Mood Scent 4: Wellbeing Wonders

Hey there A Bottled Rose, It’s a Mood Scent 4 week. WOO HOO! This month the crew are looking at Wellbeing Wonders. OK, hopefully we are all in some kind of lockdown and crew taking it seriously. Australia seems to be taking a very lasses faire attitude so far but I think that will become more rigid as the disease progresses here. Already Covid19 has changed the way we interact, work, shop, live and love. I’m off for the foreseeable future. Jin is still working on the trains, they are essential service. I’ve started meeting friends across the road in our cemetery, 2m apart on picnic rugs. It’s BYO food and beverage. LOVELY sitting in the warm autumn sun or the dappled shade. So, what fragrances are we thinking about to help our mind stay healthy in this time of mainly solitary living? Are we choosing meditative, fun, deep, warm or comforting scents? Maybe we want super weird or bombastic things that we could never wear in the workplace? Are you revisiting, culling, testing or going with what you know? My line up is eclectic for different moods.

Obviously, these choices are subject to change, daily.

Also, while this is a lighthearted look at isolation, illness and the current pandemic: on a serious note: Please Stay Home. As much as you, or your work, can. The less people you interact with the less transition of this insidious and hideous virus can occur. If you get Covis19 and go to hospital none of your friends or family can visit. You will die alone with tubes sticking out of you and not enough people to care for you. Please Stay Home.

Can’t wait to read about your favourite Wellbeing Wonders in the comments too.

 

So excited to be blogging with these three superstars again:  Esperanza L’Esperessence, Megan Megan In Sainte Maxime and Samantha I Scent You A Day. Check theirs out too.

 

Mood Scent 4: Wellbeing Wonders

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CQ`S WTF CV19 LOCKDOWN TALES FROM THE COOKIE KITCHEN.

CV19 LOCKDOWN WEEK 3.

The beginning of this week marked half way through the official four week lockdown. I am fully aware that I have the easiest of lockdowns but nevertheless continue to journal them.

Saturday 28 March – Friday 3 April.

Three weeks into the lockdown now, and it looks like we might have some easing of the restrictions after the Easter weekend. I am hopeful that we will be able to reopen our business. There is no doubt that our behaviour will have to change though, as a nation. Social distancing, face masks, number of people in the shops and so on. This is the foreseeable future. But so be it.

Had a Zoom meeting with some friends in different places around the world, including NYC. One of the guys was riding a bike through downtown. As he rode along 6th Avenue, he showed us the empty and desolate space. We all have disaster movies burned into our brains, and this looked like a scene out of one of them. Dismal.

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Monday was still Monday, the mood matching. Woke up to snow and freezing temperatures, but that did improve throughout the day. Ran for 45 minutes in our underground parking garage. My knees hurt the next day, I bloody hate running, and in reality, it is gonna take more than a pandemic to get me to do it regularly. Which means I quit.

Wearing face masks in the supermarkets will be mandatory as of the coming Monday, and also where there are larger groups of people. I ordered a material one, which I should get tomorrow. There are some people walking round looking like stormtrooper rejects, I wonder if they can breathe at all?

I did vacuum this week, but things still not bad enough to clean the windows. Watched the third series of Ozark.

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Managed a 42km ride on my carbon frame Rocky Mountain. I have been riding an e-bike for the last couple of years, and it is most excellent fun to be back on a light bike. We rode through the country side, where there is next to no traffic at the best of times. Nothing looked wrong, and made you wonder it was all just a dream?

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Chris took grocery shopping over to his parents yesterday. They are well into their eighties and fall into the high risk category, although it did take someone in their town to give Oma a bollocking for doing her own shopping during the first week of the lockdown. We never come back empty-handed from their place and yesterday was no exception. There is a small biscuit that is very popular in Austria during the Christmas season. “Vanillekipferl” – and to some they are the Holy Grail of all the “Weihnachtskekse”. It is an unwritten law that these are only made at Christmas time. (Actually knowing the Austrians it probably is written down somewhere.) These are my very favourite biscuits in the whole world. Oma had baked me a boxful and sent them home with Chris. This act of kindness totally blew me away.

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It was Vero´s birthday this week.

I had a text from Neela early Wednesday morning saying “Trump is dead.” I knew that it could not be true, but confess to checking my BBC updates! (I assumed she meant that he was dead because of his horrific handling of the whole pandemic. ) Before I could message back I got another one – “April Fool.” Still laughing.

LOCKDOWN PERFUMES OF WEEK 3.

NVC Mohur – several times. Vero’s Rozy Extrait and Kiki EdP. Malle’s Superstitious. and PoaL. Hermès Cuir d’Ange.

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A few people asked me if I could put a photo up of my buzz cut, on Instagram or here in the post. Over my dead and mangled body. But …. I spent the best part of an hour this morning taking selfies. Cringe. Close up ones, and then ones in the mirror. I sought help from my daughter, who suggested I try a few more poses. Scream. Seriously who bothers with this shit? But I did learn something from the close ups, apart from never taking them again – I have a lot more wrinkles on the right hand side of my face, no doubt caused from only ever sleeping on that side. Time to switch.

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You guys know that I know how serious this is don’t you? May your weekend have some joy in it regardless.

“Sometimes in our lives we all have pain, we all have sorrow, but if we are wise, we know there’s always tomorrow.” Lean on Me. RIP Bill Withers. 1938 – 2020.

CQ.

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Staying Sane When Staying Home

If you’re not used to staying indoors day after day, how do you protect your sanity? I haven’t seen anyone face-to-face or stepped outside my front door for over a week now. What I have found that helps the most is forming some kind of routine. I can’t work remotely (properly) for another week so I don’t have that structure as yet. What I’ve done in the meantime is come up with a list of things to do each day that help to protect my mental health:

  • I subscribe to the Calm app and do their daily meditation, which isn’t easy to focus on when you’re anxious but it helps. I also listen to one of the excellent Sleep Stories at night. A free meditation app is Insight Timer.
  • Everyone and their granny seems to be doing Yoga With Adriene on YouTube and for good reason. She’s very down to earth and has a nice chilled, slightly quirky way with her. I’m currently doing her 30 Day of Yoga which is suitable for anyone of any level but particularly beginners and those who have slipped since the gyms/yoga studios shut.
  • It’s tempting to treat every day like a pajama day (what day is it again?) but acting like this is one long weekend only adds to the sense of this being never-ending. Getting up on weekdays, making my bed and getting dressed makes me feel like I’m in the land of the living.
  • Linked to the above is carrying on with my skincare routine. Staying inside with central heating, stress and comfort food has played havoc with my skin and it’s part of self-care. I may do a separate post on what I’m using.
  • Regular Housepartys!!! This video chat app has taken off during the pandemic – it seems everyone I have ever known is now on it. Phone calls are great but video chat makes a real difference. I have been doing this every day with my sister and it’s the highlight of my day. (We mostly talk about what we’re going to have for dinner and watch on Netflix).
  • Lastly, I do something productive. This could be cleaning out a cupboard, finally washing that throw or even putting a treatment on my hair. I use the word ‘productive’ loosely. Feeling like you should be using this time to learn a new language or how to play an instrument will only add to your anxiety if you don’t feel up to it. If we just get through this with our bodies and minds intact, that is more than enough.

 

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If you have anything that’s helping you get through this strange and difficult time please let us know in the comments.

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CQ’S WTF CV19 LOCKDOWN TALES FROM THE COOKIE KITCHEN.

CV19 LOCKDOWN WEEK 2. 

Deadlines know no lockdown.  Here I am still running against the clock.

Saturday 21 March – Friday 27 March  (Writing this Friday morning.)

As I said last week we are doing the  “arse-in-the-butter” form of lockdown where I am living.  I cannot and will not complain for a second.  Yes it is serious. No it is not like in so  many other countries.  Our government tells us every day we cannot let up for a second in the way that we have to live out lives right now. Money will start to be paid out next week for those suffering loss of income.  Our shop falls into that category.   Social distancing has been in full swing for the last two weeks and and starting to show some positive results maybe, the predictions and cases matching what was suggested at the beginning. There are idiots.  There are corona parties.  But it is at this point a very small percentage. Some people are as dumb as wallpaper.

My husband went out and bought me hair clippers last Saturday.  Yes, that is an essential item.  I have been planning the hair buzz for the last couple of days, and am about to do it.  Today, 28 March at 18:30 CET live on Instagram.  Drop in since you will all be at home anyway.  Of course I am terrified, but the fear of my hair being too long outweighs it.

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It was five years ago this week that Vero launched the two Rozys in Milan.  Memories came up in my FB feed.  (One of the terrible side effects of the lockdown is that I have reopened my FB page.).

Tara brought to my attention that David Goggins was gonna do a 60 minute live-on-social -media workout on Monday.  We did it together.   It was hardcore to say the least.  Squats, lunges, jumping jacks, sit ups, push ups.  10 second breaks if you needed one.  It took me two days to recover properly.  We are going to do it again tomorrow.   After we had finished the workout, we chatted briefly about David Goggins.  Tara told me how inspirational his book was and that I should read it.  Yesterday when I came home from a run, I found a copy of the book in my letter box.  Tara had a copy sent to me.  I cried, really.  It changed my whole day and cheered my soul.  Love in the times of Corona.  That kindness will remain with me forever.  I had to put the book down to write this post.

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I made cookies during the week to share with the supermarket ladies and friends..  Baking makes feel I have some sort of control.

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My mother kept journals for the last twenty-five years of her life.  Each year’s journal has a large envelope that is full of the postcards, magazine and newspaper cuttings, letters, birthdays cards along with it.  I have about fifteen years of the journals here in my home and the other ten years or so are still in the UK.  I brought the suitcase that I keep them in up from the basement and am starting to re-read them.   She wrote them all exactly how  she spoke, and it is a great joy.  It is particularly interesting to see that she wrote every single haircut she got down.  Sometimes with a little drawing of the new cut, and always commenting as to whether Jane or whoever had done a good job or not.  Those who know me will find that hilarious and haunting!

IMG_2773Some of Mum´s journals.  

I started to run this week.  Have not run in twenty years.  And I am smugly satisfied that I have not peed myself yet.

The UK is now on lockdown, and about time, and Boris J is immersing himself in his Churchill wanna-be role.  The country pulling together in that oh-so-British way.  I would expect nothing less.  I hope it is not too little, too late.  Having talked with people in NYC via Zoom, I just cannot imagine how terrifyingly bad it is there.

LOCKDOWN PERFUMES OF WEEK 2. 

I am still wearing perfume.  L’Artisan Passage d’Enfer.  Neela Vermeire Mohur.  Hermès Musc Pallida Oil layered with Cèdre Sambac.  Chanel Boy.  Chanel N°19 Pafum and Lutens Iris Silver Mist in the evenings.

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I have never been bored in my life, and I am not bored now.   My main concern is do I buzz my hair 20mm or 15mm?

Yes of course I know how bloody serious this all is.  It is a pandemic.  I am not stupid.

How has your week been?

“It’s the end of the world as we know it (time I had some time alone),  It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine (time I had some time alone)”.   REM. 

CQ.    

There were around a thousand deaths in Italy over the last twenty-four hours, and nearly as many in Spain.  I dare not look at NYC. I have Italian friends who will have to lockdown even longer.  My heart breaks.

 

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CQ’S WTF CV19 LOCKDOWN TALES FROM THE COOKIE KITCHEN.

CV19 LOCKDOWN.

 

The world over now we are all in some sort of lockdown.  Not just me.  I am a pretty up beat person, and have a very dark sense of humour.  I also have an extreme panic disorder.  Balancing them all is a skill I am having to learn.  And rather quickly.

I have no idea how these posts will be laid out, or how they will progress, which is fine since no one had a bloody clue about anything right now.

I live in a wealthy area, which includes a lake and mountains.  That does not mean I am rich.  What it does mean is that I can only comment on what is happening here in my vicinity.   ABR has readers from all over the world and I wanna know what is happening where you live.

I have been in permanent freak-out mode over the snail’s pace that both the UK and the USA have been moving at.  I see that thing are finally shutting down and people are being told to keep to the social distancing rules.  That means at least two meters away from each other.  And no you cannot go for a picnic, or a burger, or down the pub.  Nor to your friend’s house for coffee.  Absolutely NOT.

After mumbling to ourselves about how awful it was in China, but so far away, and then seeing it moving closer to home in Milan, (but spending more time wondering if the perfume show would be cancelled or not) we find ourselves in lockdown.

AUSTRIA.  Monday March 16th.

All the shops are closed.  Our business too.  Supermarkets, pet stores, banks, chemists, and the post are still up and running.  Otherwise it is deader than a dodo.  As many firms as possible have switched to home office.   Some of the counties are in quarantine. We are not yet.  We can go out and walk, ride bikes, or run.  We have to be alone or with people that we live with.   I was very touched when I walked  down a side street to the supermarket and ahead of me were two young boys playing football.  When they saw me approaching, they grabbed the ball and ran way up off of the road to get at least twenty meters out of my way.

I am as terrified of getting no hair cut as I am of the virus.  Already planning a buzz.  It has only just begun and the the sun is shining,  everyone is upbeat, this could be fun.

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Tuesday 17th – Friday 20th

Wearing black latex gloves to go shopping obviously.  Can’t be doing the white ones.  I was slightly worried about my in-laws, 81 and nearly 88.  But when I called them they had been biking, preparing their potato patch for planting, and had made bread.  I don’t know what is happening in the cities, but it seems the lockdown is mostly working.  There will always be those who think it does not apply to them. We have a 34 year old prime minister, and him and his cronies, which also include a lot of women, are doing a great job.

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My good friend left a chunk of fresh Parmesan outside the shop for me to collect.  Social distancing of about 4km. I see no reason to drop my cheese standards.   Supermarkets are full, and open normal hours.  Very quiet though.  People going out of their way to avoid each other.  Excellent.  Went for a bike ride with aforementioned good friend.  We kept at least two meters between us the whole way and sat on each end of along bench to talk.  Obedience is second nature to us.  LMAO.

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I brought weights and a bar home from the gym.  However weird this shit gets I will train most days.  I ride my bike for cardio and might start to run.  Probably not though,  I hate running.

It is Friday as I write this.  I can hardly bear to hear the figures of the deaths in so many countries.  Our lockdown was extended for nearly another month today.  Goal being 13th of April.  Somehow I doubt it.  It is a f***ing pandemic and I wonder what part of that people do not get?  But they will.

LOCKDOWN PERFUMES OF WEEK 1. 

I was in no mood to wear any of my more regular scents, and found beauty in some of the less frequently worn of my collection.

Amouage UBAR.  Amouage Opus III.  Serge Lutens Tubereuse Criminelle.  Neela Vermeire Mohur EdP and Trayee.

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Share your thoughts , good and bad, positive and negative, and of course the perfumes you find yourself reaching for.  Many things unite us, but none more so than our fragrances.

Don´t stand so, don´t stand so, don’t stand so close to me.   STING. 

CQ

 

 

 

 

 

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Mxxx. by Eris Parfums

Gentle Reader, I hope all is well with you and yours at this strange and anxious time. Val the Cookie Queen will be starting a weekly coronavirus lockdown journal this Saturday. In the meantime, let’s try and distract ourselves with  perfume. 

Notes: Blue Ginger, Mace, Saffron, Olibanum, Pink Peppercorn,  Cacao, Cedarwood, Sandalwood, Vetiver, Patchouli, Benzoin, Castoreum, 7% Natural Ambergris, Pierre d’Afrique (Hyraceum), Green Vanilla.

I feel like Mxxx. is winking at me. It is knowingly playing with a few perfume tropes but you need to be in on the joke to appreciate it fully.

The original Mx. was a warm and inviting comfort scent with accords of gingerbread and saffron over light woods and cosy musks. With this 2019 Extrait de Parfum reboot, perfumer Antoine Lie has added an animalic twist as well as increased strength.

 

 

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Mxxx. starts out sweet: a swirl of vanilla and chocolate with a nice sprinkling of saffron still present. At this stage you might feel you already know everything about this perfume – yet another sugary confection. But no.

It mellows and darkens from creamy yellow/orange to deep brown. It transforms into dark chocolate praline with a background of salty feline fur. It matures and becomes a more grown-up affair in a matter of minutes. This effect is achieved by taking a cacao note and undercutting it with ambergris (the real deal no less). The result is a deceptively simple on the surface but on closer inspection, a seductive underbelly is revealed. This is my favourite part of the scent’s evolution. The moreish combination of cacao and ambergris shows just why salted caramel has become so popular.

Featuring the unholy trinity of castoreum, hyraceum and ambergris, you’d be forgiven for thinking this would be eye-wateringly sexual. It’s not quite. Somehow Lie has kept these beasts on a leash. It is more slinky and overtly suggestive than outright skanky. I am irritatingly squeamish but find it wearable.

The base is more familiar territory. It’s like one of those robust Middle Eastern sandalwood fragrances studded with spice, incense and oud. (Anyone remember Tom Ford’s Sahara Noir?) Its voice drops several octaves and in contrast with the first half of the perfume, now reads as more traditionally masculine.

Mxxx. has a good amount of throw and excellent longevity. It left a lovely sheen on my skin which shows the high content of perfume oil.

Maybe you’d like to appear as if butter wouldn’t melt but also hint at a saucy side.

Maybe you’d like a fluffy, cosy scent that flips the script later on.

Or maybe you’d like a fluid fragrance that covers the spectrum from feminine to masculine in one seamless flow.

You’ll find Mxxx. works on a number of levels.

 

damian

 

Were you a fan of the original Mx? Have you tried Mxxx?

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Romantic Reading Diary – February 2020

I thought I’d try reading romance novels for the ‘month of love’. Afterall, it is the most popular genre of fiction, so I looked up a list of the top romance books on Goodreads. Oh dear, I couldn’t get past the covers. They either looked like bodice-rippers (so many Dukes…), 50 Shades knock-offs (featuring topless men) or fluffy rom-coms (showing cartoon couples). Maybe if someone can recommend a good one I’d give it go but instead I decided to pick books in genres I already read but that featured a prominent love story as part of the plot.

Son of the Shadows (Sevenwaters #2) by Juliet Marillier

“You bound him to you with your courage and your tales. You hold him to you now. You captured a wild creature when you had no place you could keep him.”

I thoroughly enjoyed Daughter of the Forest, the first instalment in this series. Like that book, Son of the Shadows features a romance, but aside from that there is political intrigue, the Fair Folk and the dramas of the next generation of the family.  Liadan, has ‘the Sight’ and her path as a home-loving healer takes a turn when she is abducted.  The setting is one of the best things about these historical fantasy books. The ancient forest in Medieval Ireland is brought vividly and beautifully to life brimming with Irish folklore.  This was very much up to the standard of the first book and I will read on because I love this world and those that dwell at Sevenwaters. 4.75/5

This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

“Red rarely sleeps, but when she does, she lies still, eyes closed in the dark, and lets herself see lapis, taste iris petals and ice, hear a blue jay’s shriek. She collects blues and keeps them.”

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This one is out there guys. It’s a sci-fi novella where two female agents (codenamed Red and Blue) battle on opposing sides of a war over the future, travelling up and down the time-line trying to make changes that thwart each other and give their side an advantage. This can be anything from a swift assassination to being deep undercover for decades in order to subtly nudge events in a certain direction. They start exchanging missives first as a taunt but these letters become increasingly elaborate and heartfelt as they fall for one another. The messages come in the form of anything from a bee-sting to the rings of a tree. The imagination on display is immense and the writing often dense and poetic as you can see from the above quote. You are thrown in at the deep-end and need to concentrate on every word: there is no ‘info dumping’ here but roll with it and you’ll be rewarded by the end. It would be a good one to re-read once you have the full picture. 4/5

Time’s Convert by Deborah Harkness

“War is such a waste of women’s time.”

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I thoroughly enjoyed the All Souls Trilogy which is a fantasy romance between a vampire and a witch. It was written by historian Deboarh Harkness and had a great section where they time travelled to Elizabethan London in order to escape the danger they were in. Time’s Convert comes after the events of those books and I was led to believe it centred around the relationship between two side characters, vampire Marcus and Sotherby’s art expert, Phoebe. However, the couple are apart for the vast majority of the book as Phoebe is not allowed to see Marcus for several months after becoming reborn as a vampire. We spend a far bit of the story following Marcus during the American and French Revolutions. I love historical fiction but these sections felt like they were taking me away from the current day plot (such as it was) and didn’t have a lot of relevance. It was nice to spend time with Matthew and Diana again and see their children but unlike the original trilogy, there were no stakes, no peril. It just felt like not much was really happening and sadly, I just wanted to be done with it towards the end. 2.75/5

 

Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman

“If he knew, if he only knew that I was giving him every chance to put two and two together and come up with a number bigger than infinity.”

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The narrator of this book is Elio, a man looking back on a summer romance he had when he was seventeen with twenty-four year old college lecturer Oliver, who comes to stay at Elio’s family holiday home on the Italian Riveria. I say romance, while he eventually finds his feelings are reciprocated, this is very much a study in infatuation. Elio is idolising Oliver and the introspective detail did grate on me at the start. We come to see that Oliver is almost equally taken with the idea of Elio. While Elio covets Oliver’s self-assuredness and popularity, Oliver covets Elio’s youth and musical/intellectual accomplishments. That’s why it’s less a love affair and more about wanting to possess the other person in order to get close to the experience of being them. Hence why they call each other by their own name. It works on that level but I didn’t see it as the great love story others seem to connect with so intensely. Perhaps it’s best read when you’re closer to Elio’s age.  3/5

Do you have any romantic books to recommend?

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Mood Scent 4: Gorgeous Gourmands

Hey there A Bottled Rose, It’s Mood Scent 4 week. WOO HOO! With the first Monday of this month the crew are looking at gorgeous gourmand fragrances. As much as I Pooh-Poohed gourmands in my early perfume years they seem to have grown on me. There’s so much choice from bakery to berry, cheesecake and chocolate to fairy floss and rice pudding. All are edible, sweet, delectable and make up an enormous sector of the current scent selection available.

Obviously, these favourite choices are subject to change, daily.

Can’t wait to read about your gorgeous gourmand favourites in the comments too.

 

So excited to be blogging with these three superstars again:  Esperanza L’Esperessence, Megan Megan In Sainte Maxime and Samantha I Scent You A Day. Check theirs out too.

 

Mood Scent 4: Gorgeous Gourmands

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Strange Tales from the Cookie Kitchen.

“When they kick at your front door, How you gonna come?  With your hands on your head or on the trigger of your gun?”  Guns of Brixton.  The Clash.  

This Tale takes place in the spring of 1990;  at our apartment in Amsterdam, just off of the Leidsestraat and but a two minute walk from the Leidseplein.   You couldn’t live more centrally.  It was my favourite apartment ever.

The apartment was on the first floor, and the flat door opened straight into one huge room.  There was a smaller room for storage and wardrobe, and a bathroom.  The stairs up from the main door were wooden and very narrow.

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Our apartment was one of these seen here.

 

It was around ten thirty in the evening.  Chris and I were sat around watching TV with a huge, as in a brick, of Afghan hashish on the table,  the room full of the fragrant smoke.  There was suddenly a bang downstairs and the sound people running up the stairs, past our flat, and up the next two flights of stairs.  There was a bit of a party animal who lived above us and we wondered if there was a connection.   We were extremely stoned, and tuned to every single movement.

 

We could hear them coming back down the stairs, yelling and hammering on doors along the way.   We were totally stoned and everything was going in a kind of slow motion, our senses were on high alert.  As they reached our landing, Chris got up with the intention of  quietly opening our door to peek through it.

In what was precision timing, Chris cracked the door open at exactly the same moment as there was an almighty loud thump on it.

A guy in plain clothes, screaming “Police” came flying in through the door with his gun pointed straight at us, another with a weapon standing in the doorway, and several more backup outside.  He kicked open the door to the smaller room, and the door to the bathroom.  All the while with his gun at the ready.  This happened at extremely high speed.   I sat there staring.

As the cop started to leave, we asked them what they were doing.  He replied that they were looking for some people.  Chris continued by asking what they had done, to which the cop who had been standing at the door replied, “a lot.”   And they left.

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A Smoking Gun. Roy Lichtenstein. 1968.

 

All the action, from coming in the door downstairs to leaving the building again, took less than ten minutes.  There were six guys and they were loud.  We found out the next day that there had been a robbery at the post office in one of the main markets in Amsterdam, not far from our place.   They had been told that the perpetrators were holed up in our building.

Sheesh.

CQ.              

            

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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January Reading Diary

I’ve decided to read more sci-fi in 2020 – hopefully about one a month. I know little about the genre and want to learn more about the various sub-genres and what I like and dislike. You can only find this out by reading a range of different books. It makes sense for me considering some of the most memorable books I’ve read come under sci-fi, including Never Let Me Go, Station Eleven, Flowers for Algernon and The Chronicles of St. Mary’s. But do I prefer soft sci-fi, first contact with aliens, space operas (what even are space operas?) or dystopians? I hope to find out.

 

Where The Forest Meets The Stars by Glendy Vanderah

“Sometimes bad things happen to make good things happen.”

where the forest

At the start of January, I picked up and put down maybe 5 or 6 books. It turned out what I needed was something I rarely read: light contemporary fiction with a bit of romance. This story is about a little girl who brings together two neighbours who have become fearful of a relationship for different reasons. The child turns up at night in rural Illonois showing signs of abuse. Ursa claims her home is in the stars and will go back once she has seen five miracles. She’s a bright kid and worms her way into the affections of Phd student Joanna and gruff, Gabe. It’s a sweet, hopeful tale which stops short of cutesy. Joanna is a field biologist and I especially liked the sections out in nature. I was In the mood for something undemanding and heart-warming and this fit the bill perfectly. 4/5

 

Recovery by Russell Brand

“The instinct that drives compulsion is universal. It is an attempt to solve the problem of disconnection, alienation, tepid despair… the problem is ultimately ‘being human’ in an environment that is curiously ill-equipped to deal with the challenges that entails.”

This book explains the 12-step recovery programme used in AA, NA etc. You’ll get the most out of it you have an addiction or any kind of compulsive behaviour from overeating to excessive retail therapy.  I have more generalised issues but I still found the book interesting and benefited from doing steps 4 and 5 which involve facing and releasing your past resentments. 4/5

 

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Eight different scents and eau-de-cologne were laid on in little taps over the washbasin. She turned on the third from the left and dabbed herself with chypre and, carrying her shoes and stockings in her hand, went out to see if one of the vibro-vacuum machines were free.

brave new world

 

I’ve heard that if you really like either 1984, Brave New World or The Handmaid’s Tale you are likely to struggle with the other two. This certainly rings true for me. I loved 1984 but found the writing in the other two dry with a plodding pace. In Brave New World, babies are born in hatcheries so no one has a family. Children are conditioned to consume and not to form emotional attachments.

The ideas are extremely interesting but I had trouble getting invested in the characters. Bernard sees the system’s flaws and is aware of the effects of the conditioning but is full of his own self-importance. ‘John the Savage’ acts as a contrast but this white man brought up on a Native American reservation never feels quite right. The final quarter where we learn more about rationalisation behind this brave new world is riveting but it’s all told by one of the World Controllers rather than shown.  I know it’s a monumental work of sci-fi literature but I base my ratings purely on my level of enjoyment so it’s a 3.5/5

 

Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter

“But I care, deeply. I find humans dull except in grief. There are very few in health, disaster, famine, atrocity, splendour or normality that interest me (interest ME!) but the motherless children do. Motherless children are pure crow. For a sentimental bird it is ripe, rich and delicious to raid such a nest.”

grief is the

I loved Lanny so much I thought I’d give this author’s debut book a try. It’s a novella dealing with grief as the title suggests.  We hear the different points of view of a bereaved family who have lost their wife and mother: ‘Dad’ and ‘The Boys’.

Dad is a Ted Hughes scholar and the third character we hear from is Crow (the title of a Ted Hughes book). He tells them he is there until they no longer need him and his parts are more in a form of prose poetry. Crow is a trickster and the most raw, brutal caregiver they could have. But then, what is more raw and brutal than grief?

They all react in both expected and unexpected ways, trying to deal with that which they have lost. The portrayal of a grieving family is touching and visceral. However, Crow is a pretty scary persona and it didn’t capture my heart in the way Lanny did.  3.75/5

 

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

dark matter

“I’ve always known, on a purely intellectual level, that our separateness and isolation are an illusion. We’re all made of the same thing—the blown-out pieces of matter formed in the fires of dead stars.”

Dark Matter has glowing reviews almost across the board. I’d classify it as a sci-fi thriller. Jason, a college lecturer with a wife and child, is abducted and drugged. When he wakes up, nearly everything has changed. People tell him he is a genius physicist but he’s also a single man without a family. It’s pretty obvious to the reader what has happens but it takes a while for him to catch up with us. I was inpatient for him to start solving the mystery and take action. When he does, the plot speeds up and it becomes gripping. I had questions about the logic of the science which meant I found it a bit frustrating. It’s a mind-binding read about identity and the turns we take and don’t take in life. 3.5/5

Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik

 

spinning silver

“Of course I was afraid. But I had learned to fear other things more: being despised, whittled down one small piece of myself at a time, smirked at and taken advantage of. I put my chin up and said, as cold as I could be in answer, “And what will you give me in return?”

Last year I read Naomi Novik’s novel Uprooted which had rave reviews but I rated 2/5. I loved the writing and setting but hated the way the male protagonist treated the female protagonist and their twisted relationship ruined it for me. I had the chance of reading Spinning Silver for 99p so thought I’d give Novik another try. Lucky I did, because this was just my cup of fairy-tale tea. There’s nothing I like more in January than an atmospheric, wintry read and this book is set in an imaginary realm called Lithvas (very like Russia) where the winters are getting longer and malevolent mythical creatures, the Staryk, are encroaching on the villagers more and more. One of the things I liked about the book the most is that the central family in the story are Jewish and it explores themes of anti-Semitism – not something I’ve seen in fantasy before. It revolves around three young women and the narrator switches many times without warning but it’s not difficult to work out who’s talking. I thought the way one of the women’s storylines was tied up was unnecessary but still had a great time with it. 4.75/5

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

“What do you think, would not one tiny crime be wiped out by thousands of good deeds?”

Vanessa mentioned in a post on Bonkers About Perfume that I had read 50 books last year and a commenter said that it’s more about quality than quantity, citing two Dostoyevskys being worth more than 50 Mister Men books. My reading level is a little above Mister Men but I took his point and decided to give Dostoyevsky’s most famous tome a try. I think my first error was choosing a book with a theme I have little to no interest in. I don’t care for crime fiction or the motivations of criminals and this book is a philosophical examination of crime and its consequences on the psyche of the criminal. Raskolnikov is an impoverished ex-law student who kills and robs an elderly woman he pawned some valuables to. He kills more out of a feeling of superiority and an intellectual test of character than financial need. Though he suffers a spiritual crisis as a result, he never feels remorse for the woman he murdered. He’s deeply unlikeable as are most of the male characters in the book. The ‘romance’ came from nowhere and the police investigator was ludicrous. But what makes it arduous are the interminable internal and external dialogues that are either like lectures or delirious ramblings.  I will say however, that it’s easy to read, the female characters are a saving grace and learning about Petersburg in the 1860s was interesting. I was much more engaged by the final quarter but this Russian classic just wasn’t for me. I tried, Roger, really I did.  Next time, I’ll take a run at Tolstoy instead. 2.5/5

crime and punish

 

Do you feel that you should make an effort to read books that are challenging or is okay just to read what appeals to you?

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