I was very bolstered up, moved even, by the great advice and support I received yesterday when I wrote up my ridiculous post about the knee surgery I will unfortunately have to have done. Although the piece was much more facetious and deliberately over-the-top than some people seem to have realized  (I was sending myself up, basically, and it was essentially intended to be comic: I was chuckling to myself the whole time I was writing it – I do realize that knee surgery is hardly the end of the world): it was, still, nevertheless all true, and I was, as you could tell, genuinely quite disturbed at the news that I would have to be sliced up. I do have, however, the fantastic precendent of my dad, who several years ago was actually wheel-chair-bound his knees were in such horrendous shape, but who then, having had knee replacement surgery on both knees, went on to win second prize in a hotel dance contest in Havana. With my mum whooping and cheering, he was apparently spinning around with some gorgeous señorita on stage to the wild applause of the audience, not only getting over his painful knee surgeries but twisting and shouting like a superstar. I really love that story, and know that my ‘ripped little meniscus’ thing is nothing in comparison. I am inspired by his positive attitude, but I have to say that yesterday, getting all those practical, useful and heartfelt responses from you was remarkably, and equally uplifting.  Arigato. I feel quite embarrassed now for making such a big deal about it all, even if in its entirety, the piece was meant to be taken in jest.



I haven’t even been doing The Black Narcissus for even two years yet, but yesterday really made me realize how truly precious it is to me. I am the kind of person that needs to express himself or die for some reason, so the second I got home from the clinic, although I had planned another perfume review instead, I felt immediately compelled to somehow get the experience off my chest, before going out for an evening of piano duets with my friend Yoko at my piano teacher’s house that also really helped to put things in perspective and make me realize the true beauty of this life (we are doing a transcription for two pianos of Ravels’ Piano Concerto in G for piano and orchestra, the exquisitely heartrending second movement that I used to get all emotional to when I listened continually to my record at university: I had shivers going all down my spine yesterday when we started to get bits of it right).



Although it is strange that I am writing, essentially, into a void, and have no idea who might be reading at any given time, I still feel quite often that I am writing for friends. We haven’t met, but I feel that I know many of you in some way. I love the connection. You know, I used to be a whole lot lonelier here in Japan. Though I am blessed to have many friends, both here, in England, and in other countries as well, due to my time schedule, coming home late at night with Duncan already asleep, my social life until a few years ago, pre-Narcissus and Facebook, was limited to weekends and the odd Friday night, and in truth I was spending way too much time by myself in a peculiar loveless void of mornings with nothing to do, just staring into space, and colleagues, when I got to work, with whom I would often exchange not much more than pleasantries. I need more, and I was often, to be honest, at times  really quite isolated and depressed.



In the regular conversations we now have on here, as well as other wonderful perfume blogs, I feel as if I am really part of a community. We naughtily send each other samples of perfumes across the world, disguising them as other things to circumvent the ludicrous anti-terrorist current post office conventions, even though we have never seen each other’s faces: there is a trust, a generosity of spirit, a wanting to go beyond the boringness of everyday life and to let our romantic spirits soar in a way you somehow just can’t do elsewhere. And I think that perfume is the perfect medium for this, as it encapsulates so much. It is not fixed like cinema, literature or the visual arts, which are obviously open to much interpretation and individual response but are yet more undeniably there in their undeniable, physical reality for all to analyze and ponder over. With its invisibility, its searing emotivity, its inextricable bonding to personal experience, perfume lets something in the soul become released, and to share those different experiences with people all over the world, in different time zones, with different occupations, viewpoints, and ways of living, strikes me as a very beautiful thing. In essence, yesterday I knew I just had to vent (plus the whole idea of ‘What Perfume To Wear For ‘The Big Day’ struck me as strangely hilarious, the black humour of what perfume to wear for an operation enjoyably cathartic for me: I couldn’t resist it).



In truth, I know that I do lose readers sometimes for my salty language and the occasionally unconventional stance I might take on what is ‘suitable’ for a perfume blog post, but you know, I really just don’t care. I don’t want to compromise. I will just write whatever I want to write, even if it means that The Black Narcissus might not ever become the more ‘popular’ entity it could potentially be if I were to just reign myself in a bit (a lot). The thing is, being held back and distant; ‘politesse’, and the whole idea of a ‘correct way of doing things’ bores me to death, as does the whole ‘beauty editor’ approach to perfume, which is too obsequious, shallow, and cannily ‘respectful’ in my view. I like a wider perspective: something that encompasses life, and death, the beyond; sex, our childhoods, our loves, our disappointments, our dreams; art, cinema, music, history, all of which is tied up in perfume, which drifts its oneiric tentacle silks over each experience and lets us dip back into it like a well; I LOVE IT. And I truly thank you for reading the blog, and also, yesterday, for helping to make a hysterical hypochondriac feel much better. It was an ENORMOUS help and I kiss you for it.




Last night, while doing my knee exercises (Duncan did them with me to show me how to do it as I am crap at understanding instructions), I reached out for a bit of a perfumed accompaniment so as not to be too entirely tied to reality, and on the side was a vial of something called Raghba. I didn’t know what it was, or who it was by, but the lovely Victoria R recently sent me a fantastic package of vanilla-based perfumes, as I will soon be hobbling along to Perfume Lovers London to do my thing on vanilla scents and she wanted to introduce me to some vanillas I still had not managed to get my hands on (including the mighty Tihota by Indult, which got used up in one weekend; it really is the holy grail that everyone says it is; the vanilla lover’s vanilla – GORGEOUS). I will be writing about some of these over the next couple of weeks, as well as talking more about vanilla in general, a note I love to death, but Raghba was something I had never heard of, as were many of the perfumes in the package.




Anyway, I put some on and got to work on the stretches.







You know, I think the main problem with a lot of Arab perfume is that it makes you realize how crappy much western scent is in comparison.  Definitely including ‘niche’ as well, which is often just so…..pretentious and overcomplicated ( I am talking to you, Bertrand Duchaufour, among many others): so bloody cerebral, thin, and overconceptualized, disappointing and conservative when all you want most of the time is something that just smells gorgeous; full; sensual. The Arab perfumers know this, because Arab cultures themselves appreciate perfume so much more than any other culture on earth. They douse themselves; they love it; they wear it, they LIVE IT. It is an essential part of existence; it gives pleasure, it purifies, it helps us bond, being something to share and comment on: it fills the air with goodness.





And Raghba Bakhoor Sweet Vanilla by Lattafa of Dubai, an inexpensive little thing when I looked it up, just smells delicious. A rich, sweet, rosy, oudhy, powdery, ambered, almondy, sugared cherry wood-shavings smell that just runs so smooth in that overdosed, seamless way that only Arab perfumes have that I will have to try and look it up when I go through Dubai International Airport in two weeks’ time on my way back to England (flying Emirates for the first time – are they good? Is Dubai duty free the exciting place I am imagining it will be?). I like this kind of perfume, one that just puts me in a good mood, even if I am less overstruck on the sandalwoodish base than I would be if it were pure vanilla or amber. Nevertheless, it lifts the spirits, it is blooming and sensual, and it is the kind of perfume that would make you warm to whoever was wearing it, in a doctor’s waiting room, a school, on the street. You would just like this person, somehow. The scent is full of heart: generous, sweet. Much like the readers of this blog.





Filed under Flowers


  1. jtd0000

    Ditto to everything you say. Amen!

    Now go feel better and we’ll be here when you resurface. I’ll regale you with stories of American hospitals and the lethal consequences of perfume use. best, jtd

  2. Cath

    Hi dear,
    I’m so glad to hear your spirits are up, as I was really worried about you (see my FB message to you, LOL).
    Raghba is a very good deal for its price, oh yes! I blind bought it over a year ago expecting I don’t know what, a lot of Oud I guess, and found it not what I had hoped for, but still very good. These days I am very much into dry and smoky scents, and I think it’s about time I take Raghba out of its hiding place. Thank you for reminding me I have it 😉

    • It just smelled very easy on the nose and easy on the aura. A pleasure: something simple but rich. Love those kinds of smells, though as I said, when I woke up this morning I was less excited about the dry down as I have a synthetic sandalwood phobia like you wouldn’t believe.

      Glad you have found the Bal A Versailles you were looking for, by the way. Extrait? Online? In good condition? I am delighted you fell for it in such a good way. As for those mystery vials, I will have to look for them first. I seriously have NO system, and things get mislaid in the pigsty that is my life. x

      • Cath

        Take it easy, I’ll patiently wait for your reply and hopefully you’ll be able to clear the mystery of the vial, LOL.
        As for BAV, I found the EDC, EDT and perfume, all vintage and now I’m happy. Prices were ok considering, not steals, but still very reasonable.(got them on the local auction site as I can’t locate a decent second hand shop in Osaka or surroundings). I’ve been going a little crazy with the shopping though…there are still gems to be found at good prices, but raging bidding wars similar as on eBay are also plenty. We’re not the only ones who know a good fume apparently.

      • Which strength do you prefer?

      • Don’t you think that the cologne is in some ways more animalic? It might be, but the extrait is just so divine I just smother myself in it and wait for the magic to start. What does your poor Japanese husband think of it all?

      • Cath

        I prefer the EDT, the EDC was a little “weak” for me, hahaha. I’ll send you some so you can test it.
        My poor hubby? He doesn’t comment, but then again he doesn’t know everything. When he comes home I’ve usually showered so he doesn’t smell my fumes, and when we go out I choose something sensible. Also, he’s a smoker (bah) and constantly says he can’t smell anything. The rare time he spontaneously complimented me on a perfume was when I wore Fracas.

      • Ooh that is interesting, somehow.

        But those that smoke don’t entirely have the right to comment anyway when it comes to the odour stakes n’est-ce pas?

      • Cath

        Exactement mon ami!
        He’s not allowed to smoke inside, and tries to keep it to a minimum when we go out because he knows how much I hate it. He probably dislikes my shopping too, but what he doesn’t know can’t hurt him.

  3. Tora


  4. I am so glad that your spirits are up and look forward toward your thoughts on Dubai–a place (along with Japan) I would love to travel to but know that I probably will never get there due to monetary restrictions.

    • Japan sure ain’t cheap, it has to be said, but once you are here there are certainly ways to live in expensively: a lot of the food is truly excellent value.

      Dubai will only be the airport, unfortunately, but even that is somehow exciting for me.

      • Nancysg

        I have never been in the Emirates Airline part of the Dubai airport. But if it is at all like the other building, it is an experience in itself. Big metallic palm trees that light up. You know you are someplace different. The
        Duty Free is an amazing range of perfumes. Hope you have a long enough layover to explore it all. Dubaiscents can fill you in on details.

      • You know I was hoping we could meet up on the way back. I have an eight hour lay-over…..

        Not sure if she has been reading this recently though.

        Love the idea of the airport! Can’t wait.

  5. Nancysg

    Dubaiscents has been busy moving and starting new job recently. But I know she reads you when she has time. I have mentioned this particular blog post to her to make sure she sees it. Hope an airport meeting can happen.

    • Wouldn’t that be great? Thanks.

      • Rafael

        That Dubai Duty Free is I think the last bastion on earth where you can still get 8, 16 and 32 oz sizes of fragrance. How lucky! Where are you off to that makes Dubai a pit stop?

      • Dubaiscents

        Hello, sorry for the late reply! As my mom said, I have been really caught up in moving and new job so I am really far behind on my blog ready (really far!). The Duty Free in the Emirates Airlines terminal is quite amazing just for the shear size and variety of the perfume section. Definitely a good place to pick up some Amouage or Armani Prive if you are looking for the best price. And there are a decent amount of local Arab brands but, not as many as you might expect. They are certainly catering to a more mixed clientele (as you would expect at an airport!). However, beside the perfume section make sure to check out the area where they sell the “traditional” gifts because they have perfumes in that section as well. As with all perfumes there are the good and bad but, you are correct, the traditional Arab scents are usually much bolder than you can find in Western brands and the price is always good. And when your nose needs a break stop at Pinkberry for some yummy frozen yogurt 🙂
        I would absolutely love to meet you on your layover but, the move I made recently has me living in Abu Dhabi now and not in Dubai (do I need to change my screen name?). This is about an hour and half drive from the Dubai airport. If you happen to be here on the weekend (Friday or Saturday) and want to make a short excursion out of the airport then I would be more than happy to come up and take you around. We can see quite a bit just by one trip to the Dubai Mall (or somewhere smaller if it is better for your knee!) Let me know your plans. Do you still have my email address?

      • I think so, and you are tremendously kind. It would be amazing to meet up, but I don’t know if you are allowed out of the airport on a transit flight. Usually you have to stay in the glassed off area. It’s a shame though as I have an eight hour layover and I would like to meet you!

        If I can’t though, it is great to know that I can at least have a leisurely stroll around the airport. I mean Heathrow is like hell on earth for me, so stressful and dingy and overcrowded. Other airports, like Kuala Lumpur, you could practically move into.

        Are the Arab perfumes really expensive? I am kind of over Oudhs, to be honest, but I LOVE some of the unpronounceable, sweet and cherry almondy type scents that you sent me. I haven’t got round to reviewing them yet, but I really liked that one…..something musk which was just so huge and floral and sense surrounding.

        How is Abu Dhabi different to Dubai, incidentally? I don’t know that much about the nuances of culture between the Emirates…

  6. Lilybelle

    Aww, I think we got that your post was partially tongue in cheek. 😉 On that note, I wonder what fragrance I’ll be wearing on the day I die? Or what will be the last thing I smell before my spirit shuffles off this mortal coil? I think it may be important. In the meantime we can enjoy all the lovely smellies we like. I’m glad you’re up and looking forward to your trip. I think this is one of my favorites of your posts. It’s so true what you say, perfume making a family of us all over the world, and how ephemeral yet indelible and soulful it is. Will we ever get enough of it? I can’t imagine that.

  7. Yes! I love Ravel. Don’t stop the ‘salty’ language :). You’re a great writer, you sum it all up so well (which is obviously not a great way of putting it), you live through it, unlike those ‘cannily respectful’ beauty writers you have much better, bigger ambitions. I also love that you sometimes feel like you’ve gone too far, when you’ve actually just done something great. And yesterday’s post was a riveting read, in addition to everyone’s predominant concern, the humour and over the top-ness not lost at all.

  8. Sally M

    To the dogs with political correctness I say. I get so fed up these days with having to think thrice before I speak – will this person be offended, is that the right expression to use blah,blah, blah. I so appreciate the way you write, “warts and all” – its a genuine reflection on your life and lets face it, life is often more about the warts. Sharing with others is very cathartic so don’t tone it down, just know that most of us can relate, and the ones that don’t will move along. I’m relatively new to perfume blogs – have been reading everything I can get my eyes on for about 6 months now – and much prefer the “tell it how it is” approach. I do appreciate the straightforward perfume reviews (just the facts ma’am), because after all, I want to learn about new stuff and am interested in hearing others’ opinions about stuff I am already familiar with, so they definitely have a place. BUT I much prefer to read posts when the personality of the writer comes through, when something is shared of their life behind the screen – where they live, things they see and hear and smell when they step outside, what they do in “real” life when not immersed in the perfume world. Its a connection thing. I’ve truly enjoyed hearing about your life in Japan and can often picture what you have experienced though your evocative words.
    I can so relate to the feelings of moving to another country; I moved to the US from the UK 29 years ago, and while I didn’t have the issues with language as you do, there are enough differences between “Mercan English and British English to have initially caused me some problems – some hilarious, others frustrating. My first Christmas here, I determined to make a “proper” Christmas cake so I wouldn’t feel so far away and actually burst into tears in Safeway when they didn’t know what marzipan was!!
    I too experienced an intense feeling of loneliness when I first came – true that I had my husband with me (he’s the reason I moved here) but everything was just so off kilter. I remember wanting to do things that were quintessentially British – I watched endless reruns of tv shows such as All Creatures Great and Small and As Time Goes By, searched out British food stores so I could have Branston Pickle and Chocolate digestives.
    So, what I am trying to say in this longwinded way, is don’t change the way you write; your blog is all about you and – well – this is you.

    • This is very gratifying to read. Love the ‘think thrice before I speak’ quote: I know exactly what you mean, as I am incapable of it.

      As for American culture, I had double
      culture shock when I came here, working with many Americans in the first Japanese company I was working for. I was so much wrapped in my sly, ‘ironic’ British carapace that I didn’t know what had hit me, to be honest.

      Ultimately, it’s all good for us I think.

  9. I love reading your blog, I love your stories, and I love your language. I don’t comment very much, but I’m always here. Don’t lose your salt. And best wishes on the knee operation. Something citrus always feels comforting to me in such situations.

  10. I love reading your blog too, dearest Neil! And that includes all the salty language! So what if followers come and followers go. Sometimes I think that some people just follow other people’s blogs just so that they can increase the number of their own. But the ones that stay, keep up and keep with you, well, they are precious — just like good friends.

    Speaking of which, after having met so many blogging friends in real life, I no longer believe that there is really much of a difference between so-called virtual life and plain old life. Every single meeting felt like seeing old friends, but kind of like old friends in HD 🙂 And I’m sure that the day that we meet, it will be the same!

    Also, I must sincerely apologize for the long delay in getting you your sample of Tihota! I see that someone has beat me to it and as I look at this little pile that I have on my desk destined for you in Japan, I feel terribly guilty for not managing to make it to the post office before they close! If you do not mind a sample repeat, I would still very much like to send it along. Please do let me know and many, many, many apologies for the delay!

    • You know, I desperately need Tihota for my vanilla lovers talk in London on the 27th. I think it is the only one that I haven’t got for it, and yet it is the most important.

      Although it is incredibly cheeky, if you could send it to 20 Woodside Way Solihull UK B91 1HB that would be a godsend!

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