Posts Tagged ‘student’

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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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Learning to cook – the journey begins…

January 4, 2012

In my New Year resolutions for 2012, my first resolution was to learn to cook a new dish every month. Now, I haven’t decided what the month of January will hold yet, but just to give you an idea of what starting point I’m at… it’s basic. Things that I can cook include lasagne, mushroom risotto, pasta, a range of ready meals, sandwiches and toast, and combinations of microwaveable foods. I’ve never been very inspired to cook anything more complicated than this because a) I find the process of creating a meal frequently tries my patience, and b) why should I cook a meal for one which takes longer to make than it does to eat?

I am in the very lucky position of being in a relationship with a fantastic cook. He is in the equally lucky position of being in a relationship with someone who enjoys cleaning and household chores. So why should I even bother learning to cook? Well, I’m an adult now – no longer a student, or living at home; Toby comes round my place nearly as often as I stay at his, and I want to be able to make meals that are tasty, interesting and also occasionally healthy. Eating out is expensive, and eating takeaways can get unhealthy and uninspiring. Perhaps I’ll lose some weight and get healthier along the way? I also want to add to my skill set, and I kind of feel that cooking is something I really ought to learn, as a worthwhile (and sociable) human being.

I’m not a natural chef (see: lack of patience; lack of understanding what foods go together; issues around eating and weight), but I did have some cookery lessons at school. I made things like pasta carbonara, quiche, bread, triple chocolate upside-down cake, and they always turned out well – however, I might attribute some of this to my desire to succeed in a classroom setting, rather than any potential I had as a cook. The only thing I ever did mess up was crème caramel, because I burned the caramel in the oven. (I later found out that I didn’t really like crème caramel anyway.) But for the most part, I had a recipe which I always followed to the letter, and things always turned out fine. However, Toby has discovered that there are some basic things that I didn’t know. For example, don’t lick your fingers when you have been handling raw chicken or raw egg – this is bad for you. He asked me, “didn’t you have food technology lessons at school?!?” To which my reply was “No, we studied Latin instead.” I think I was due to have 6 weeks of cookery lessons in 6th form, but instead I was chosen to be a peer mentor and had 30 hours of training in mentoring and listening skills from a psychologist.

Moving on… Last month, I made a lovely meal of honey and mustard roast chicken breast (courtesy of Waitrose), with chips, salad and croutons with caesar dressing. I was pleased with this meal because I picked the ingredients in the supermarket myself and created the dish in my head as I walked through the aisles. It was delicious. Tonight (and this is not counting towards my dish per month resolution), I had a go at making steak pie (courtesy of Sainsburys) with steamed baby corn, beans and boiled potatoes. This presented some challenges to me as I have never steamed vegetables, and I have never boiled potatoes.

The easy part – I shoved the steak pie in the oven for 35 minutes. This gave me 35 minutes to:

  • discover that one of the hob rings on my mini oven doesn’t work when the oven is on;
  • boil the potatoes on the other hob;
  • realise that supermarket estimates for cooking are not always to be trusted;
  • learn how to steam vegetables in the microwave (thank you Google);
  • find out that it’s not worth using tablespoons to measure out water.

After accumulating all of this knowledge, dinner was served:

steak pie, potatoes and steamed vegetables

It was yummy! The pie and potatoes (after the initial panic that they weren’t cooking on the hob) turned out very well. If I could do it again, I would have steamed the vegetables for longer in the microwave, as the beans were quite crisp and fresh-tasting; but the vegetables were still perfectly edible. The whole point of this, and my cookery journey, is that I am going to learn skills I didn’t know (however basic they might be) and improve my culinary capabilities. I am not ashamed of being such a novice cook, because I am doing something about it. And if you are reading this and thinking that you can’t cook either, then let’s take this journey together. I will be completely honest about my failures and lack of knowledge, and hopefully the fact that I will be able to make successful dishes in spite of these will be proof that even though we aren’t all born chefs, we can all learn to cook something simple, yet tasty and interesting.

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shame.

June 2, 2011

In pursuit of trying to attain a carefree, happy state, I need to try and unburden myself of the baggage that I carry. I think that we all do, and we all have stupid things buried in our past that become a part of us and that resonate as mistakes we are embarrassed by. I generally try and move on and learn from my mistakes, and luckily I can say that each of the following things that I am ashamed of, I have only done once! As long as we learn from our mistakes, that is the important thing. But I want to share 5 of my biggest, most embarrassing mistakes with you so that I can relieve myself of the chips on my shoulder (or try and wipe away the grease these chips have left behind!), and so that we can all see that we ALL do stupid things and we’re only human – unless we fixate on them and don’t move past, we are not defined by our mistakes.

1. Car accident

A month and a half ago, I had become much more confident with my driving, and I had found myself caught behind cars which were driving very slowly and being quite impressive. I never drive aggressively, but I was becoming impatient. It was the Easter holidays, and I was leaving for work on a Wednesday morning. My mother told me to drive carefully, and I brushed it off with a “yeah, yeah”because I thought she was worrying unduly and just doing what mothers do. You know what’s coming next.

Not 10 minutes away from my house, I can’t remember why but I looked down at my phone on the seat next to me for a second. In that second, my hands must have moved on the wheel, I veered into the other lane of oncoming traffic, and I looked up to see my wing mirror being knocked off the car by a van, and although it had swerved to avoid me, the back of the van hit the front wing of my car. Now everyone was fine, the damage was not major, and I just needed to pay for some polish to remove the worst of the scratches, some touch up paint, and a new wing mirror glass to replace the one that had been shattered (the rest of the wing mirror luckily just popped back onto the car in the same way it had popped off).

But I just felt so embarrassed at a) making such a stupid mistake, especially when my phone hadn’t even done anything! My phone stays on silent in my pocket from now on, and I put a playlist on my ipod of what music I will listen to on my journeys prior to setting off!

b) That I could have done much more serious damage, and injured myself or another person. It was bad enough that I had ruined my pretty car (that’s how I felt – now that it’s all touched up, the dent is barely noticeable – especially compared to a lot of cars’ scratches and war wounds) and damaged another person’s vehicle.

c) What would other people think of me having an accident only 3 and a half months after getting a car? Would my friends, my partner, my family risk getting in a car with me again? I was clearly careless, and I was afraid of being judged. Slowly but surely, I have told some of my friends and I was surprised to know that they have nearly all been in a similar position. The most common expression is “oh, you’ve had your first prang!” This makes me feel a little better, because I am not alone. I certainly drive more carefully as a result – I just wish that it hadn’t taken a car accident to make me wake up and be less complacent.

I lost my confidence with driving, and I am only now getting it back. I felt disappointed in myself and doubted my own ability. Mike was absolutely brilliant – he told me to just get in the car, drive to work, and then we went to Halfords and sorted out the door hinge, polished and painted up the dents and scratches, and ordered a new wing mirror glass. And this is the attitude I need to maintain – no matter how disappointed in myself I felt (and I felt pretty low in the days following the accident), I got back on the horse and kept going. Even when I didn’t want to. So that (along with the not looking at my phone while driving) is what I am taking away from this experience.

2. Walking on the motorway in Spain

My friend Jen from LA had come to visit me for a few days during my placement year as an English Language Assistant in San Roque (southern Spain). On the way back from Algeciras on the bus, it seemed like it suddenly got dark and I ended up getting us off the bus at the wrong stop. We didn’t have much change, so rather than wait for the next bus to come along, I decided that we should just walk up to a clearer area and then I would call my flatmate Juan and hope that he would pick us up (which he ultimately did). This involved walking up alongside the motorway – it was unsafe, and Jen was shaking and crying all the way to the roundabout where we met Juan. Although at the time I was scared myself, I felt that we had no option other than to walk – in retrospect, we should have waited at the bus stop for the next bus to come and explained our predicament to the driver. It would have been much safer, and I am ashamed that I put both of our lives in danger, just because I had not enough money and too much pride. I would never make that mistake again, and I was lucky that Jen forgave me easily.

3. Writing ‘SEX’ on my classmate’s art overalls

When I was in year 4 at school, I was fascinated by sex because at that age, it was naughty and forbidden and I was just gathering an awareness of what it was. Because it was naughty and provocative, and my classmate Nick was pissing me off in an Art lesson, I scrawled the word “SEX” in green paint on his overalls. Looking back, this is obviously not a big deal and sort of hilarious – at the time, Nick went to tell our art teacher, who told me I was “evil” and my punishment was to take the overalls home and wash them. Which meant my mother saw, and she asked me why I had written it. I had no real answer, she didn’t talk to me for a day, I returned the clean overalls, my art teacher forgot that I was “evil”, and everything was ultimately fine. But I was ashamed at the time because it was such a shocking thing for a child to write and to do, and being told I was “evil” only made me feel that sex was dirty and naughty, giving me some issues to work through in my teenage years.

4. Mentioning 9/11 to a new student from New York.

When I was in for an induction day for 6th form, we were introduced to a new student who had come over from New York. Her name was Alex, she looked nervous and I decided, in my utmost wisdom, to be friendly and warm towards her. We made polite conversation, and then I decided to put my foot in my mouth and mention 9/11 (which had happened nearly a year ago, by this point), and ask how her family and everyone had coped with it. What possessed me? The poor girl just smiled and flabbergasted, said that everyone was coping and that it hadn’t really affected her overly much. I learned from this that I should think before I speak and that if something seems like it might be a faux pas, then it’s best not to say it. Needless to say, we did not end up being friends.

5. Overreaction at the QCG 2009 Christmas party.

I wrote about this here, so I won’t rewrite it. All I can say is that but a few weeks later, I met Toby (the real love of my life) and I can now look back and see how neurotic I was, and how much I have chilled out. And I can still be pretty neurotic now, to be honest – so when I was younger, I was probably quite crazy!  I have learned to try and keep my composure, to just keep moving in life, and that love is just around the corner, even when it seems most unlikely. And a year and a half on, Mike and I are still close friends and that is the most important thing.

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confidant.

December 22, 2009

So today I spent time with Mike and my essay in the library at university, and it was nice.  The library was eerily quiet, I made up some stuff about my vocational development to date, and we had conversations.  Things are more or less back to normal now, with the easy camaraderie, jokes and giving me a lift home (which ended up in him finally meeting – waving to her from the car, anyway – my mother).  I’m seeing him tomorrow night to watch The Last Broadcast with his wife and sister-in-law, and I feel so blessed to have a friend who makes effort to include me and feels that he can do these things.

We spoke about the love triangle, or about aspects of it.  He said that he is past his obsession now, because nothing can ever happen, we’ve had some space (although it’s only been 5 days) and because she seems to be ruled by her husband.  Mike and I agree that we would never want to be in a relationship where we feel we have to answer to the other person, that we are sometimes subservient and that the other person is the boss.  It’s all a bit strange, because our friend doesn’t seem particularly subservient and is quite a sparky person, and yet she seems to actively toe the line when it comes to her husband’s paranoia (albeit maybe correct) about her new male friends at university.  She has been forbidden from coming to my house party at the beginning of January, because “she’s not a student” (although technically, she is), and yesterday when I was in Cabot Circus with Davina and Deena, I found out she was popping down so I would have liked to say hello, but as she was with her husband it wasn’t going to happen.  I’m glad that Mike says he is doing better – I’m not sure I believe him completely as it seems a bit premature to me, but it’s nice to hear him sound positive about it.

I wish I could say the same about me.  It’s been 5 years since I really fell in love hard for someone like this, and I feel like I’ve come so far since then, I’m a completely different person… and yet, I’m obviously not. Okay, I’m handling things again, and I’m not doing any worse than I was before either – our friendship is more or less back to normal, I’m more happy than I am sad (well, I get more wistful and wanting than really sad) because I made such a good friend, but sometimes I wish that I had a confidant like he does (which is me).  A lot of my friends I know don’t quite understand how I could want someone who is married, nor how the three of us ended up in this tangle of feelings – they just see it as entirely inappropriate, and while they aren’t necessarily wrong, it’s too simplistic a view. Mike, V and I – we’re all people with hearts and feelings and responsibilities to our own families, and just because they may be married doesn’t change the fact that they are still humans full of emotions.  Out of my friends who do understand this, I don’t get the opportunity to see them very often (maybe once every couple of weeks for an hour or so).  It’s difficult.

Mike can tell me about his infatuation (or as of today, conquering of) and explain his feelings to me. He knows that he can trust me, that I won’t judge him and that I will be his friend no matter what.  I know that I can tell Mike about my feelings for him, and that he won’t run away and he will try to understand. But it’s different – apart from the fact that it still twinges that Mike would never want me in that way, I feel like I am humbling or almost humiliating myself to explain the way that I feel and the feelings that I have to him.  It’s brave of us to cope with this, and sometimes I think we overestimate our own strength, but ultimately he’s not confessing his feelings to the person he’s feeling them for (although the three of us are all clear about who likes who – again, it’s messy).  I’m his best friend and his shoulder, and I feel privileged.  I think we’ll always be close, but it’s slightly different for me.  I wish there was someone (and by that I mean a physical someone here, I appreciate all of you guys taking the time to read this and your comments and encouragement on twitter etc.!) to whom I could pour this all out and not feel judged or told that I should move on or get over it, because they are married and have children.  I already know this, and I think I am more or less strong enough not to act on my feelings – that’s the saving grace of being able to talk to Mike about my feelings for him and he is able to listen and support me as a best friend.  But sometimes, just to have someone a little less in the thick of it than the direct object of my crush would be nice!  A confidant.