“I’ve Got a Little List!” : the empowered customer

shopping list


Do you take a list when you go shopping? Really you should, for  apparently we are all likely to spend  twice as much if we browse the packed aisles without an aide-memoire. I am never in the supermarket without a pen, notebook, a postcard or two and auxiliary scaps of paper to update me. This is not really to ensure economy. It’s because, unlike an elephant, I can’t remember. There is also something about any kind of list that stimulates and fascinates me. I collect other people’s memoranda, left behind in trollies, baskets or on the pavement. I love to ponder the curious shorthand priorities of strangers – “lettuce, tonic water, frozen peas”/ “whiskey, vodka, beer, pork pie, sausage roll, butter, cream, Mr Kipling…BREAD!”.  One of our local charity shops has had the brilliant idea of pinning a board with the papers found in donated books – almost invariably prayers or shopping lists. Or prayer lists. Library lists would be interesting but are not shown.

Lists are compelling because they cut straight to the heart of a matter; they are all meat and no pastry. They seem to convey something of the power of a clairvoyant or a preacher or a magician: gnomic utterances ‘en bref’, stripped of  padding or explanation. They can be startling revelations of inner preoccupations: so I’m not keen on strangers having a gander at my lists – as sometimes they will, over my shoulder, idling away time in the check out queue.

Lists may also take the form of recitals to contemplate, to relish, to inspire and comfort. I have only recently found out why a Bucket List is so named – it’s a charter of what you want to do before you kick said bucket.¤ Shopping lists are needed only to remind us of our more mundane requirements, not of our treats. You would hardly expect to read “perfume” scribbled down between ‘scouring pads’ and ‘quinoa’. Scent is more likely to appear on those gloating rosters that appear in Christmas gift books or decorate magazine columns: 12 Forgettable Fragrances, 50 Royals Who Went Mad, Your 100 Best Tunes.

However, when you are out and about – as the weather men say – you might like to jot down the following to remind you, not of WHAT to buy in the fragrance line, but WHY to buy it. For this is one of the questions I am most frequently asked: how shall I know I have the RIGHT one?

As ever – “By their fruits ye shall know them”.

And so: when you are smelling and musing in the relaxed haven of Les Senteurs, so different – o, so very different! – from the hurly-burly of the department stores, ask yourself the following:

Does this perfume excite me?

Yes, I like it – yes, I believe it suits me. But it must do more. It must have me awake at 5am, willing the clock on so that I can spring up to souse and douse myself in this heavenly scent. Perfume must draw you like the most powerful magnet; like a child to his favourite new toy – “may I take it to bed with me?”. You will know you’ve chosen the Right Scent if you just can’t leave it alone: like a lover with his new inamorata.

Does this scent elevate me?

Does it make me soar like a bird? The ideal perfume should have you taking wing like a bird of paradise, leaving the mundane far below, falling away and discarded like a sloughed skin. You’ll know when you light on the Right One because it will act like a talisman – changing everything and “painting the clouds with sunshine”. Life begins anew: or appears to, and who can do better than that?

Does the perfume intrigue me?

Is there an oddity in there, something that intrigues, mystifies, baffles? That’s good. You won’t get bored by it – you will be forever pursuing that final delicious enigma, and that in turn means that you won’t become onosmic. Your nose won’t lose the scent because your brain will be still trying to rationalise its components. Your perfume will be like a mesmerising lover or intoxicating mistress, forever witholding an essential elusive Something…….

Does it last?

And if not does that matter?
It may be Heaven if it is tenacious – like everlasting love – but if your preferred scent is transient that’s perhaps because it’s intended to be so. Life is all a bout the bitter-sweet joys of fleeting pleasures. Would we want a delicious meal, a concert or a movie to last for ever? Not unless there was something badly wrong. Fragrance conjures up a fragile mood, a passing emotion, an atmosphere: perfumers try to reflect this in the construction of their creations through ingredients, structure and concentration. If you love the scent, buy it. Don’t insist on its being glued on: just enjoy the luxurious ancient ritual of re-application.

And finally, will my significant others like it?

Try to ignore this consideration. If you love a scent and embrace it fully then others will love it too as part of your Gestalt and aura. The thing is, never to ask your Dear Friend: “do you like this? Does this perfume suit me?” This always predicts the answer ‘no’, as we used to be told in language classes. Your anxious tone will very likely put your partner on the defensive and prompt a discouraging reply. So say nothing: apply your new scent with quiet confidence. The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

Just now, as I finish this – very Jungian and extraordinary! –  I read of a new exhibition – Alice Instone’s THE PRAM IN THE HALL – opening @ 1 Cathedral St SE1 on 9 March! It all revolves around the ‘Things To Do’ lists of notable women. How great is that?!

¤ is the implied subconscious suggestion that if we faithfully fulfil the list we won’t need to kick the pail?

Breathe Deeply: 100 Scents you need to smell…

Image: Atlantisqueen.co

Image: Atlantisqueen.co

Everyone loves a list.

Here is my own riposte to all those endless ‘must do’s’ – 100 things to see/read/eat before you die – always so popular in the Bank Holiday Newspapers.

Yet so many of those recommended experiences are curiously passive, depressingly automatic: they involve buying a ticket, taking out a subscription, visiting some sort of restaurant, theatre or other place of entertainment. “You pays your money & you takes your choice”. A bit lifeless, maybe? 

Smells are different. They are trickier to seek out; they take you by surprise at unexpected moments; they rocket you across time and space; they resist control or manipulation. With smell you must take your pleasures where you find them.

Most of the following scents are delicious; some are startling. A few are revolting but arresting. Only one I have not yet smelled…

Even as I write, reports are coming in from Australia that the Duchess of Cambridge ‘recoiled’ at the smell of a koala: the eucalyptus oil comes out through the koala’s pores, you see, intensified by its own natural odour. Smells never fail to amaze: if you let them.

Tell us what you think of this list.

Here we go:

Box… & phlox: pink & white phlox was introduced into Europe by the Empress Josephine – a hot white peppery scent; the smell of childhood.

Phox: directgardening.com

Phox: directgardening.com

A new bar of soap

A traditional eau de cologne

Orange peel & marmalade

Clean sheets – laid up in lavender or simply air dried.

Fresh cut spring grass


Cowslips: plantlife.org.uk

Cowslips: plantlife.org.uk


The silk lining of a vintage fur coat

Apple blossom

New books: hardback &  limp edition smell quite different.

New Books: radionorthland.org

New Books: radionorthland.org

Chanel No 5 – it changes all the time like so many classics. Our wonderful Sarah McCartney,  recently smelled the 1929 version: curiously like Lux soapflakes.

Jasmine – in a pot, in the garden or on the streets of Damascus. 

The hills of home – that indefinable smell of your native air. I can smell Leicester coming a mile off.



Ether: Wikimedia commons

Ether: Wikimedia commons

Fried onions

Russian airports – once redolent of over-ripe apples, cigarettes & petrol. Have they changed ?


A glasshouse of ripening tomatoes

Sweet peas – which is lovelier? The colour or the perfume?

White sugar – a nasty smell. Used to make me feel quite sick as a child.

Tom cats

Tomcat - Walt Disney (comicvine.com)

Tomcat – Walt Disney (comicvine.com)

Hyacinths – though to some they smell of tom cats.

Scarlet geraniums – more properly called pelargoniums but you know the plant I mean.

Christmas and Easter – something indefinable in the air. Unmistakable, impossible to pin-point.

Privet hedges

Shalimar by Guerlain- at least in its glory days. See Chanel No 5, above.

Suede gloves


The sea

Icy iron – an iron railing with a hard January frost on it.

Image by Sharon Wilkinson: kingstonphotographicclub.ca

Image by Sharon Wilkinson: kingstonphotographicclub.ca

Horseradish – the hotter the better.


Lily of the valley

A convent chapel – inner cleanliness.

Prison – I have yet to smell this and trust I never shall; but the awful miasma is something that everyone who has been banged up infallibly mentions.

New shoes

Ripe pineapples – warm fragrant golden sweetness. 

Bluebells & wild garlic

Bluebells and Wild Garlic: Wikimedia commons

Bluebells and Wild Garlic: Wikimedia commons

Backstage – of any theatre.

Syringa on a June evening.

Olive oil

Snuffed candles – in the second they are extinguished; hot wax & burned wick.

Rosemary, lavender, thyme – the glory of the herb patch.

Cocoa butter

Fear –  a sour, foxy reek.

Jonquils in a sunny beeswax-polished hallway.

Camomile – though not camomile tea.

Bacon, coffee; cigarettes at the moment of lighting: all notoriously smelling better than they taste.

Coffee and cigarettes

Coffee and cigarettes

A gardenia + a magnolia flower – often talked about; seldom experienced for real.

An iris bed in bloom: the flowers DO have a scent, an unforgettable smell.



Stargazer lilies

Hot tar

Indian basil


Narcisse Noir de Caron

Guelder rose –  that gorgeous vibernum shrub reminiscent of expensive vanilla & peach ice cream.

Broad bean flowers

Methylated spirits


Vanilla pods

Gorse – coconut frosted with sea salt in May sunshine.


Lemons –  like the sweet peas, the colour and scent are mutually enhancing.

Clove pinks

Fresh oysters on ice

Oysters on ice: theguardian.com

Oysters on ice: theguardian.com


Nail polish remover

Hot custard

Marlene’s hands, 1972 – covered in Youth Dew

Linseed oil


Bonfires – in small doses

A well-soaked sherry trifle



New potatoes boiling with mint

“Iles Flottantes” – that exquisite delicacy first tasted at a French service station. 

Steaming hen mash

Kaolin & morphia

A rose

Sealing wax 

Newly washed hair

Hot mince pies

The bitterness of poppies

Scalding hot tea

Hot Tea: misslopez.se

Hot Tea: misslopez.se

Linden blossom

The inside of handbags

Myrtle – always a cutting in a royal bride’s bouquet.


Anything from LES SENTEURS….

Les Senteurs - Seymour Pl

Les Senteurs – Seymour Place