pay day







Today was my first pay day in four months, solid evidence in my pocket that I have, in fact, been working.


It has been exhausting. So much so that even starting to write this, whatever it might turn out to be, feels like an enormous effort. I thought that I should check in though, lest you think that I have disappeared from the face of the earth.


It has been a tremendous change. Good, in many ways (my teaching has never been better); I feel valued, welcomed back; liked: there is a certain societally accepted pleasure in the ‘dignity of labor’, I suppose- I am bringing home the bacon.


At the same time, the physical toll, on these pathetic legs of mine, has been quite considerable. My dreams also became immediately more turmoiled, violent ( as well as the love and the mutual energization there is also a certain violation of the psyche in the act of teaching – I have always felt that).


It is just so damn HARD to thrust yourself back into the ‘swing of things’ when your joints hurt so terribly from the effort of it : yes, increasingly I can walk without a stick and can even pick up a pace when I eventually get going; but standing in front of a class then sitting down, standing up again is like tearing limbs off a crustacean, like a bulldozer swearing through earth, a painful stretch of metal and atrophied muscle and ligaments and stiff, cartilaged tissue that leaves me feeling broken, ancient, and embarrassed.


And really tired. The first week, after the immense, soul-leavening effort of ‘communing’ with new students, walking distances with my backpack full of text books ( and perfumes materials, water; and sundries), when I finally got home from Yokohama to the handicapped bed in the kitchen, so depleted I felt despair, unable to move, I felt like throwing in the towel.


I HATE this new reality. My confidence and self-image have been significantly damaged. A stick is so incredibly aging. My gait has irrevocably altered. I feel ungainly, fat, and old.


And incredibly, ever more so, aware of smell. To a maniacal, Patrick Suskind, level of critical consciousness. My god, the breath and body odour of some of the teachers. The horror at the knowingness of my own smell, how it lingers like an Other now that I am in my new suits and my rosy, profiled template ( today I miraculously found two bottles of Parfums de Rosine Roseberry,  reportedly discontinued, just as I finished my what I thought might be my last bottle – I snapped both of them up on the spot and am really delighted ).


I need nice perfume now more than ever. It acts as a buffer, and a bridge. It restores a modicum of self dignity, it floats around my senses ; reminds me of sturdier, younger days.


Filed under Flowers

38 responses to “pay day

  1. Dear, dear Neil. I haven’t experienced what you’re going through, but I’ve seen it with Ric, coping with his legs post-surgery, and to that extent I can understand how you’re feeling.

    “I hate this new reality . . .” That short paragraph describes what Ric’s been struggling with. Sometimes I’m driven crazy with empathy and helplessness. So my heart goes out to you to, with no advice, no “chin up,” no cheerleading, no fortune-telling. My hope is that things will improve for you. And I am glad to hear that perfume is helping, that there are positive things to be found in being back at work, and that you found those two bottles of Roseberry.

    • It’s funny. Roseberry is a strange and imperfect perfume in many ways, strident and busy, with so many elements – the green notes, the wine lees, the blue chamomile, the rose, the almost jarring cassis, but somehow it has been perfect these last few months, and it is perhaps the first cross-over perfume I have ever found, as in one I am happy wearing at home and also at work. I usually have quite religious boundaries between them. This, though, smells really nice in small doses with a suit and shirt (and rose-scented washing powders and shampoos etc), but is divine combined with a bit of 19 as well at the weekend. D loves it on me, and I was getting genuinely anxious as I reached the bottom of the bottle the other day as I couldn’t quite decide what I could replace it with. Finding a shop that just happened to smell a few Rosines, including this one, at my local department store was thus a minor miracle.

      AS for legs…..I have wondered how Ric has been getting on. It definitely almost feels like a slight on your character when you are a person who is used to moving around and walking a lot and suddenly you can’t – he sounds like a very active man who really doesn’t need to be sitting around feeling less than full capacity. The problem is that I don’t have sufficient muscle strength yet, and whereas you might think that walking a lot would be the thing to get your legs back to normal, apparently it isn’t – it just puts terrible stress on the joints. I thus have to keep doing physiotherapy and trying to do the necessary exercises, crunching the vile feelings inside and hope they coalesce into something resembling legs.

      At the same time, it is important to put things into perspective. There are people with MS, with amputations, with actual paralysis. I can walk, and therefore probably shouldn’t even be complaining. I feel guilty for doing so, but last night I just felt like I should write something and it turned into a pity me piece on the bus.

      • You’ve touched on something important about pain and disability, temporary or otherwise: the psychological element. Sometimes, for Ric, that is worse than the physical. He feels . . . diminished. I honour him for it: that part of his sense of self is in the doing, not just the being. For him, too, there is a fear that wasn’t there before. It’s a sense that things will get worse, not better. A kind of insidious pessimism that’s hard to shake. I don’t think it’s entrenched (yet), but I worry. I hope there will be more and more good days, fewer and fewer bad, for the two of you. Early days, still, so considerable room for optimism. I understand that it’s not easy to be patient with this extended process of recovery. I wish you the very, very best, N.

      • I can feel it all the way here in Japan. Arigato. I actually suddenly had a flash of panic like that last night in bed – oh my god, if this is chronic arthritis, which it is, then what is the future going to be like. And then we watched Soul Power, about the James Brown/Muhammed Ali Zaire 74 historic boxing and music event, and I was watching all the dancers and the sheer energy and thought, no I AM going to walk. So now I am going to have a eucalyptus and lavender bath, do some exercises, have brunch with D, and then I AM going to walk down to where we used to walk on Sundays to buy provisions. That IS happening today.

  2. MrsDalloway

    Thanks for updating us. It sounds gruelling and exhausting – hope the roses help and things get easier soon.

  3. Thanks for posting Neil and glad that you are starting to get back your life. Although I can’t imagine what you have been through and are still adapting to, I can relate in a similar way but won’t go into that. I think it’s great that you are back at work and back into picking up great finds in perfumes. Perfume and music are very therapeutic for me and have gotten me through a lot of difficulties. I hope that your legs will continue to improve.


    Welcome back Neil, you really have been missed. We have both been very concerned as you were not on your blog and we know what it means to you.
    So it’s great you are back and as time passes you will gain your youthful self again. Happy days.
    Love Daphne and Rod xx

    • Thanks Daphne and Rod.

      You are right – usually I can’t stop myself from writing, but these last few weeks I have just been too utterly exhausted to even contemplate it. Duncan thinks I am doing better than I do – I definitely have more mobility and as I said speed, but I am really surprised at how much my joints still really hurt. I thought that by this stage, over six months, it would all feel a lot more normal.

  5. Tara C

    So glad to hear from you and know that you are back at work and fighting your way back to full mobility. It will take time but I trust that a year from now you will feel much closer to your old self. And congratulations on the perfume score!

    • Thanks Tara. Right now I can’t actually imagine being able to get back to my former self, but it is worth believing in! I know you love roses too – any good new ones recently? I don’t need oudh, and I don’t need prissy, just roses that feel gorgeous and right.

      • Tara C

        Haven’t been buying much lately, but I enjoyed smelling the new flanker to the Bottega Veneta line, Eau de Velours. It has rose and plum layered over the regular suede base, which I love. Other than that, mostly old favourites: Dior Gris Montaigne, Tauer PHI Rose de Kandahar, Papillon Perfumery Tobacco Rose, L’Artisan Voleur de Roses.

      • Haven’t worn Voleur in twenty years – almost fancy it again actually; Papillon I am still to smell but for some reason I think I would like that line. Loved the opening of Kandahar, but not what came later.. ( I just can’t abide all that woody stuff in these perfumes).

  6. Glad you’re “getting there”. I know it takes time, but you’ll be there soon enough. As far as ungainly fat and old, welcome to my world….which is my normal! xxoxo

  7. empliau

    The return to the classroom has always been, for me, equal parts reassuring and jarring: I feel, when things are going well, myself plus a little more, able to communicate, alight to teach what I love — and yet there is always the asymmetry, the inability to be sure that the students are truly listening (a very bad job on those weary days that verge on paranoid). In pain it is multiplied. I am so sorry.

    I hope it is not facile to say that I have always longed for a walking stick, although I suppose, like curly hair, (when I had straight hair I permed it; now I have curly hair I laboriously blow it straight) its appeal decreases with the decrease in one’s choice. Still, it is elegant. John Peel’s umbrella – Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey — the list is long. I am sure when you are feeling well you are a style icon with your stick!

    • Funnily enough, when I first went back to work (thank god D bought me two nice new suits), one of the teachers said ‘Your walking stick becomes you’, which I thought was rather nice. There IS a certain dandified quality to it, actually – I know exactly what you mean. I just feel that my legs aren’t moving properly; awkwardly so actually elegance is an extremely remote possibility I am afraid.

      Regarding teaching, I don’t know if I actually teaching what I love. I mean I love English as a language, hence The Black Narcissus, but don’t know if I have an actual passion for teaching it to other people. I like it enough though, and like you say, you can feel almost like an augmented self – your real being plus a more powerful side, almost like a vessel of human connection and encouragement. I do love the positive power that it can have, for sure. But at the same time, I am also something of a weirdo introvert/extrovert in that I am a natural showoff and exhibitionist in some ways but also hypersensitive and sociophobic, something that most of the teachers in my school definitely aren’t. Sometimes I feel like Janet Frame, the artist in Jane Campion’s An Angel At My Table, freaking out at the blackboard and just wanting to hide in the bath. Fortunately, I have enough free time to make it all balance out usually; it’s just that right now, the change from an indolent convalescence to full schedule of exam students is a really big shock to the system.

  8. I just want to reach across the digital universe to give you a big hug, Neil. You have been through a radical and invasive bilateral surgery that will take more time than you thought to heal, fully. Take it easy, on your bod and on yourself!! You will slowly reach fitness and feelings of ease and comfort again. Thank you for keeping us posted. Hugs and strength.

    • Thanks so much Tora. I will have to keep that phrase – ‘a radical and invasive bilateral surgery’ in mind to remind myself that it is indeed something very major and I perhaps need to be more patient about it all.

  9. Good to hear from you again, Neil. I am glad you are working. As you say, so important for the psyche. I can’t imagine the physical pain you must be experiencing. So will spare you any well-intentioned platitudes. I am also a big believer in the power of perfume to uplift the spirits. R

    • I don’t think my pain is at the excruciating levels that lots of people do have on a daily basis – it is certainly bearable. I would just rather deal with it in private, rather than in front of a classroom of students!

      As you say, though, we are lucky to have the capacity to be so receptive to the beauty of smell – I think for the vast majority of people it is a nothing of no importance. For us it can be something almost verging on transcendent.

  10. Can I please send you a virtual hug…I’m wearing Silent Films by Goest. I really enjoy your writing style!

  11. So glad to “hear” from you … I don’t think anyone who hasn’t taught understands the enormous expenditure of energy a good teacher experiences while teaching. And I am quite, quite sure you are a very good teacher. I hope you find some FABULOUS walking sticks to go with your fabulous perfumes, including the heaven-sent Roseberry. I also hope you will write when you are able about any changes in your perceptions of fragrances! Serenity now …

    • Arigato. I wonder what it is about Roseberry that it drawing me so much at the moment. I am still keeping an eye out for the new version, Clair Matin was it, that you also recommended.

      ‘Enormous expenditure of energy……’ – yes, it really is like that if you actually want to make it work and for everyone to enjoy it – I suppose I just can’t stand lacklustre lessons and so totally go for it, at a cost…

  12. David

    I am sending you my best. I know how hard it is to put on a brave face to face students. When I was in Japan, I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and it took every ounce of my energy to dredge up the enthusiasm to go to work. But somehow you just get on with things. Perfume helped. That’s when I was deep in my Tom Ford Private Blend days. Tuscan Leather gave me strength. (I don’t wear it anymore because it brings up some strong emotions…. it also has that cocaine note…. best keep clear of that). I hope writing can be a therapy for you. I miss it when you don’t post. Your writing is so alive!

  13. emmawoolf

    I hope that, as the days go by, it all gets a little less tiring, you feel less weary and embarrassed, and that things continue on this upward trend. As you say, there is definitely something in the dignity of labour. And I’m very glad to hear that good perfume is providing some solace. After months of not being able to go anywhere near the stuff, I’m rediscovering some old favourites. Onwards and upwards xx

    • Thanks E. Actually, writing this made me buck up a bit and at the weekend I went for a walk and a bike ride for the first time and felt more positive. It’s embarrassing to feel sorry for yourself so publically but I think it nudged me in some way psychologically doing so.

  14. Sighhh, here you are ! I really missed your postings. I was nearly getting worried about you, seriously ! But, it is obvious that you are doing great by looking at your replies to the readers.
    If a person knows how to walk properly between two totally opposite sharp, tiny, fragile,sides of mental situation back and forth the rest of is matter of time for him or her.

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