Saturday, January 31, 2009


Continuing a recent theme of the evocative nature of scent, this website, I Hate Perfume, contains some intriguingly-named perfumes, the descriptions of which, while they often skate perilously close to laughable, are more interesting than, for instance, the revolting cheap knock-offs on sale in a chemist's shop near my flat in Byres Road, Glasgow, in the early 1990s: if you liked Christian Dior's POISON (a late 1980s, overpoweringly strong and cloyingly sweet scent which was unpleasant enough in itself), you could buy the charmingly titled KILL ME in a nasty purple bottle just differentiated enough to avoid a lawsuit; instead of Calvin Klein's OBSESSION, you could buy a classy amber coffret containing COMPULSION.

Christopher Brosius ("CB"), the "olfactory artist" behind I Hate Perfume, can create custom perfumes, but is currently not taking orders, so I'm afraid Childhood tantrum ends in woodshed is out for the moment; but I think Gathering apples may be an acceptable substitute. It's described as "Thousands of ripe red Mackintosh apples and a bit of old weathered wood from the bushel baskets".

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Such great heights

I was searching for some wonderful shoes to justify the title of this email and nearly drew a blank: designers once again seem to have gone slightly bonkers. What happened to what Karl lagerfeld described as "the new modesty" in light of the global economic downturn? (In the same article he also said that he "throws money out of the window and it comes back in the door", and that "for me the bottom line is that there is no bottom line". Let's hope economic reality hits him between the eyes with all due dispatch.) Even normally sensible, even predictable designers like Louboutin have gone all Britney Spears.

Starting gently with some shoes from Gina: usually too frou-frou for me, but I wouldn't be ashamed to wear these: although I am still unsure about the deplorable über-wedge, compared to the first-year art projects masquerading as something wearable, viz. exhibits A, B and C below (which are tiny so I don't desecrate my blog too much) they are downright beautiful.

And then: the Deranged Collection, from Louboutin. Deliberately shrunken photographs so as to avoid offending the senses.

The problem with making red soles his trademark is that he'll never be able to deny that these monstrosities were his idea.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hard core

Apple Martini
2 oz. vodka
1½ oz. Bols sour apple liqueur
½ oz. Lemon juice
Apple slice for garnish

Shake well with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with a slice of apple, serve, and drink in huge quantities.

Freshly served apple martini at the CitySpace bar, 70th floor, Swissotel the Stamford, Singapore, January 21, 2009.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Where there is darkness, light

Just before beginning his medical studies at Oxford, M suffered terrible brain injuries in a motorbike accident, from which he would never recover. He ended up, a few years later, living in the caravan behind our cottage and working on woodcarving in my dad’s workshop. Although I remember some massive lumpen figures, his passion and his nemesis was his Welsh love spoons, which he would spend hours carving: a single lump of wood produces two spoons, which are interlinked by a loop at the end, so the wood must remain unbroken, and time after time, as he painstakingly whittled away, the spoons would break at the weakest point and he would have to begin again.

M loved Bob Dylan and used to sit in his favourite patchwork chair in our living room, right by the blazing fire, reeking pipe in hand, listening to Stuck Inside of Mobile (With the Memphis Blues Again) and Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right , tapping his feet and gazing into the distance. He was a very tall man, with a large head, always crowned with a black beret, and a big beard; a gentle, dazed character, unable to retain memories of either the recent or the distant past. Of course we children were slightly frightened of him but also found him amusing, in our cruel and careless way; fond of a drink, he used to walk down to the local pub, the Winton Arms, and stumble back up the road completely trashed, swaying and smiling, as we followed mockingly in his wake. I know we used to upset and anger him sometimes.

From this distance M’s story is unutterably sad; I remember him coming home from the pub once and crying helplessly, repeating the words of Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart: “Once upon a time I was falling in love/Now I’m only falling apart…”, because it had been playing on the jukebox and something in the words suddenly hit him very hard. He sometimes seemed to be very aware of what he had lost in his accident; at other times there was a kind of happy innocence about him. He was almost sucked in, as a lot of my parents’ friends were, by the cult of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, but he came back from Poona, where Bagwhan had his ashram at the time, saying he “refused to be Bagwhashed”. He was half in love with my sister and wrote letters to her. He had a harrowing appearance at Haddington Sheriff Court: someone had been stealing money from the till at the pub and they set a trap which caught M, guilelessly leaning over the bar to take the cash while the barman’s back was turned.

M had The Mass of St Francis of Assisi (“where there is…let me bring”, forever besmirched by being presumptuously arrogated by Thatcher on her election day) and this quote pinned up in his caravan:

“The mark of your ignorance is the depth of your belief in injustice and tragedy. What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls a butterfly”. (Richard Bach)

M now lives in Wales with his brother. He’s old and very frail and recently had a leg amputated because he had diabetes. My brother, who went through some troubles of his own, spent some time with him recently and said he seemed happy. I like to think of him still carving love spoons, though I doubt he does it any more, and listening to his favourite Dylan line: "Your debutante just knows what you need, but I know what you want".

Monday, January 19, 2009

Slouching towards Louis Vuitton

The most loathsome of dictator's wives, Grace Mugabe (who has to wear Salvatore Ferragamo shoes because her feet are too narrow for anything cheap), was in Hong Kong last week, shopping for luxury goods, and managed to get herself involved in a fracas with a photographer in Tsim Sha Tsui (naturally, she was staying at the nearby Kowloon Shangri-La), who was trying to get pictures of Grace shopping in the numerous luxury shops in the area. Her diamond rings double as knuckledusters and the South China had pictures of the poor man's face streaked with blood.

Apparently Grace and her villainous husband withdrew $92,000 from Zimbabwe's bank reserves to fund their holiday. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe is suffering from a cholera epidemic that has killed 2,200 people and an economic meltdown that has driven the rate of inflation to 231 million per cent.


We found it on a bunch of grapes and put it
In cotton wool, in a matchbox partly open,
In a room in London in wintertime, and in
A safe place, and then forgot it.

Early in the cold spring we said "See this!
Where on earth did the butterfly come from?"
It looked so unnatural whisking about the curtain:
Then we remembered the chrysalis.

There was the broken shell with what was once
The head askew; and what was once the worm
Was away out of the window, out of the warm,
Out of the scene of the small violence.

Not strange, that the pretty creature formalized
The virtue of its dark unconscious wait
For pincers of light to come and pick it out.
But it was a bad business, our being surprised.

Muriel Spark, 1918-2004

Saturday, January 17, 2009


Lychee martini
3 ounces of premium vodka
1 ounce of lychee liqueur
1 lychee, peeled and pitted

Shake together the vodka, liqueur and ice and strain into a chilled martini glass. Garnish with the peeled lychee and serve.

Recipe from the admirable Lychees Online; side elevation of freshly delivered martini, Aqua, Hong Kong, Friday January 16, 2009.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Something in the woodshed

As a child, whenever I was upset about something I would "run away" and hide in the woodshed behind our cottage. The wood was delivered from the local sawmill in roughly hewn, chunky logs which were fragrant, slightly damp, and still covered in bark and moss; I had to climb up over a huge pile to get to my favourite spot, right at the back, where I would make myself a little nest amongst the logs and sit sobbing until I felt better, with my only friends the little spiders and beasties who were attracted to my torch (which I always had the presence of mind to bring). It could be cosy and surprisingly warm; if it was windy and I could hear the rain hitting the corrugated roof, it was a satisfyingly melodramatic gesture yet very comforting. I always felt better when I emerged (usually to find that no one had even noticed I was gone).

The woodshed has moved location now but for old times' sake, when I was home at Christmas I tried climbing in to the back, over the piles of logs. The cold and the smell were incredibly evocative. It might only sell to the likes of me but it occurred to me that someone should bottle it.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Strange Meeting

It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.

Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall, -
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

With a thousand pains that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
'Strange friend,' I said, 'here is no cause to mourn.'
'None,' said that other, 'save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled,
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress.
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery,
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery:
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels,
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.

I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now...'

Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)