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

bacon

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?

 

610-465_Crab.whole_crab
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…?

The Coconuts

coconut-palm

When I was a tot we had a annual fair come to our village. It was held in the scrubby fields before the railway bridge, long since built over with offices and warehouses. Naturally, we never saw it all lit up by night; it was said to be unspeakably dangerous¤ after dark, and besides my mother had three children of five and under. My father hated fairs and had his work to do. So we went in the afternoon, in convoy: the pushchair, the pugs on leads continually underfoot, and Mrs Sarson bringing up the rear, full of dire warnings about carny folk, kidnapped kiddies and faulty machinery. We were allowed to go on no rides except the Dodgems and the Merry-Go-Round. Waltzers and the like (to my guilty relief) were strictly out of bounds. I was 23 before I took my first and only trip on the Big Wheel and at once wished I hadn’t.

Of course we were forbidden to eat any fairground goodies: the sugary-sizzling toffee apples, frizzly fries or clouds of tawdry-glamorous rosy candy floss. And of course we grizzled and whined until a taste was finally allowed – “you won’t like it, you’ll see!” – only to find it so much Dead Sea Fruit: the hard green apples so sour, the gleaming shellac coating so perilous to teeth and the floss sticking creepily to one’s face and clothes like shocking pink ectoplasm. Funny to remember how sticky hands drive small children mad. We were told to spit on an adult’s hanky and were then roughly wiped down like Mrs Tabitha Twitchit’s kittens.

There was a coconut shy. I don’t know if the nuts were glued on in the traditional way, but our infantile bombardment never shifted one. Then one year the publican’s son came with us and knocked off a prize and presented it to my mother on whom I think now he probably had a crush. We took it home, all rough and hairy like a shrunken head, and marvelled at it. No one had the faintest idea what to do with the thing beyond exhibiting its trophy status. The adults thought the contents were likely to be not particularly good for us: they had been through the privations of the World Wars, remember, and I think probably had very little idea what coconuts were, outside of the South Seas ads for Bounty bars (which nobody liked anyway).

“Oh! That poor Coconut!” It ended up cracked open with a hammer in the back yard, and then we gnawed the white flesh from the larger of the gritty fragments – a slow, messy and disappointing business. But the smell was good and I’ve loved any sort of coconut accord ever since, whether in soap, shampoo, hand cream, scent or mixed with raspberry jam in maids of honour. I find it sensuous and calming and fun.

It’s a tricky oil to play with in perfumery as an excess of coconut can be overwhelming & suffocating and too much reminiscent of sun tan lotion: however, a perfumer of imagination like the great Sarah McCartney makes a virtue of this with her witty trip to a very lickable seaside in WHAT I DID ON MY HOLIDAYS. Coconut is a quintessential perfume paradox: it often appears to be where it is not. As Miss Dietrich used to say: “Ich habe den Eindruck gegeben, nicht wahr? Aber ich war es nicht!”¤¤

In glorious tropicana scents like ASHOKA and COCCOBELLO an accord of fig trees or fig milk creates an olfactory illusion of coconut palms; and of the fragrant water contained inside the young green fruits that is suddenly the preferred health drink of the moment. Don’t say it was I that told you, but apparently the water is so pure and blessed that you can at a pinch use it in an emergency as a substitute for human plasma. And of course it is quite a different substance to the coconut milk which is prepared by human hands from the mature fruit, and which tastes and smells so good in a green Thai curry.

If you prefer your coconut served more sweet and gummy, try E.Coudray’s gourmand life-enhancer VANILLE & COCO.  BIJOU ROMANTIQUE on the other hand uses the accord as delicately and transparently as a piece of frosted sea glass through which you glimpse a triton’s garden of jewelled underwater flowers. Please also bear in mind that – as Frederic Malle and Dominique Ropion found when they created CARNAL FLOWER – the tuberose flower secretes a molecule very reminiscent of coconut. This adds a delicious ambiguity to many perfumes, notably Creed’s VIRGIN ISLAND WATER which reveals itself in many guises, rather like the antics of the Wizard of Oz: are you smelling waxen narcotic flowers or a Malibu cocktail – or a sparkling decoction of limes?

We’re all nuts for coconuts, us perfume knuts!

¤ fairgrounds certainly had a very alarming odour then – the sweating screeching barkers and their high-perfumed ladies; the oily engines; gaseous fumes; greasy illicit wads of paper money; fear.

¤¤ “I gave that impression, didn’t I? But I wasn’t!” ( Of her attributed eroticism )

Cake or Pastry?

From ilovemuffins.es

“If the people have no bread then let them eat cake”. How that apocryphal royal recommendation dominated my childhood. My grandmother thought that Marie Antoinette had come out with it completely straight-faced, dumb blonde style: a Rococo Marilyn Monroe trying to be helpful. The diminutive droll, Charlie Drake (big on ’60’s tv), took it up as his catchphrase, even making a little song of it, as perhaps my older readers may remember. How mad was that? We know the Queen never actually said it, yet – strange but true – Marie Antoinette’s nutty advice now has a new resonance: if you look at the supermarket shelves you’ll see that cake is often the cheaper these days. Slabs of Battenberg, railway fruit loaf, angel cake and boxes of garish fondants come in at well under the price of a large sliced loaf.

Now why? Cake has undergone a cultural metamorphosis. It once used to be rather common, a dish to treat servants and the lower middle classes, eschewed by ladies and served stale to children when some of the richness was thought to have burned off (as calories are said to fall out of broken biscuits). Regency slang for “daft”, it later became the Mitford nickname for the late Queen Mother, apparently on account of that great lady’s enthusiasm for wedding cake. Rasputin’s assassins tried to poison him with tiny cream cakes, playing on greed like that of a mad dog. Today cake is the order of the day: cook books, tv shows, coffee shops all breast the recession with the cult of cooking – and more importantly, eating – Cake.

Cake is comforting and it satisfies with fats and sucrose; I have a sweet tooth myself but the modern store-boughten gateau is often quite overpoweringly inedibly sweet. Is this an act of infantilised defiance in an austerity society where health and health-foods are constantly preached? Baking is  a miniature act of creation and much emphasis is placed on the “look”; often there seems more emphasis on the filling, icing, colour and decoration than on the cake itself.  All the goods in the shop-window, as it were. One might theoretically get just as much of a kick (and more nutrition) from bread-making, but this is a less showy art. One cook I spoke to thinks we’re seeing a deeply guilty pleasure dressed up and disguised as an art form: animal greed masked by deft decoration. A sociologist might regard the phenonemon as ritualised obsessive self-loathing; compulsive baking, prettifying and eating of something which does the body no good and which can only lead to the most despised and dreaded affliction of the neurotic Western world: weight gain. Hence the obsession with “soggy bottoms” I guess.

It’s hardly coincidental that gourmand perfumes are booming again: ice creams, fruits, citrus coupes and above all patisserie. This is a trend in scent that goes right back to that black cherry and almond mood at the back of L’Heure Bleue a century ago, and the Guerlains’ love of vanilla. Sometimes the foodie note appears almost accidentally, not evident to every nose: I’m thinking for instance of the smell of lemon drizzle cake in Songes, Goutal’s cornucopia of tropical flowers. Or the ginger biscuits at the heart of Love in Black, the powdered icing sugar of Teint de Neige, the candied pineapple in Une Crime Exotique. Cakey perfumes which appear comforting and innocent are by definition deeply sexy in intention: the wearer is proposing herself as a dainty dish to devour, despoiled and wolfed down with the fragile raspberry meringue of Brulure de Rose or the dripping melted butter (so sticky and tactile) of Jeux de Peau. And gourmand scents are increasingly accessible to men; the feral tiger’s tea in Fougere Bengale, the sacrasol and Flemish pastries of the latest Malle, Dries Van Noten, and the smoky toffee bonfire of Aomassai. All reminiscent of that ultimate compliment paid to a bonny baby,”I could eat him!”

Talk about having your cake and eating it…No danger of piling on the pounds with these, just the teasing of the senses and the flirting with naughty urges promoted by that close relationship between memory, nose and tongue.  Some gourmand fanciers even claim that these fragrances satisfy forbidden appetites; others find they stimulate the desire for sugar melting on the lips, and not only vicariously on the skin. Maybe the scents are more fully satisfying than the cakes: they certainly last longer and leave nothing on the hips. All in the mind: and this where we came in – a fantasy world of cakie-baking, as at Marie Antoinette’s toy hamlet at Trianon. Playing at shepherdess and poultrymaid in couture gauze; patting out cheeses and butter in a Sevres china dairy. All the beguiling accoutrements and a great appearance of productive activity but finally just a delicious illusion.”

Picture from: ilovemuffins.es

“I like tired people”

As is well known, Marilyn Monroe wore Chanel No 5 to bed: what do you wear in yours? Garbo wore men’s pyjamas and retired at 6: the maid’s last job before leaving at 4pm was to disconnect the telephone.

Perfume goes wonderfully well with beds, langour, torpor, snoozing and sleep. One thinks of fairytale princesses and ancient heroes, King Arthur and Sleeping Beauty,The Seven Sleepers and Snow White, lulled into death-like sleep by magic drugs and perfumes “poppy and mandragora and all the drowsy syrups of the world”. (What a brilliant perfume name was Opium..). And in the kingdom of Morpheus, dreams drift in the Valley of Sleep: those that enter via the Gates of Horn will come true; those passing through the Gates of Ivory are pure fantasy.  Do you dream about smell and scent? In colour or black and white?

There is nothing nicer than a soak in a long hot bath and a hair wash, followed by clean night clothes in a crisp white linen bed: and then a spray of scent as you prop yourself up against the Siberian goosedown pillows with a new book. Perfume is wonderful in bed, it relaxes and feels magnificently sybaritic. A sparkling hesperidic cologne feels perfect in warm weather, clean and clear and soothing – something like Acqua di Genova which is soft besides citric, petally with orange blossom and a touch of sandalwood. And it has that faint suggestion of a fine silky talcum powder which I love. Maybe it is that association which also makes sweet powdery perfumes great at bedtime: atavistic memories of babyhood, warmth and total wraparound security. Then in colder weather, something more exotic…a rich floral or oriental. Or a golden crystallised gourmand: one of Pierre Guillaume’s beauties, maybe, Aomassai or Tonkamande. All the “luxe et volupte” of sugared almonds and praline but no crumbs in the bed.
And a wonderful sensation of slaked desire.

In my store days, we used to spend hectic Saturday afternoons fantasising about this routine. One woman used to have a special weekend dressing-gown laid out on the hot pipes against her return: a scalding bath, layers of Bronnley’s White Iris or Fern; then scrambled eggs with mayonnaise on a tray. I remember coming down the tube escalators one filthy wet December evening behind two exhausted girls. One was chanting her comfort-mantra. “When I get home I’m going to off every bit of makeup, cover myself in Fracas body cream and put on those pink cashmere pyjamas…”

Bed can be a great place to try out samples of that scent you are thinking of buying. You are washed and clean and in your right mind; at ease with life and ready to analyse a new perfume. Remember to wait a while for your skin to regain its normal temperature and for the natural oils to start flowing again before you apply. This ensures that you won’t get that slight brief burny sensation on the skin from the alchohol, and also allows your skin to reflect the perfume more exactly. The only danger that I have found with the years is that sleeping in a new scent can desensitise the nose to it by the following morning. I am then in the position (which we all know and dread) of having a favourite new scent and unable to smell it: the brain is so relaxed by the agreeable odour that the nose switches off. But, that’s only my personal reaction: I can still sleep very happily in old favourites and find them on the pillow when the alarm goes off.

The professors of the new Sleep Hygiene might possibly object on the grounds of perfume being stimulating (and so to be put on the Bedroom Index, along with alchohol, computers, tv and reading in bed) but for most of us perfume at night is a tranquillising experience, one to be encouraged and relished.

And what do you wear while you are getting up next day? Now while that may sound too precious or over-refined a question, this really is the time for those scintillating light colognes and eaux de toilettes – “dressing colognes”, we used to call them. Bright, delicate impressions of scent that wake up your senses, refresh the body and prepare you for a day’s work before you graduate to something heavier after lunch. Frederic Malle‘s Angeliques Sous La Pluie, Cologne Bigarade, Guerlain’s Eau Imperiale, and Creed‘s Bois de Cedrat just film the skin and hair with notes of citrus, fresh air, morning gardens and herbs – leaving a discreet trail as of expensive soap and crystal water. Spray them while you wash and dress; spritz them on newly washed hair. For myself, I always reach for a fragrance before I even boil the kettle for the first cup of tea: it lifts the spirits for the coming fray. And then I start planning what to wear tonight…