What do you do when war breaks out?

A colossal, brutalizing attack, with potentially catastrophic consequences for the whole world?

When you are deeply horrified about what is happening, feel terribly for the people being bombed and killed but can do nothing except show your support in your heart (or perhaps more pragmatically, with your wallet) ?

It is hard to wake up to; a dark, depressing stain on your consciousness, a miserable, unneeded reality even when these events are unfolding in Ukraine over 8,000 miles away to the west.

The options: read the newspaper cover to cover, check the news; sigh; and/or feel despair (as one person said on social media recently – “Congratulations. You survived the pandemic. Your reward is World War III“). Not that a global conflict is imminent or guaranteed at this stage – and wouldn’t that just mean mutual annihilation in any case? – but it does seem certain that we are all going to be bearing the brunt of this beady-eyed asshole’s nationalistic pointlessnesses for a good long while, be it simply in terms of spiralling fuel costs, faltering economies, added mental anguish – which could be quite considerable – and/or worrying about relations or friends who are affected directly; in my case I have two Ukrainian friends living in Tokyo, one of whose mother is in Kyiv as the missiles are landing, causing her unspeakable uncertainty, anxiety and heartache.

I don’t want Russians to be my enemy. I don’t even think that the vast majority of them want this. From what is being said, it seems that half of Putin’s close advisors didn’t even know what was happening until the assault was already underway; protesters are already being locked up; the dictator’s chokehold on the nation is tight, though I hope not airlocked – surely there will eventually be dissent from within; presumably the majority of sensible, thinking people will see this tyrant for the small-pricked evil that he is (and please forgive my somewhat flippant tone in my Rose De Russie piece from the other day : naively, I really didn’t think that he would go through with it).

Despite the swift and far-reaching global condemnation, a Certain Person found it advisable and ‘provocative’ to admire Vladmir’s strategic ‘genius’ , taking his continuing and embarrassing ‘outrageousness’ into the realm of the surrealistic and almost grimly humourous. I have truly had enough of these swaggering dickheads, though. As David Brooks wrote scathingly in the New York Times editorial yesterday, there is an immediate, very pressing need to ‘defeat the mini Putins now found across the Western democracies.……the demagogues who lie with Putinesque brazenness’ (we have one of those in my own country), ‘………………who shred democratic institutions with Putinesque bravado; who strut the world’s stage with Putin’s amoral schoolboy machismo , while pretending to represent all that is traditional and holy’.

Yes. Precisely. I stand and piss over and into the faces of these smug bastards with their backward and retrograde policies that benefit no-one except their own sad philosophies, based on outmoded concepts of national manly prowess and strength; I spit directly in their eye. How dare that outdated fuck talk of denazifying the Ukraine when the president is a Jewish man? How dare he shoot missiles into the homes of people just going about their daily business for no reason other than territorial expansion and the maintaining of the ‘national pride’?

Is this really what the world needs? Is it what Russian needs? Is it truly in the best interest of Russians themselves (and shouldn’t that be the number one priority of a nation’s ‘leader’?) What will they, the people, themselves gain from this except becoming international pariahs who will pay the inevitable cost when the economic sanctions start taking effect? Will they really rejoice and celebrate, when a country that is known as a ‘brother’ to them is put under military siege, with all the bloodshed and loss of life that will automatically entail, creating a populace seething with visceral hatred who will never accept the fact that their democratic right to exist has been taken away from them and seek vengeance for the deaths of their loved ones?

No. It is all such a blindness, a tragic mistake from an isolated, sad, angry, ageing man (it is always men, isn’t it), full of ‘patriotic’ grievances and vitriol and stuck in the calcified past of history instead of looking forward, and not creating – no – just destroying.

Saturday morning.

You wake up furious at the wrongness and injustice of it all.

And also angry and exasperated for the simple, selfish reason that you have just endured two years of a cripplingly stressful pandemic and now, your nerves still partially in shreds and not healed, have to contend with the fact that the months and years ahead will now be dominated by a unwarranted act of aggression that will have drastic repercussions for most of humanity (I was hoping to be able to fly back in August, for instance, which will already be three and half years without seeing my family – who knows what escalations might occur in terms of airspace; we all remember the Malaysian airlines passenger plane shot down over Ukraine in 2014); with the sheer number of countries involved, and potentially unforseen eventualities :; so many things we used to take for granted could possibly be affected.

Will this literally turn into a World War III?

So much will be touched by this.

By one man’s narcissistic, barbaric, xenophobic, idiocy.

Despite all the turmoil, though, you do still sometimes need to go out.

To just have a day out, a normal day out, and celebrate the fact that where you are at least, things are alright, pretty much (even when, and this goes without saying, almost every country on earth has its own shamefully violent, history, including of course this one, though very much swept under the collective rug in this secretive, always ambiguous place’s particular case ……………. )

But still. It’s the weekend.

And waking up I suddenly felt like going to a cafe D had once mentioned, a while back, down by the lotus pond at the Hachimangu shrine, because I had never been there, and it was a glorious day with a bright blue sky, and I felt like being in the former ancient zen capital because in Japanese companies, you aren’t really allowed to talk about politics — so my head was quite frankly going to burst otherwise (one teacher, a Russian major at Tokyo University and a co-teacher of the entrance exam course we do together discussed the situation gravely in a low voice with me, but otherwise, eyes were averted whenever the topic was brought up (why?) as though I were committing an unpardonable social faux pas by stepping outside of polite conversation or the immediate milieu. Hello. A possible world war has just started? ).

Sometimes the sheer placid harmony of this largely peaceful and urbane culture strikes me as deeply admirable; a well of calm and unthreatening politesse that is very easy for a person to live in; at other times it all just seems like a pathetic evasion, a brainwashed docility in which in certain, pre-coded situations you are not really permitted to talk about anything and therefore have no agency; all quite problematic, actually….. …… …

…………….but right at that particular moment, I was just in the mood for cake or dessert: to sit, ponder; look out onto the small lake and drink some tea.

At our window seat, next to the bare brown pond, we didn’t talk much.

D seems to be extremely down about all of this : taciturn and rather sombre. All weekend he has been quiet and reflective; depressed; listless.

Despite this, it was still nice to just be there, and look out onto the dark water.

Just be together.

The mood outside, generally in the temple precinct, among the local residents and out of town visitors was definitely more upbeat though; festive; a gorgeous day, a free Saturday; young women in kimono just out in the sun, having fun.

Something quite fascinating about spying on a pair of friends good-naturedly spying on other similarly dressed girls (they didn’t seem to know each other); pleasing to see the traditional garb being adapted slightly to modern trends – I saw another pair strolling down the main thoroughfare of Kamakura city looking looser, just chatting and laughing, and enjoying the unusually warm spring weather.

We ourselves, looking on from a distance, rather than indulge in all this gently oblivious frolicking, had our own destination : the beloved Zushi recycle shop, because it is a place out of the way of the city centre that we both feel an absolute peace in. Calm browsers; people enjoying their weekend together, picking up antiques and fun bargains – not bombing innocent civilians into rivers of blood, initiating mass refugee crises, shooting Ukrainians in the head, annihilating and trying to subjugate an entire culture – but instead, the way humanity should be; a civilized society in which everyone can go about their daily lives, unsurveilled, with total freedom of movement and expression – (despite the ‘silent rules’ of daily Japanese communication mentioned above, by legal rights you can say what you like; do what you like; I feel an immense sensation of liberty on my days off here; it is respectful, respectable, polite, safe, and very often sincerely beautiful ; hopefully the country has learned its lessons about the disasters of colonial expansionism, as has my own country of birth) – in other words, just stay the fuck where you are and try living instead of enslaving everybody else.

We stayed for a while and rummaged, wandering around; picking up a few bits and pieces – a gold obi that D will refashion into a cushion; some more rabbit and hare figurines for our collection ( I love them ); a lovely silk scarf that I bought for myself but which looks better on him; a bird-shaped ocarina.

We left the gun.

On the perfume shelf, I was quite elated to find a used and very vintage bottle of Creed’s cold war era ‘Orange Spice’ for virtually no charge, with its original leather cap and gold finery still intact (clearly a precursor to Yves Saint Laurent’s Kouros – they are almost identical – this is an intricately spicy ambergris orange that I always used to like and nearly bought on numerous occasions, hovering about department stores until its unfortunate disappearance : I look forward, now, to enjoying it when the moment is right; perhaps on a hot summer’s night : one of those moments when you need to just drown yourself in an exuberant odour just because ; because the world is unbearable, or the world is exquisitely beautiful – and so is life – and you just want to gild it with a scent and have pleasure and enjoyment, not obsess like a c*** over territorial lines and dusty old maps and the fucking ‘glory days’ of when you bestrode the world clad in the stinking malingering skins of dead wild beasts dreaming of ‘reconquering’ places that just want to be left alone ; whose people are just eager to get on with their own, very precious individual lives.

No: instead, like the famous Russian tea shops in Moscow and St. Petersburg, with their classical samovars and rose-savoured jams, in place of pointless and malignant destruction, and killing people for the sake of maintaining your autocracy and stirring up imagined electoral ‘fervour’ to shore up your fraying and mouldering, vile dictatorship, you gaily spray on a rare, extra-strength parfum version of the classic Perfumer’s Workshop soliflore Tea Rose, with its roses that go on for days; fresh and clean, with a delicate, floral strength just for the sheer pleasure ; rather than rampaging in death; and wasteful killing, and meaningless, nihilistic violence. Yes. In its place, you put on some of your preferred , beautifully made and emotion enhancing perfume of the day and rejoice, for that one glorious moment, in being alive.


Filed under Flowers


  1. Emma Fushimi

    Powerful writing, Neil, in these sombre times…
    And then such loveliness in Kamakura and Zushi!

    • Yes – we are lucky to live here aren’t we ?

      Perhaps a strange contrast, the war and a normal day out, but it seemed real and appropriate to me somehow.

      Thanks for reading and commenting. This kind of intense post makes me feel exposed !

      • Emma Fushimi

        No, not strange at all – it was the contrast that was so good! It made it more powerful

      • Thanks for saying so.

        Impossible not to have a heavy heart at present, but there is no point, at the same time, just moping about.

        Let’s go out soon and discuss it all and everything else in person.

  2. Un plaer tornar a llegir-te. Per la pena bélica avui trobo consol amb lavanda, inocent, sencilla i intimista. Escrius molt bé, tant quan parles de perfums com de tragèdies horripilants.

  3. Liz

    Life is very short. Seek God while you still can. I walked into TJ Maxx this week. Like a fool. I bought two bottles of Elizabeth and James Rose and an Escada fragrance.

  4. I struggle with many things, especially many things that are mentioned in the body of your work.
    I also pray for peace. I know that sounds hypocritical coming from me, but I do mean this.

    • Me too in my own way.

      I would be extremely happy if the talks they will be having come to something.

      Perhaps the brave and vehement Ukrainian response will actually deter him on top of the deep repudiation by everybody else.

  5. That signature ambergris note in the original Creeds was quite something. Seems to have been lost in the House’s current offerings and reformulations.
    Putin’s plans of a blitzkrieg takeover of Ukraine doesn’t look to have quite panned out in the last 5 days. May have bit off more than he can chew as far as underestimating Ukrainian and worldwide backlash goes? How does a grandiose narcissist back out of this and still save face on the global stage though?

  6. Very poignant piece. It is all just so horrible. Why can’t these people just enjoy life, and let others enjoy theirs.
    Why is there this need in them to control and conquer?
    I’m just so terribly tired of all of this. Thank goodness for the joy of fragrance. That Creed must be swoonworthy.

    • It’s certainly very intense and quite impressive.

      I feel you Brielle, though, I feel you – WHY CAN’T PEOPLE JUST STOP ALL THIS CRAP?!

      • Because there will always be men with small chinchins, and huge egos, and even bigger weapons. That is a very dangerous thing.

      • And yet the people love it and vote for them – or at least don’t openly object. People LOVE a dictator – there must be something very fucked up with the human psyche

      • There are definitely certain types who do love that type of a ruler. I am just hoping that they are mostly dying off, but I am not reassured when I see some of the younger troglodytes. As far as Russia goes, there hasn’t been a “real” election there in so long it is amazing, and anyone who speaks against that monster disappears.

      • Exactly.

        Dream on if you think they are dying off by the way: countries with those leaders are now a big majority in the world. We are the freaks on the sidelines who can see through it all.

      • I know, I know. It keep me from falling to sleep at night. This world is so amazing, yet it has such a horrible dark underbelly that is surfacing so quickly.
        I just want it to be a peaceful place for everyone.

      • And we probably sound so naive and vacuous even saying such a thing, but so do I and I sometimes don’t understand; I literally do not understand, why it isn’t possible.

      • I don’t understand either. I can only imagine it isn’t possible because of the evil that lurks in the hearts of men egged on by their lust for power.

      • AAAAGGGHJGHGHGHGHGHGHase;gadslasdgraegrslheagsr;khueasgr;ijoaesgr;oijaegrs;earsg;iohaesrg;hioegrsa’oij;aesgr’esAGR’pjoaegrs’persaghio’esar’phea’phoaesrg’phoaesgr’ophaesgr’phoaegrss’opesarg’pohaers’hop’phowaegr’ophiegw’phwef’pohwe’pohw’pohw’poh9egw’poh9EGW’ophi

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