and feet as he sat behind us.  Kim commented more than once that it felt like being back at school, and I began to wonder what “group” or clique we would have been?  And it dawned on me that we were the “cool kids” that the others wanted to be around – we were young, lively and chatty, and people flocked to us one by one.

That strikes me as strangely amusing, because at school I never felt that I belonged to a particular clique, let alone that I was particularly cool.  I was brainy at school, so other people used to call me a “keener” because I would study; I was heckled for being gay for a little while; my friends were a little bit geeky.  These things together made me feel as if I were a nerd or a geek, and it’s only looking back that nobody probably thought that I was a geek, because I certainly wasn’t.  Even though they weren’t friendships that lasted, I was on friendly speaking terms with quite a lot of people, I got on with my teachers, and my musical ability and singing and dancing made me a celebrity in the school, singing in the corridors as much as in concerts, and winning a few competitions.  I even used to sign autographs for the younger kids!  We had a prefect slave auction, and I fetched the highest price; I got asked to do duets with other people during my last year or so.  It’s funny, and I didn’t realise until the end of school, but I was one of the ‘cool kids’ and I was popular.  And somehow I managed to achieve that while being myself, which is possibly one of the hardest things of all.

It sounds funny even to write it now, because I never felt popular – not once but twice, I had a massive disillusionment where I realised that the people I would mainly hang around with weren’t nice people, were phony attention-seekers, and just weren’t on the same wavelength as me.  It hurt, and needless to say once I left school, I never made any effort to keep in touch with them, let alone see them again. That part of my life is closed, and I am relieved to be past that, because it caused me a lot of pain and taught me a lot of hard life lessons for a teenager.  The friends from my school with whom I’ve kept up a friendship are all people who weren’t in my year group or original social groups, but instead were people both older and younger than me whom I met through working at the Bookstore in the summer, exploring different cliques and just getting to know people outside of my comfort zone.  Doing that is something I will never regret; all that I regret is that I didn’t do it sooner!

True friends are few and far between; I’m learning to let people drift apart naturally, because that’s healthy – some people are in your life just for a season.  I’m learning that the people with whom you keep in contact and who keep in contact with you are friends you never have to worry about making an effort to keep in touch with; that connection happens naturally.  But what is funny to me is that a lot of my old year group are on Facebook, and they add me as friends.  At first, I would reject them because I had absolutely no desire to be in touch with them and to see what they were doing, let alone for them to be able to browse my information and photos.  But after a while I just felt “fuck it, if they are desperate to add me on Facebook, why not? Let them boost my friend count if that’s all that matters to them.”  And a lot of these people are all friends with one another on Facebook, which makes me LOL because at school, a lot of these people either never spoke to one another (due to the social hierarchies of high school) or hated each other.  And now they are “friends”.   Bish please!!!  It’s so fake to me, and it just reinforces the fact that I don’t need that kind of energy in my life.  I know who my real true friends are, and although I might have been “popular” without realising it, and I may be “popular” now – which is a nice confidence boost and does make me feel cool, in a way – I don’t need to compete with anyone for who’s the most popular or who has the most friends.  I am confident in a crowd and in a smaller group, but I’m also at ease with myself and my own company, and I know that at the end of the day it’s not how many people are in your entourage, but who is in your entourage who really, truly has your back.  I’m complimented that I seem to give off a ‘cool vibe’ and I won’t put it down (certainly that rather than repel people!), but I am more blessed to finally have friends who are truly there for me through thick and thin, and for whom I would ride or die.  It took long enough, but now I feel popular – and my friend count is irrelevant, because my friends count.