Photography by LW

Photography by LW


I never see autumn leaves drifting past my window as in the song; but they bluster about and lie in piles in the back garden and on the pavements. Barney and Abigail have accelerated their fall this year, whirling leaves about like those funny giant hair dryers that parkies use to blow them into heaps. Apparently in Hampstead Garden Suburb they are trying to ban these gadgets because of noise pollution. It would drive me mad using one – like herding cats. It’s bad enough sweeping up leaves in a wind, without having to manipulate currents of artificial electric air. I like an old besom or a wide rake. The great thing about raking the lawn is that while you’re scooping up the leaves you can simultaneously aerate the earth and scrape off the dead grass and mosses, thus promoting healthy new growth come the spring.

Autumn leaves: one of my earliest memories is jumping through piles of them, all golden and crunchy and crackling, and being told that Christmas was not far off. This was the first time I’d ever heard of Christmas so I guess I was 2 or 3 then. It’s been a long while now since I jumped on anything. I remember the leaves being heaped up almost to my waist but of course I was only a wee thing. Nowadays I admire the amber, ruby, topaz, gamboge and jetty tints among the tree tops but I’m less entranced by fallen foliage. Very slick the pavements get, especially down our north London road in the damp weather. I have never been lucky with my shoes and always seem to end up like Cinderella in footwear with glass soles. I sidle home in the dark, cautiously crab-wise, with a wary shuffle and a probing, supportive umbrella. Once safely on the door step I whip off the shoes to see what is stuck to their bottoms.

Leaves are symbols of life; intimations of mortality.

‘We blossom and flourish
As leaves on the tree.
And wither and perish
But nought changeth Thee’

…that great standard of funeral hymns:  we had it regularly at school, too. The Alpha and the Omega.  Do you remember it being sung by the Queen of Hearts’s¤ retinue in Jonathan Miller’s 1966 television adaptation of ‘Alice in Wonderland’? Very strange. Weirdly stirring. Admiring eighteenth century diarists described the complexions of great public beauties such as the Du Barry as glowing like rose leaves in a saucer of milk; the leaves being what we would now call the petals. I well remember many years ago Barbara Cartland decrying young housewives and “shut-ins” who complained of poverty-induced boredom.

“Go out into the parks and the roads!” she said. “Fallen leaves are free and plentiful. Gather yourself a basketful, take them home and dip them in molten gold. Then you’ll have original and beautiful pieces of home-made jewellery for unique Christmas gifts!”

All young leaves are delicately and wonderfully fragrant, whether the sweet and juicy subtleties of the hedgerow hawthorn – the poor man’s bread and cheese; the succulence of blades of grass; the catty bite of box; or the savoury redolence of the herb garden. Leaves of fig, vetiver, tobacco, citrus fruit, lavender, bay and mint flourish in myriads of perfumes. Dying and dead leaves are another matter. They lose their individual identity and exude a collective damp dark mulchy mucky odour; a vegetal soily aroma. Old leaves smell of the earth and the creatures and objects that find a home or a hiding place beneath them: hibernating toads; fallen apples; peppery nasturtium seeds rolling around like jade beads; the last rose of summer held together only by ice crystals. Even, once, in that horrible folk tale, the luckless ‘Babes In The Wood’ –

“Robin Redbreast, sorrowing,
Covered them with leaves”.

A kind family friend gave me a vintage edition of ‘The Babes’ when I was an infant. It was one of the very rare occasions on which a book was discouraged by my parents. “Morbid”. And “ugh!” said my mother when the panto version came round. She had a point. Latterly, ‘Babes’ was always tactfully combined with ‘Robin Hood’ and had the hell burlesque’d out of it. So that was all right.

Lifetime toilers in the fields of retail often develop chancey feeding habits, what with missed meals and odd hours. I try – rather, I am compelled! – to listen to my body – and this despite an increasing hardness of hearing. I’ve lately had a craving for crisp leaves – bitter endives with lemon juice; spicy rocket; celery eaten right up to the feathery ends; the first sprouts, cooked al dente; baby spinach served as a warm salad¤¤. I missed Nigella’s amazingly controversial grilled lettuce last week, but I love the scent and the taste of lettuces ripped to shreds¤¤¤ in a dish of peas with a hint of mint and onion. Use lettuce to wrap your sandwiches: it keeps the bread fresh and moist. And again, that sappy sharp slightly bitter leafy fragrance delights the nose.

I’ll leave you with a thought from that sinister Edwardian classic ‘The Golden Bough’ – another much-discouraged book of my youth. Fraser repeats an extraordinary travellers’ tale of girls being stitched up in huge bee hives (as it were) made of tropical leaves; one girl per hive, to be set free, years later, to begin adult life like the blooming of a rare plant, rediscovering light, sun and good fresh air as though for the first time. This bizarre fable may have had some truth to it: it also seems to conflate so many equations of flora and humanity, symbolic and actual.

By LW's Brother

By LW’s Brother

¤ The Queen was played by Alison Leggatt, better remembered as Auntie Sylvia in David Lean’s THIS HAPPY BREED (1944).

¤¤ this sounds frightfully grand but it simply means: wash the spinach to rinse off the chlorine; drain it but don’t dry it; set in a pan on a warm stove until it wilts. Eat it with all the nourishing iron-laden juices flowing freely. In early summer you may use the same method with nettles.

¤¤¤”Tear the hearts out of the young lettuces. Whip the cream. Beat the eggs. Isn’t cooking CRUEL?” – as Hermione Gingold used to say.

“My poor heart is achin’ / To bring home the bacon…” – Cole Porter


Years ago, when I went through a somewhat half-hearted vegetarian phase, the only meat I really missed was bacon. That gorgeous smoky salty tang; that crispy forbidden unhealthy bliss. Not that I ever ate that much of it in the first place, but the thought that I’d never taste it again teased and provoked me. And, of course, good bacon also has a simply heavenly fragrance – unlike coffee and cigarettes it really does taste as good as it smells. Now we are told by our masters that we might as well eat a slice of asbestos as a cured back rasher. Why is it that this ultimate warning does not put me off?

Nostalgia for bacon goes back a long way. My father made a habit of a fried breakfast, all his life. This was forbidden to us tots; though Pa sometimes fed us surreptitiously from his plate, like dogs, with bacon rind and morsels of golden fried bread. Then I’d be packed off to a kind neighbour who gave me a lift into school with his own son. This little family was always tucking into eggs and bacon when I arrived: the mother was a nurse and she evidently had no inhibitions as to the universal benefit of the family fry pan. Maybe I looked envious or disapproving at the spectacle of their fatty feast; for whatever reason, I was set to wait in another room still cocooned in my belted gaberdine mac¤ until they had finished. Whereupon all of us, in a shimmering haze of grease and richly fried-up from one source or other, set forth for Town in the Lancia. People did smell of their breakfasts in those days: all my teachers certainly did. Perhaps the liberal use of lard & dripping had something to do with this.

Later on, boarding school bacon was hardly recognisable as such: being cut egregiously thin and scant, infallibly served glued to the pan and swimming in fat. A happier association was the use of bacon rind as bait to catch crabs when on Suffolk coastal holidays. This pastime has now become a massive local jamboree, but 55 years ago it was just a few small fry fishing from a wooden bridge. We’d tie the scraps of meat to a stone or a skewer, and lower the titbit on the end of a string into the salty creek which flowed to the sea through the mud flats. The bacon fat would get all over our (very irresistibly lickable) hands and clothes; the ravenously carnivorous green, orange and brown crabs went crazy for it and could be hauled up from the depths in clusters as they gorged. I can smell it all now; the blowy windy wet afternoon, salt air, muddy ooze, thick damp woollen jumpers, seaweed like strings of yellow sultanas.

At the end of the day the buckets of  crabs all went back into the sea. But whether at home or on vacation we might well have a proprietary crab paste for tea, served on bridge rolls or toast. Sardine, salmon or bloater pastes were all good too. These spreads came in tiny glass jars which looked as though they’d be useful for something afterwards. Each pot was closed with a gold ring and red rubber seal. The rings should have been ideal for some form of dressing-up jewellery but they were uncommonly sharp-edged and after many cuts and abrasions we reluctantly gave up on sartorial recycling. The red rubber also looked handy, if only to fiddle with – but you could never quite wash out the fishy smell. The frustrations of paste jars! Do modern children suffer so?


Nowadays, the height of my gustatory desire is a Cromer crab for tea – or indeed for any meal. Providing, of course, it’s as fresh as paint –  then the scent is faint and mouthwatering: the redolence of ice and lemon and mayonnaise and luscious crustacean. A touch of fragrant pepper – black, white or red – and a chilled drink. Does any drink smell as delicious on a summer day as a Bloody Mary? Goes good with crab. Absolute bliss. Serve outdoors under a shady tree, and hand the buttered brown bread separately: “Which one of you is the dressed crab?” I’m always glad when we have a really cold winter because the crabs in the North Sea thrive on it and the icy water encourages them to breed like mad.

Funny to think of bacon and crabs getting into perfume but they do just a little, around the edges. Many modern leather scents smell slightly savoury to me; faintly smoky, mildly bacony where they used to be suggestively fruity. Snuff the scent of mortal change in LONESTAR MEMORIES, Andy Tauer’s evocation of night on the Texas border, the scent of the plains lit by an icy moon. Coffee brewing on a hickory wood camp fire; tobacco smoke; the seasoned oiled leather of boots and saddles; the smell of dry forests and the grasses: and there – right at the back –  the hint of bacon and beans on the night wind. Fabelhaft!

I do recall that someone was going on recently about a note of crab¤ in a scent. I can’t exactly remember which…can you?… but our dear old friend calone, the molecule which structures so many aquatic perfumes, is often said to have an oyster quality about it: the minerality of salty flaky blue-grey shells as well as the succulent pearly flesh of the mollusc. James Heeley’s SEL MARIN has a delicious whiff of rock pools and clean seaweed – endless expanses of shimmering wet sands in the morning sun. And I am told that the curiously named Mugler creation WOMANITY has a caviar accord; though to me the appeal of caviar is all in the texture and the sound, the delicate cracking and fragile crunching of those dear wee eggs.

Last word goes to bacon: why on these grey wet windy days can I smell it on a rural wind, especially when I’m feeling a little stressed? Is bacon the new burned toast?”

¤ now, these navy-blue regulation coats had a very odd smell indeed – which for some reason made me long to taste the material. But licking gaberdine made my skin crawl – the old chalk on a blackboard effect.

¤¤ or even crab sticks…?

Wait For The Moment When: Bubonic Plague


…” The Black Death” – comes to Paris in 1889. This is the ghastly premise of SO LONG AT THE FAIR (1950). Ingenue Victoria Barton (Jean Simmons¤ at her shrillest) arrives from Naples with her brother Johnny (David Tomlinson) for the opening of the Exposition Universelle. John feels unnaturally tired. During the night, the bell in his room – No 19 – at the Hotel de la Licorne¤¤ rings and rings and rings. The night porter – sturdy but apparently half-witted – goes upstairs. It is 1.50 a.m.

A fresh and brilliant May morning dawns for the Exposition; everyone dresses in their best, blithe as larks. But Room 19 and its occupant have now unaccountably and completely disappeared.

This short and pacey movie pivots on two pairs of brothers and sisters: in each case the woman proves the stronger and more vigorous half of the partnership. John and Vicky have a relationship more akin to that of father and daughter; they are also mistaken for man and wife¤¤¤. Their opposite numbers are the hotel proprietress Mme Herve and her submissive brother Narcisse. Madame is played by Cathleen Nesbitt, Rupert Brooke’s great love. She is the dominant figure of the entire film, stealing the picture from a cast which includes Dirk Bogarde, Honor Blackman, Andre Morell and Eugene Deckers. Playing the predatory concierge as a French Mrs Danvers, and terrorising – though never subduing – the tiresome but persisent ‘petite Anglaise’, Cathleen also finishes as the (implied & ironic) heroine of the picture. In removing the English patient to a remote provincial hospital and by denying his very existence, Mme Herve has saved France and the vast investment of the Exposition from scandal and complete disaster. The unspoken inference is that despite her GASLIGHT tactics with Miss Barton, Madame may well end up by being decorated with the Legion D’Honneur in appreciation of her quick thinking. A subversive view of our French cousins if you like.

The film presents other ambiguities. Has the plague in fact been securely contained in a convent lazaret? We remember the early scenes of the picture with Johnny Barton already sickening on the boat¤¤¤¤ to Marseilles; his mingling with the crowds in the lobby of the hotel; his evening with Victoria at the Moulin Rouge. And here the film cheats a little as the famous dance hall did not open until October 6th, a month before the end of the exposition. Be that as it may, we see the famous elephant and the knickery girls¤¤¤¤¤ leaping about and descending to the dance floor by saucy chute. One dancer even sits on John’s knee and steals a kiss. Goodness! His infection must already be all over Paris by the time Mme has his room bricked up. Maybe there is a hint of this in the black lace domino donned by Victoria. A decorative disguise which also suggests a sinister facial rash or skin eruption; a more glamorous version of the leather hoods and masks worn by seventeenth century plague doctors.

Death is in the air, literally. On the Champs de Mars we see ‘Nina and Louis’ gaily ascending in an air balloon only to be burned alive as the thing mysteriously ignites during the flight. Jean Simmons’ facial reaction to this horror is inadequate – as though she has missed a ‘bus – but the incident suggests a universal meaningless malevolence now abroad in Paris. The appalling reek of the balloon wreckage encourages the viewer to consider disease as many people would have still thought of it in 1889 – the widespread notion that sickness is spread by smell; the ancient miasma theory. We have another clue to the importance of smell in the presence of tardy decorators in the Hotel de la Licorne and the concomitant odour of paint. Not to mention the impressionist canvases in Dirk Bogarde’s atelier and – maybe – the extremely elaborate dresses of the women, boned and buckram’d and bustled: entirely restrictive and quite unsuitable for touring a vast exhibition on a warm May day. “Horses sweat, gentlemen perspire, ladies gently glow”.

And then there are the lavish dressings of the hotel sets: busy, fussy, crowded, claustophobic. Mme Herve’s private parlour is an extraordinarily faithful re-creation of late Victorian interior decoration – a closed and airless room crammed and hung with thousands of knick-knacks and gewgaws. in the early 1950’s the craftsmen who built these sets could – like the costume designers – still remember the authentic look of such things from their youth. We can also appreciate Mme’s priorites – her worldly goods and respect for her own wellbeing – reflected in this crammed assemblage which includes a comforting champagne bucket.

My grandmother (1891 – 1966) certainly subscribed to miasma theory. I remember very well as a child being made to cover my mouth and nose with a handkerchief, preferably cologne-soaked, when passing pools of stagnant water or whiffy ditches – sure breeders of disease simply by inhalation of odour. Mrs Taylor had learned these theories from her own father who was famous for his championing of The Leicester Method in his work as Health Inspector of Leicester. The city was still experiencing smallpox epidemics as late as the early 1930’s: my great grandfather had died in 1923 at 1979. He had never retired. He – like many contemporaries – had vehemently resisted inoculation, instead recommending isolation and seclusion of patients and (as in ‘The Tale of Mr Tod’) intensive fumigation of their bedding, belongings and premises. The sick were sealed up with their families, just as in 1665. Then, Londoners had packed their mouths and nostrils with herbs and spices before venturing on to the streets and believed the plague smelled of sweet rotting apples. And maybe they were right: we know now that dogs can be trained to smell cancer in humans, and to detect the ketones which predict the approach of an epileptic seizure.

We have already remarked on the role of the Moulin Rouge in SO LONG AT THE FAIR; and we see the Eiffel Tower as it was then presented – though not yet quite finished – as the official gateway to the Exposition. But a third Parisian icon of 1889 is not referred to. For this was the year in which Aime Guerlain launched the farouche and magnificent Jicky upon the world. A candidate for the accolade of being the first ‘modern’ perfume, Jicky is still, despite 21st century tinkering, a stunner. I first read about this scent about 100 years ago in J R Ackerley’s startling & singular memoir My Father And Myself. Old man Ackerley was not only the Fyffe’s Banana King but a bigamist who treated both wives to huge bottles of this most eccentric of scents. (J.R.’s mother kept a pet fly in her bathroom). Entranced by the name and the context, I took myself off to Harrods to smell Jicky for myself: with all that coumarin, vanillin, patchouli lavender and civet I thought it the wildest thing I had ever encountered.

Years later, I took a large flacon of Jicky eau de parfum with me to Samarkand where it helped to pull me through a devastating bout of food poisoning. The aged and resourceful chamber maid swabbed me down with a filthy floor cloth dipped in raw vodka, and I made with the Jicky. My temperature fell from that moment and I was soon fit to be bundled onto a bus bound for Bukhara: the designated hotel in that city was – we were told – built on the site of a medieval plague pit. It was undoubtedly haunted. A curious set of circumstances, weirdly  foreshadowing those of SO LONG AT THE FAIR…

¤ she lived in my road, in N7. The current occupants of the house are trying to get up a Blue Plaque.

¤¤ The Hotel of the Unicorn: the unicorn may be lured, trapped and harnessed only by a pure & virtuous maiden. Our Miss Barton.

¤¤¤ in the 1938 German version of the story VERWEHTE SPUREN, an UFA vehicle for Kristina Soderbaum, the unlucky couple are mother and daughter.

¤¤¤¤ a ship which looks very similar to that which crushes Magwitch beneath its paddles in David Lean’s GREAT EXPECTATIONS. Is it the same?

¤¤¤¤¤ the girls of The Damora Ballet, screen can-can dancers par excellence? Unbilled: but I think it must be them. One or two of the faces look familiar – and of course the legs…

May I Introduce You To The Ten Holy Healers?

CSob21YWIAAKuJVNow then, here’s the stuff to give the troops in this dreary season of colds, snuffles and sunlight deficiency: what else but OLVERUM bath oil?  Of German origin and a best-seller for over 80 years, OLVERUM has always been a firm favourite at Les Senteurs.

OLVERUM has now been glamorously and elegantly repackaged to look as ravishing as it smells. Most importantly, its holistic healing magic is undiminished: sleep like an angel and awake restored with a dash of this hero product. Relaxing at night, a reviving tonic in the morning, OLVERUM is kind to the skin and helps to clear and stimulate a stuffy head or sluggish brain. The perfect gift – especially to oneself.

I think you’ll love OLVERUM even more if you know what goes into it: run the names and properties of the component oils through your mind like a mantra; tell them off on your fingers like beads and meditate on their powers. Do you remember the Fourteen Holy Helpers, so widely invoked in late medieval Europe as guardians of health and protectors against the plague? Thanks to OLVERUM’s ten time-tested ingredients you too can enjoy an aromatherapeutic and soothing immersion fit for the Holy Roman Emperor or a Byzantine princess born in the purple.

For optimum results, fill your bath with warm water then add a few drops of the elixir. Lie back and relax as the healing oils are absorbed by the skin and thence into the bloodstream, while simultaneously stimulating your brain through inhalation. The relief is deep and can be very wonderful.

You may use OLVERUM in the shower, too. Gently scrub for a few minutes with a little of the precious oil; then rinse under the flow. Massaging oil into aching, bruised or rheumatic joints may also help to relieve discomfort. (Remember, of course, to make a tiny patch test first).

And, while you enjoy OLVERUM, freely  ruminate on the ten wonder workers:

1. Eucalyptus:

(Eucalyptus Globulus)

The indigenous Australian blue gum was first brought to England by the charismatic naturalist Joseph Banks in 1771. Eucalyptus seeds were subsequently sent out to British dominions all over the globe, re-colonising the world from our own little island. Banks had sailed with Captain Cook to observe the Transit of Venus in the South Pacific: he was one of the first Europeans to know the sensual delights of Tahiti. As the expedition’s resident botanist, Banks marvelled at the eucalyptus tree not only for its elegant eerie beauty but for its properties as nature’s own best-stocked pharmacy. The leaves and tender shoots of this easily sustainable quick-growing tree yield a pungent oil which decongests and deodorises. It is strongly anti-inflammatory, and so excellent for easing rheumatics and muscle pains. Warming and cleansing, Eucalyptus is also anti-bacterial, analgesic and anti-neuralgic. Magical medicine from the other side of the world.

2. Litsea Cubeba

(Litsea Cubeba)

Also known by the equally exotic synonyms of may chang and tropical verbena, this deliciously scented oil is as well known to perfumers as to herbalists and apothecaries. Native to China and, like cinnamon, belonging to the laurel family Litsea Cubeba yields a green herbal lemony odour and has for centuries been revered in the Far East for as a natural antiseptic, disinfectant and insecticide. Litsea Cubeba cleanses the skin, removing excess oil and cleaning pores. It has gentle but effective properties as a deodorant, a digestive aid and has a rejuvenating tonic effect on mind and body.

3. Juniper

(Juniperus Communis)

Famous for its magical and symbolic appearances in myths and fairy tales, juniper is a cleansing oil which relieves rheumatic pain and muscular tension besides easing a stressed and anxious mind. Every part of the juniper tree yields a fragrant woody oil which is kind to a fragile respiratory system, being immensely beneficial to the easing to the symptoms of bronchitis, coughs, colds and colic. Juniper grows widely all over the northern hemisphere: you may even have a tree in your garden – a homely link to the religious rites of Ancient Egypt when the oil was burned before the old gods as an essential ingredient of the sacred khyphi incense.


(Rosmarinus Officinalis)

Like juniper, rosemary has a very ancient history – its beautiful name means “the dew of the sea”.  The leaves and flowers of this wonderful herb glow with all the colours of the ocean; the plant thrives in salty marine air. Sacred to the ancient Greeks and Romans, rosemary also played a key role in one of the earliest known western perfumes and first “celebrity fragrance” – Queen of Hungary Water, formulated in the 1380’s. Medieval folk believed that rosemary was a powerful repellent of demons, evil spirits and witches: its magical mystic and medicinal properties ensured its presence in even the humblest of garden plots. A natural analgesic, rosemary is anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial, excellent for soothing muscle pains and repelling infections of all kinds. Rosemary cleanses the skin, improves the circulation and reduces hypertension. It is a serene oil; its traditional role in improving the memory – as noted by Shakespeare’s Ophelia – has lately been  proved by the scientific faculty.


(Citrus Limonum)

Like the LIME, the name derives from the Arabic word “limah”. Lemons and lemon trees probably came to the west from Asia with the early medieval Arab invasions of Europe in the eighth century; hence their extensive cultivation in Spain from whence Columbus took seeds of the fruit to America. The lemon was so prized in Tudor England that a single costly fruit provided the centrepiece of Anne Boleyn’s coronation banquet. Sometimes used in old religious art as a symbol of faith, the lemon concentrates the prime of its goodness in the rind.  The peel from which the oil is extracted contains more than ten times the amount & strength of vitamins than the juice. Lemon nourishes the bones, lowers blood pressure, guards against fungal infections and is prized as an anti-depressant and mood-enhancer.

6. LIME.

(Citrus Aurantifolia)

Like the lemon, lime is a natural anti-scorbutic formerly prized in the British Navy as an essential source of vitamins; easily stored and providing vital relief from an enervating diet of salt meat and wormy biscuit. The strength and pungency of limes is increased by the heat of the sun:  the fruit is sharper and more intense the nearer it grows to the Equator. Lime oil has been known for its antiseptic properties for many centuries: its costliness added to its reputation, and it was prized as a healing deodorising disenfectant by the medical team who treated Louis XIV’s mother, Anne of Austria. Good for feverish colds, sore throats and chest infections lime is also invaluable as a rejuvenating tonic, restorative and mood enhancer.

(Pelargonium Graveolens)

The oil is derived from the leaves of the rose geranium. This flowering scented plant was first brought to Britain from its native South Africa over 300 years ago in the reign of William and Mary. The rose geranium is a member of the pelargonium family: ‘pelargos’ in Greek means a stork and if you look at the seed pods of these plants you will see a remarkable resemblance to the bill of the bird that brings the babies. Though there are over 700 varieties of rose geranium, less than a dozen yield sufficient oil to make extraction worth while. A natural powerful disinfectant, geranium extract has great harmonising and uplifting powers: banishing gloom and anxiety by balancing the body’s nervous & hormonal systems. Because rose geranium promotes healthy circulation of the blood it also boosts a glowing, clear and healthy skin.


(Abies Sibirica)

A magnificent powerful oil to warm the blood, boost energy levels and lift the spirits. Siberian Fir originates from the forested banks of the River Volga and the densely wooded Siberian taiga where it was for centuries an essential remedy of native wise women and shamans. The tree was venerated as the tutelary Spirit of the Forest, a link between Earth and Heaven, a sustainer of life, fertility and a source of cosmic energies. Ailments could be absorbed by the tree giving a sufferer relief from bodily pain. The oil is antiseptic, anti-fungal – a powerful repellent of winter colds and flu as it clears the bronchial passages and respiratory system. It can be beneficial for rheumatism, arthritis and sports injuries as it soothes muscle pain and reduces swelling & inflammation.


(Lavandula Angustifolia)

Lavender is one of the very few plants we all know and recognise from infancy. Indigenous to the Mediterranean this modest but powerful ancient herb thrives on sun and dry poor soil. Lavender is virile and energising, clean and uplifting, healing and calming. The Romans named it from the verb “lavare” – to wash. They cleansed their bodies with the fragrant healing oil yielded by the blossoms, and laid up their laundry in layers of the moth-repelling flowers and leaves. It was probably Roman colonists who brought the herb to Britain, two thousand years ago. Lavender is a powerful stimulant which relieves headache and low spirits: excellent for soothing and cleansing all skin irregularities it boosts the immune and respiratory system, eases aching joints and relieves indigestion. Excellent for promoting restful sleep, due to its powers of soothing an anxious mind.

(Lavandula Hybrida)

This is a naturally occurring or cultivated modern hybrid of true and spike lavenders. A larger plant than true lavender, lavandin produces a stronger-scented, more abundant and richer oil which makes it invaluable in the perfume industry. Lavandin’s aromatherapeutic properties are similar to those of its botanical parents: the especial pungency and fresh sharpness of its natural fragrance render it especially efficient in tackling all respiratory, circulatory and muscular weaknesses and problems.

I bet you can hardly wait to fill the bath!

“Kann denn Parfum Sunde Sein?” Perfume Prohibited!


We may think that our present Royal Family has a hard time of it with the Press, but it is nothing to that which the Queen’s ancestors had to endure. When poor Victoria went over to Paris in the 1850’s the hacks had a high old time sneering at her bag embroidered with poodles and at the sprays of geraniums (as bonny a scarlet as her cheeks) that trimmed her dress. Above all they carped at the “regrettable trace of musk” evident in Victoria’s perfume. Our Royal Duchesses & Princesses must be mightily relieved that this sort of sniping is in abeyance; though admittedly it is a loss to cultural observers as well as to the common or garden nosey parker.¤

CAN the use of perfume ever be wrong? Apparently so. This autumn’s UKIP¤¤ Conference banned fragrance to all comers. “No liquids no perfumes no powders…ladies and gentlemen, please discard your perfumes” read the notice at the entrance. (Which reminded me of those old cards at the cinema – “Ladies! Please remove your hats. Gentlemen! Please adjust your dress.”). I don’t know why the delegates were obliged to attend in an olfactory state of nature: presumably it was part of this “nice” (in the Jane Austen sense) new sensibility regarding the “space” – and potential allergies – of others.

I had always suspected that the notorious ban on the use of Giorgio¤¤¤ in certain New York restaurants – establishments which were never actually named – was an urban myth or an artful advertising ploy. But then a few years ago, our colleague Laura at Les Senteurs told us about the prohibition on wearing perfume in any public place in her home town of Halifax, Nova Scotia. She had therefore to have an unscented wedding. Strange! When you think of the millennia of perfume use by humankind, this is an unprecedented idea indeed. For anthropologists now think that even cavemen probably rolled themselves about in sweet-smelling resinous goo or stuck flowers in their fur.

Council reports are still being compiled on the case of a man in the West Midlands who bludgeoned his wife to death with a bottle of perfume. And only last week an attacker was identified by his victim’s having noted his characteristic reek of toluene. Meanwhile, back in the New World, doctors in the Canadian Medical Association Journal have recommended that all fragrance be banned from hospital wards because it can affect asthma sufferers, promote allergies (again) or arouse “sensitivity”. This reminded me of the old tale of the death of Marie Antoinette’s son in 1789: he begged the duchesse de Polignac, then in attendance, not to torment him with the intrusion of her heavy scents. But she was wearing no perfume: it was the effects of the disease on his poor exhausted nervous system.

In many department stores nowadays a worker’s having a quick spray from a tester of perfume to cheer herself up is counted as theft. You can just about get away with using the bottles on your own counter but from no one else’s. Spoilsports. Which brings me to the following bizarrie. I quote the following verbatim from The Times of a fortnight ago:

” A teenage girl was reported … after a domestic argument in which she used her mother’s perfume before running out of the house. Although the bottle remained intact, her puff (sic) was recorded as theft because officers are told to enforce Home Office rules which require criminal complaints to be recorded … Simon Hayes, the area’s elected crime chief, said: ‘The officers were never going to be able to prove whether or not the daughter did help herself to the perfume. So the crime also remains unsolved.'”

There is a particularly unsettling Sherlock Holmes story – The Adventure of the Retired Colourman – in which a vile crime and its detection revolves around smell. The eponymous villain gasses his wife and her lover in his strongroom and then gets out “a great pot of green paint” to touch up the woodwork.

” ‘That was our first clue,’ said Holmes. ‘Why should this man at such a time be filling his house with strong odours?
Obviously, to cover some other smell which he wished to conceal – some guilty smell which would suggest suspicions…’ ”

Ending – as we began – with the Queen, we are given to understand that she never wears scent when visiting the royal stables: it frightens the horses. There’s been much discussion about this in the equine world. Many owners agree with her: other equestrians find their animals quite unmoved by perfume. And a third party claim that stallions are often sexually aroused by deliciously (artificially) scented humans. Time to change the subject. As we often note in this column, perfume brings out the brute beast in us all.

¤ Queen Alexandra seems to be the only other recent monarch known for her sillage – a signature blend of roses and violet powder. No doubt her dreadful deafness accentuated the sensibility of her other senses: she adored the silent cinema. Her two favourite stars, before you ask, were Lillian Gish and Eddie Polo.

¤¤ “You kip if you want to. The lady’s not for kipping.”

¤¤¤ recently seen, greatly diminished, at a provincial branch of Wilkinsons priced at under £15. Tempi passati: a far cry from the glory days of a sales team of twelve Valkyries in canary-striped blazers; twenty girls playing twenty pianos with the glamorous participation of Miss Scotland.

“The Romance Of Certain Old Clothes”*: a second rummage through the wardrobe…


There’s something faintly sinister about a wardrobe, I’ve always thought. Especially those old free-standing ones with mirrored doors that swing silently open in the night or, caught by a faint draught, greet you with a blank glassy smile as you enter a bedroom. Wardrobes are like creepy little houses or sarcophagi, quite large enough to contain a child or small adult. Think of Lillian Gish whirling around in the closet, besieged by her abusive father in the silent classic BROKEN BLOSSOMS. The crack in the cupboard door that triggered the peculiar goings-on of VENUS IN FURS. Consider Jane Eyre falling into a “species of fit” in Mrs Reed’s terrible Red Room with its huge mahogany wardrobe of secret drawers. And of course, the wardrobe portals into the Kingdom of Narnia. My grandmother used to tell me hair-raising stories of her childhood in the late 1890’s – of her brothers concealing themselves in the wardrobe before nightfall, then scratching and groaning within once the gas was extinguished. Especially terrifying as the little Eileen was then reading aloud the new best-seller, DRACULA, to her baby sister before lights out.

The dark enclosed space of a wardrobe is a great incubator of smells. When I was a tot, clothes cupboards were hung with those now illegal white crystalline moth balls¤, strung with violet silk thread. They could have passed for iced peppermint creams and the stinging luscious odour of napthalene made my mouth water. There was the redolence of soft worn suede and leather from shoes; a touch of fur from hats and tippets; and the tantalising papery forbidden whiff of hidden Christmas presents, supposedly out of reach but accessed by climbing the shelves or lunging with a coat hanger.

I remember scouring out the entire interior of a deal wardrobe – acquired second hand – and then soaking the wood with perfume, but within a couple of days the smells of dust, fust and must were back. Wardrobes infallibly absorb the odour of old clothes; and of unaired garments put back on the rail directly after use, still damp with the owner’s oils and fluids and scents. The sort of conditions the moth adore¤. Do you remember that scene in DANCE WITH A STRANGER when Miranda Richardson slips off her cocktail frock, impregnated with all the odours of a 1950’s night club, and hangs it straight back in the cupboard all hot and reeking? Was this shtik cunningly thought out, a clue to a slovenly character? I could think of nothing else for the rest of the movie.

As clothes and the obligation to wear them came into being as the direct consequence of Sin and the Fall of Man, it is no wonder that they have spawned an extensive occult lore of their own. I hope you never put a new pair of shoes on the table? You might easily do so, just in from a shopping spree and, like Thora Hird, eager for a Cup-a-Soup: but you are courting disaster. Never throw your hat onto the bed. If you should happen to retrieve someone’s dropped glove, discourage the wearer from thanking you: that’s as good as a curse. A stray thread on your jacket? Expect a letter. Put on a garment inside out? You must wear it so for the rest of the day or risk the worst. And that aggravating spiky itch that’s driving you mad – that’s a monkey’s eyebrow caught in your jumper. Contrariwise, you have your lucky pink shirt, that special interview suit, the right shoe always put on before the left, the holy medal sewn in your garter.

Now, we all have our favourite auspicious and “effective” fragrances to be sure but no true superstitions have yet – I think – become attached to scent: which is odd when you think of how ancient a phenomenon perfume is. But then fragrance, being intrinsically and inherently magical & be-glamoured, is already pregnant with ideas of enchantment and occult power. Explaining the power of scent is attempting the impossible: all we can do is attempt to harness it, whether in this world or the next.

Ghost stories and tales of the supernatural draw heavily on the odour of clothes, as well as referencing the way in which garments are like cast off shells, shaped by the wearer’s limbs to revive as (usually malevolent) simulacra of the late owner.  Gloves and shoes in particular are stretched and moulded to recreate an image of body parts almost as evocative as the plaster casts of the victims at Pompeii. Shady hats, veils and deep hoods hide the horror of a spectral face not to be imagined. Stories trade on the weirdness of smell, the way perfume so instantly and uncannily at once evokes a time, a place, a human signature. A fragrance or an odour lives on, when everything else of a person is dead. Barbara Cartland used to talk of the scent of carnations inexplicably filling a room to announce the presence of her late brother. Whether or not you believe in phantoms there can be no doubt that a perfume is in itself a ghost, a shadow of associations and people long gone, bringing the past with startling immediacy into the present.

As the ghost story is intended to disconcert, writers evoke the smells that inflame our animal instincts: those baser reactions that many of us would prefer to airbrush out of the picture. So over and again we read of the smell of rot and decay, or the odour of demonic seduction. Sometimes the latter originates in the commercial world of the living, thus exacerbating horror with the contrast of the banal. A bottle of perfume becomes an accessory to evil. So, “Madam’s funny scent” plays a key role in THE HAUNTED SAUCEPAN¤¤, the record of an undead poisoner:

“There grew a heavy scent in the air, like patchouli, I think…at any rate a definite perfume that seemed to herald Whatever approached…The dog…moaned and whimpered…”

Piver’s disreputable and tarty Trefle Incarnat – of which Lizzie Ostrom writes so brilliantly in her new book¤¤¤ – is smelled disapprovingly in Elizabeth Bowen’s THE CAT JUMPS. Elizabeth Taylor’s inverted, inventive POOR GIRL is full of smells, especially a “heavy scent, dry and musky” – perhaps Mitsouko – which snakes back in time from the 1920’s to ruin the character of a Victorian governess:

“The schoolroom this evening seemed to have been wreathed about with a strange miasma; the innocent nature of the place polluted in a way which she could not understand…the scent had clung about her clothes…”

Even the perfume itself may be diabolically corrupted:

“My sister ran in, a scent-spray in her hand, crying:

‘It’s not scent any more. I tried it. It smells like the attic – ‘

She was squeezing the bulb and spraying us violently; and I could not smell the dead smell of the loft, but the sweetness, like a ladylike animal, of old kid gloves…”¤¤¤¤

Then there’s “the breath of benzine” impregnating the murderous white kid  in HAND IN GLOVE (the inimitable Bowen again):

“She began to choke among the sachets and tissue – then the glove let go, hurled her back, and made its leap at her throat. It was a marvel that anything so dainty should be so strong…”

(It wasn’t the rats Aunt Elysia had heard scuttering in the attic, you see; it was those gloves).

No doubt about it, gloves take the palm as the most frequent agents of evil, those horrors animated by the energies of vanished vengeful hands:

“Yes, and the gloves: the dark green gloves…the air was very close and…I smelt that curious perfume…I can most nearly describe it as resembling decaying roses…rank and overwhelming…”¤¤¤¤¤

I should recommend that you keep your wardrobe locked at all times, and the key about your person.

* with great respect to M.R. James.

¤ anyone who has been unfortunate
enough to have experienced a moth infestation will know the sense of an uncontrolled, destructive & almost demonic force taking possession of their belongings.

¤¤ by Margery Lawrence

¤¤¤ Lizzie Ostrom – PERFUME: A CENTURY OF SCENTS. Hutchinson £16.99.

¤¤¤¤ Mary Butts – WITH & WITHOUT BUTTONS.

¤¤¤¤¤ Elizabeth Jane Howard – LEFT LUGGAGE.

PS: You might also enjoy…THE MOST BEAUTIFUL DRESS IN THE WORLD by the inimitable Shena Mackay:

” Harriet laid the dress in the washing-up bowl and turned on the taps gently like someone dropping earth on a coffin…”

Wait For The Moment When DIANA DORS…

The movie retitled: for more immediately salacious impact...

The movie retitled: for more immediately salacious impact…

…proves herself a compelling actress in YIELD TO THE NIGHT (1956). An influential film in the campaign for the abolishment of capital punishment in Britain this is not, however, the story of Ruth Ellis. The Joan Henry¤ novel upon which the script (also by Henry) was based had been published in 1954, the year before the Ellis case. But no doubt director J. Lee Thompson readily enhanced the curious “coincidences” of plot and character: the rackety and unhappily married platinum blonde, the fatal public shooting of the faithless lover; the background culture of night clubs and pre-drinking; unhinged sexual obsession and jealousy. And of course – the frame and core of the film – a vital young woman’s last three weeks in the condemned cell at Holloway prison, told unsensationally¤¤ but in semi-documentary and horribly dreary detail. Joan Henry had been banged up in Holloway herself, and she was not sparing with the local colour. It’s not at all an easy film to watch. You may have to take it in short tranches, at least the first time around. But view it you should.

Mrs Mary Hilton (Dors) has been sentenced to death for gunning down her rival, the rich and disagreeable Mrs Lucy Carpenter in a London mews. Their mutual lover, Jim, has gassed himself in Mona Washbourne’s lodging house on New Year’s Eve, to the strains of Knees Up Mother Brown and Little Brown Jug coming up the stairs from his landlady’s party. Mary then uses Jim’s wartime revolver to commit her murderous act of despair and revenge. The casting of Dors ( an old friend and colleague of Lee Thompson and Joan Henry) was a masterstroke. Diana’s screen image and her apparently raffish but also obscure and ambiguous off-screen personality could not have suited the character better.

In flashbacks to the events which led to the crime, Mary seems a typical Dors character: exuberantly blonde, open-hearted, bosomy, impetuous and fun- loving. The audience is pre-conditioned to expect bad behaviour from Dors: was  not the star once publicly condemned by the Archbishop of Canterbury? Mary is one of a long line of individuals in British Cinema whom my mother used to describe as “naughty little girls”: discontented & sexually active young ladies who work in “Beauty Shops” but whose speciality is making trouble. Remember Phyl, landed with the manicures (and all the Allied Services) in MILLIONS LIKE US? And Queenie in THIS HAPPY BREED, who runs off with a married man and breaks her parents’ hearts? Mary’s discreetly curtained establishment – “Martin Douglas” – is right at the centre of things, perhaps in Sloane Street or Bond Street. “Lots of people came into the Beauty Shop…” recalls Mary in Holloway. The shop is a maybe a euphemism; certainly a metaphor for life, for sexual experimentation and adventure.

No completely “nice” girl would be standing there on counter, looking edibly gorgeous in “that sort of place”, selling perfume. That’s made quite clear. Mary is on the slippery and risky slope of living with vicarious luxury, even if a romantic dinner later consists of a tin of Heinz spaghetti. But, such a glorious counter of scents as Mary has to offer! Never was such splendid product placement of Guerlain and Lucien Lelong. The glorious Shalimar parfum flacon (1 oz) even gets its own glittering close-up and we glimpse Mitsouko, too. You’ll probably spot other old favourites if your eyes are sharper than mine.

Then Jim appears, sniffing around and trying to remember the name of horrid Lucy’s scent:

– ‘…not as cloying as that. Something sharper, more like the bouquet of very good brandy..’

– ‘ “The Lost Weekend”, by the sound of it!’

Mary is an excellent saleswoman  – ‘you’d be fortunate to have this person work for you!’: outgoing, immaculately groomed, knowledgeable of stock. Her counter is spotless; her manner is a nice blend of light flirtatiousness and reassuring briskness. And she’s not afraid to “ask for that sale”.

It turns out, of course, that Mary is wearing the perfume in question: an ironic re-orchestration of the old shtik of wife and mistress being given the same fragrance to avoid “mistakes”.

– ‘It’s called Christmas Rose…we only have very small bottles of Christmas Rose at 5 guineas’ ¤¤¤

The name is inspired: the plant which in the language of flowers is said to mean “please relieve my anxiety”; the coldly beautiful, poisonous and witchy hellebore which blossoms imperturbably through the coldest months of the year, decked in the semi-mourning colours of mauve, white and dark purple. It is one of the many strands of the flower imagery that plays such a major role in the film, echoing  the Christian burial service:

“He cometh up and is cut down like a flower…”

And throughout YIELD TO THE NIGHT Mary is obsessed with Housman’s A Shropshire Lad and its intimations of mortality –

‘”Loveliest of trees, the cherry• now
Is hung with bloom along the bough…”


The aged prison visitor Miss Bligh (Athene Seyler) – a lightning sketch of gaol reformer Margery Fry•• – comes to see Mary in Holloway.  Miss Bligh is a great gardener –

‘…it’s chastening work, gardening’.

This triggers off all kinds of thoughts in the contemplative viewer – Christ’s Agony in the Garden; Our Mother Eve in Eden; and another poem, Kipling’s sermonising, sententious but irresistible The Glory of the Garden. Miss Bligh unpins a small bunch of violets••• from her own dress and presents them to Mrs Hilton:

‘There you are, my dear. They’ll give you some water and you can put them beside your bed.’

But in her cracked and peeling cell with its parody of an en suite bathroom, and the dreadful “Other Door” at the foot of her bed, Mary cannot even do that. A ghastly “caring” provision is made for every bodily need and necessity in Holloway – if only for three weeks.  The constant starchy meals and mugs of cocoa*; “tea!”; ‘plenty of sugar’ dumped  on her porridge by a flustered wardress. There are the endless footling games of chess and cards to “distract” the prisoner; the smothering fuss over the blistered foot of one so soon to be killed. The terrible naked lights are kept on twenty four hours a day ( all the better to see the unsparing truth ) and there’s an upsetting scene where Mary is bathed like an infant while a wardress cuts her nails. Yet the intrusion of a spontaneous posy of flowers cannot be accomodated. The wild violets with their disturbing ungovernable fleshy sensual scent do not “fit” – and the tin mug in which they are dumped will not sit on the window sill either.

Mary’s last three weeks on earth are in the month of April – “the cruellest month”; the fertile, Easter month; the sweet rainy month of The Canterbury Tales. Life should be crazily burgeoning not being brought to an abrupt and unnatural end. But what a weird and blasted April Lee Thompson creates! The prison yard sets are dressed to look like a nuclear winter. “There’s a bitter east wind”, and not a bud on the twigs. Only at the very last, on Mary Hilton’s final afternoon, as she comes to some sort of terms with her fate does the sun briefly come out and there’s a distant glimpse of a daffodil.

But by then the light of the sun is too bright for Mary and she asks to be taken back to her cell where the last smells are of bromided tea, the medication of calming injections, the slopping-out pail
and the final cigarette which burns on long after Hilton’s life is snuffed out.

DIANA DORS  1931 – 1984
diana dors perfume

¤ Joan Henry became the second Mrs Lee Thompson a couple of years later.

¤¤ unlike the film’s publicity.

¤¤¤ that’s around £90 today.

• “white cherry = deception”.

•• sister of pre-eminent art critic, Bloomsbury sage and Omega Workshops maestro Roger Fry.

••• “violets = faithfulness, modesty”.

* note the tin plate of baked beans, maybe mirroring the canned spaghetti eaten in happier days.