Category Archives: autobiography

THE HOSPITAL BARE ESSENTIALS

 

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Vintage Chanel Nº19 soap

 

Yes, I do think so. I had been saving this beauty for some unspecified future special occasion, but I think this is now going in with me.

It is in the auxiliary products of this perfume that the differences between the vintage and the gutted, debrained reformulation are even more glaringly obvious and damning: the new soap is a flashy yellow citric vetiver thing with an unpleasant undernote I can’t abide and would never buy again (the same with a body cream I got as well that was quite vile).

The original soap, though, is glorious and really beautifully scented: deep, leathery suds combine with vetiver and iris and a touch of the floral green notes up top, forming the perfect layer for the perfume.

In truth, this will be a bloodied, wounded man on crutches trying desperately to salvage some smell dignity in the confines of the disabled hospital toilet but so be it: the savon is so strongly scented that it will tint its surroundings with Chanel, and that is no bad thing.

 

 

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My personally remixed vintage Chanel Nº19 eau de toilette

 

In thinking about what perfumes I should be taking into hospital and should have as ‘my smell’ (aside the foul one I will have from lying in my bed all the time and not showering or bathing), it didn’t take me long to settle on this, one of my top three holy grails. Not because I always feel like wearing it, not by any stretch – I go for sweeter, more tropical scents on the whole – but because the vintage is just so good, and so multi-faceted, that I feel it will give off exactly the sillage I want (it is already drenched all over my dressing gown – that’s bath robe to you North Americans) and all the other clothes I am taking.

I believe that this perfume will confer on me some kind of immunity to embarrassment. And the supercilious, Parisian greenness of it will absorb some of the mortification of what I know in advance is going to happen from being The Foreigner in the hospital.

As for the remix, well it was necessary. I acquired the bottle you see here ( LOVE that thick, oblong bottle):  a vintage that had quite nice, rich, base notes, and still enough iris to still merit buying it, but it wasn’t quite good enough to wear. I therefore added some bergamot and galbanum essential oils ( I know!) and then varying amounts of other extraits that I have in my collection to turn it into something like my own private parfum de toilette.

It is pretty much perfect now; very green ; irisian, with all the penetrating and lingering vetiver base notes there as well.

This is my hospital scent.

 

 

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Chanel Nº19 vintage parfum

 

Because when certain visitors come, I will still need the thicker paint to dab on the wrists.

 

 

 

 

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My personally remixed Guerlain Vetiver Cologne

I know: the arrogance. But I basically know what I am doing. I have yet to do a full review of vintage Guerlain Vetiver, which I truly think was an extremely beautiful, mellow, smoky perfume that was a vital part of the Guerlain canon; emotional, intelligent, crepuscular. One day I will.

This old bottle of cologne from a flea market was given to me half full, slightly turned, but in dry-down, redolent enough of the original I remember so fondly to merit me adding a third of the current eau de toilette (not so bad, really: just as though the original had had some of its most important memories extracted but were still, basically, the same person).

To body it up, I added specially chosen vetiver essential oil for depth; black pepper (in the original notes) to rev it up and add vitality, plus some bergamot and lemon.

I have possibly made it slightly too citric (but then you see it was a cologne), but I basically do love this new reconstructed version of mine. I also think that it won’t clash too much with the Chanel, but will rather add to the Noel Coward charm I hope to cultivate while hospitalized.

 

 

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My snake skin case of specially selected essential oils

 

ESSENTIAL.

 

More important than perfume in fact.

With all those germs flying about and the danger of hospital infections so prevalent these days you can bet your bottom dollar that I will be surrounded by an aura of bactericidal essences that smell nice (lemon, bergamot, lavender), soothe the spirits and senses, kill infections before they get anywhere near my person, or are cicatrising agents.

I don’t intend of course to sabotage the doctors’ work, don’t worry, but I know for a fact that thick, viscous, Biblical essences such as myrrh and benzoin, and particularly frankincense, are great wound healers and will be self-administered.

I will use them if I get a chance to have a bath, or else put them in other places on my body in areas not directly connected to the operated area.

Like Lazarus, I will walk again.

 

The vetiver……

In fact, what I was planning (and this might strike you as quite abnormal, somewhat), was to enter the operation theatre bathed in vetiver essential oil; not so much as to interfere or interact with anything, nor to be overtly there on the skin, interrupting the good surgeons’ work, but to have imbibed and macerated myself in it beforehand, for days, like a Hindu yogi.

 

About twenty years ago I was in Melaka, Malaysia, one of my very first experiences of Asia –  and it is a memory that has stayed with me forever.

 

I was alone, staying with some friends in a business district of Kuala Lumpur, but had then come to this alluring, ancient town for a couple of nights, entranced just wandering around and breathing it all in.

 

The highlight though was undoubtedly one street, which seemed to be some kind of microcosm of how the world might be today and always if people weren’t so stupid and so full of hatred of difference, and almost unbearably idealistic in retrospect.

 

There was a Dutch colonial Christian church on the corner in one part of town, and then, when you went down the road  a bit, there was a Hindu temple next door to a mosque next door to a Chinese temple, all the sounds and smells comingling to the extent that you could never fully escape your neighbour……….but to me it was a beautiful cacophony.

 

I actually spent that afternoon recording the sounds on my tape recorder, interviewing people in some kind of naive ecstacy of exotic excitement, felled by the smells and aromas and atmospheres and musics, but one of the most vivid recollections I still have was when I finally went into the Hindu temple and was assailed with the deepest, coolest, almost minted, earthen vetiver that filled every cavity of that space and my head as the holy man, naked save for a loin cloth, sat there in a meditative pose, silent, covered head to toe in vetiver khus: pasted on his body, I just stood there and savoured it, inhaling the roots, lost in the moment and becoming vetiver. It was exquisite.

 

Thus, sadly bringing you back round to my current Japanese reality……I wanted to replicate that exact sensation by bathing all this week in vetiver essential oil, to the extent that it would just breathe from my pores while I am being operated on (the plant is naturally anti-februge; prevents fever; is bactericidal as well as mellowing down the heart rate, and calming the nerves)….

 

It would have been perfect, but me being me I overdid it a bit last week with the citrus oils in the bath  ( I should have known better; I know which oils suit me and which don’t; I can bathe in bergamot and never have problems – I find it so re-equilibrating as an essence, and emerge lucid and clear, but should have remembered that I can’t tolerate even very small amounts of orange or grapefruit near my skin as I immediatley hive up and come out in red patches. Lemon I thought was different but uh-oh: I hadn’t dispersed the water properly and, shit! I have come up in a big sensitized burn on my right thigh where the oil had collected in concentration, and this week, on top of a hundred other panics, I am now worrying that this might prevent the surgeons from operating (although it is now, thankfully, beginning to fade) .

 

They were very clear, however, on the fact that I couldn’t catch a cold, as you will recollect from the post from the other day (in the end, just for your information, I decided to stay at home, as the threat of potential viruses outside just assailed my consciousness way too much and I thought it better to relax here: which I have, when I haven’t been sucked into hysteria, usually in the dark hours of the middle of the night): but anyway: this sensitized patch  – why couldn’t it have been on a different part of the body?!!!, such bad luck) –  seems to be going down now and I don’t want to risk any more sensitization.

 

I did have a bath yesterday, actually, using the Tasmanian lavender you see in the box (fantastically relaxing!) and I think it has had a positive effect on the patch, but vetiver I don’t know.

 

But in tribute to that otherworldly Malaysian Indian man, I will have some oil placed strategically in certain private places, just to emit, silently –  while under,; but it will not, sadly but sensibly, be the full Melakan fantasy. I wouldn’t want the surgeons in a state of oneiric hypnosis, in any case. They have their work cut out already.

 

In the snake case you will also notice some lotion, and some vaseline. The latter is lemon-infused lip balm – divine!  – just standard vaseline with lemon essential added to it, but it is so uplifting and cheering and germ killing that it is perfect for when I get a visitor or a nurse comes and I want to evince a sudden burst of lemon peel (the effect is almost holographic). I will also need seriously lubed up lips for the anaesthetic as I know that when you come round (I will be under for five and a half hours, yikes), your lips are as dry as  dead leaves: I would prefer to begin the proceedings glistening and citrussy than stoically dried out and desiccated.

 

For skin  – because just I don’t do leather face, and take these things seriously, we see in the photograph my home-adultered Shiseido Lait De Beauté, familiar to all friends who have ever come to stay with me who usually end up stealing my moisturizers and taking them home with them.

 

This is a very effective, but inexpensive lotion (500 yen, or about five dollars) – unscented, to which I add whichever oils suit my skin (and mood) best at any given time. Over time, they have included palmarosa, patchouli, ylang ylang, geranium, neroli (amazing), galbanum (- a recent addition), myrrh, but perhaps most effectively, frankincense, which just soothes the face so beautifully at night and helps you to sleep as well. The only other skin products I use are pure coconut oil – just lather me up like a Thai banana fritter and eat me: you might think it too greasy and pore-clogging, that you would just wake up the next day like a greased up, zit-tastic teenager, but nothing could be further from the truth.

 

I have a strange intuition about when and when not to moisturize: my skin just tells me not tonight, please, or else it just says slather me in coconut. A more immediate wrinkle eradicator I can’t imagine, the stuff is nature’s dream, and it is well known on The Black Narcissus that coconut is probably my favourite note in all of perfumery anyway so I am quite content to just lie there like a sweet Thai dessert and see rich, oleaginous dreams.

 

Yes….so this case of goodness will be beside me at all times: I shall be self-dispensing; a drop of sweet marjoram on the tongue when it all gets too much, here, some hyssop oil, as well – one I have never tried before but which is good for bone healing and which smells very strange and intriguing and so I bought it at the shop in Tokyo, Tree Of Life in Harajuku, my favourite haunt for such things: (I also think that essential oils are so instinctive and intuitive; some really suit you, and others don’t, and you know immediately: if you were to replace my selections here, for instance, with my migraine- inducing nemeses : basil, aniseed, petitgrain, sandalwood, pine, helichrysum (immortelle-  hell in a bottle!); fir, cinnamon leaf, tea tree (brilliant stuff therapeutically, but I just hate the smell of it so much); carrot seed, cumin, citronella (mosquito horror personified!) and lemongrass (so rasping!) the oils would actually have a detrimental effect on me, despite their proven qualities; be head-splitting and rough, but hyssop…. my body just said yes.

 

Same as it does with eucalyptus. Oh that stuff is good in the bath….

 

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Some new perfumes

 

Because I will need something to do and I want to review for you.

This new range, to be launched later this year, is very good…

 

And then some old familiars: 

 

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Roger & Gallet Gingembre Cologne

 

This, I would say, is the perfect remedy for slovenly piss-in-pyjamas modification: the kind of scent you can just spray on when someone is coming to the door and you want to smell fresh as a daisy.

I love ginger anyway (but not really the essential oil, I forgot to add that one), but this gentle creation is not especially gingery; that note is just there somewhere among the classic cologne notes, that are nevertheless not too classic colonia/cologne a la 4711 or Acqua Di Parma (and which I don’t really like).

No, this is a modern interpretation; clear; uplifting, a touch staid and unexciting, perhaps, but clean, loveable, long-lasting, and good. 

 

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Vol De Nuit Cologne

There is no point in taking any orientals with me into hospital. In fact, I am very particular about what perfumes work in what circumstances

 

 

(…another aside, just for a moment…………one very surprising thing I learned the other day while undergoing a ‘battery’  of hospital tests, was my blood type…

In Japan, blood types are used in the way we used zodiac signs in the West. There is a deep belief in the differences in people’s characters according to what blood type they are here, even direct prejudice (some people won’t marry someone of the ‘wrong’ type, and it is one of the first questions people apparently ask when dating; many people I have met here in Japan have been very surprised that I didn’t know mine….  but do most westerners?

Type B is apparently considered extremely eccentric and selfish, does its own thing only;  O is strong, boorish, headstrong, based in reality; A is boring and careful, conservative, finnickety- the majority of Japanese are proudly A –  while AB is considered freakish and odd.

Skyping with my parents last night, I asked them what type they were because I couldnt’ remember if they had ever told me (my mother had lost the records that contained my own type and I have often wondered).

Apparently my dad is a very rare B negative, my mother A. My brother is AB, we don’t know about my sister, and I, it turns out, am A. My Japanese friends were extremely surprised, even horrified. You, A??!!! But you are so not Japanese?!

I agree: I assumed that with my big-bodied aggressivess I might be O, or with my obvious weirdness, B  or AB (Duncan is B), but never A…..but then a friend pointed out to me quite rightly that my attitude towards writing (careful, pedantic, if violently spontaneous) and perfume (obsessive, comprehensive) is actually very A)..

Of course, all of this is probably utter bullshit, but then so is the Zodiac, except for the fact that it isn’t – simply because through empirical experience I know that a lot of what is said about the signs is literally true, from my friends, family and other loved ones to my colleagues and students. Who knows: perhaps something about blood types might be true for all we know as well…..

My attitude towards which perfumes work in what circumstances, though, in many ways, is ‘very A’..

I am never going to just spray an oriental perfume onto dirty unwashed skin, for example. Some people don’t think about these perfumed points enough. But if you want to get it right, you have to. Some perfumes go great on skin and clothes no matter what their state (that Gingembre I am taking in with me is  a good example). Others, emphatically do not. You have to be clean. 

 

Do you think I will be lying there sweating and seeping on my ‘cot’ and ladling on Bal A Versailles to my seeping sores? God no. I hate that beloved perfume unless I have scrupulously bathed first and added talc in the right weather – for me usually the depths of winter – and then, and only then, is it heaven on earth. On unwashed skin? Skanksville. Grubby. Invasive. I would just be desperate to wash it off, as I would Shalimar or any amber or any vanilla or anything cloying or sweet that just will not go at all with my surroundings. No, they would be vile in hospital.

Vol De Nuit cologne, though.

 

A thing of beauty is a joy forever, and I fear I will be smelling a tad unsugared in all my lemon and vetivered finery – get bored with it, eventually, so I can imagine a time, a quiet evening on the ward, the old men asleep,when I just wash my hands and arms thoroughly, add some Vol De Nuit cologne, and let my spirits ride a bit…..

 

This is very different from my treasured parfum, which is by far my favourite incarnation of Night Flight, but I do like it much better than the vintage edt, which is darker, a bit too moody and standoffishly daffodilian.

 

The cologne, on the other hand,  has a tingly, bright-burst beginning like the white of afternoon sunlight, the oriental facets kept effectively at bay until the end of its duration on the skin, when the powdered cremeuese of the classic Vol De Nuit base comes to the forelight. I need this. Just for private moments.

 

As I do my

 

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Puapuakeni and Poison

 

These two will not really go with my featured hospital smell identity (but who knows; when D brings in my washed garments after a week or two I might switch and go all Bora Bora – at this time of year I always start craving tropical florals anyway); but even if I don’t, and I just sink into foetid vetiver realness, having these lovelies just there on the side will remind me that one day I am coming out and that my perfume collection will be waiting for me.

 

This is important.

 

I don’t know about you, but when I am away for any length of time from home, I really crave my perfumes; I want them, I need them, I have to smell them or just have them next to me by my bed.

 

And a scent craving is a strange and unusual craving indeed. It’s different from a food one (caffeine, meat, sugar, fat, citrus), gut-driven and physical, base;   an alcohol one (psychological); a visual one (sometimes I need to see certain films in my collection, but it’s different), or just an intense craving for cosmopolitan stimulation (I know I will really miss the city when I am cooped up in the hospital), but something more.

 

 

With perfume it’s all of these things. It’s psychological yes, but it’s also very much stimulation, and I would also say, physical, to be honest –  from the gut, the heart and braina very three dimensional experience, something you feel and internalise intensely, even spiritually, not just some random evaporating liquid on the surface of the skin.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under autobiography, Psychodrama

NOTES ON MY NOTES (vol 2)

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In delving back into the past yesterday I found this morning that I wanted to pinpoint more precisely the exact moment when things started to fall more into place for me (I don’t want to give the impression that I am now ‘sorted’ and that everything is hunky dory and spectacular and I lived happily every after: I have no pension, virtually no savings, and have various health issues to boot – more on that anon), but at the same time I can’t deny that in the last few years I have begun to feel significantly more fulfilled and stimulated – and relaxed, funnily – than ever before. Who knows how long this positive period will last: I began the piece yesterday with the seemingly obvious truism that we all have ups and downs, have light periods and dark periods, and I know full well that they will happen again. While this ‘glory-days’, ‘second adolescence’ current epoch lasts though, I can tell you that I am certainly going to make the most of it. It has been a time of unbridled creativity and hilarity for me, sociability and self-fulfillment (making the horror comedy film last year, which will have its première quite soon in an old fifties cinema in the north of Tokyo, was one of the best experiences of my entire life, a truly memorable time that I will never in my lifetime forget. I loved every minute of it).

I think that the one thing I have learned, in recent times, is the utter beauty of having an idea or a concept and then just putting it into action. It sounds so simple, and so obvious, when in fact it is not. How often do we think of something we would like to do but then just dismiss it as stupid, or impossible?

I suppose this enactment of fantasies did begin earlier, with our first big themed dance parties in Yokohama, which drew wild enthusiastic, costumed crowds from both foreigners and Japanese people out for a good time, and whose planning and execution thrilled me to the core. I have never, in all honesty, entirely recovered from the ecstatic excitement I felt at school discos when I was twelve or thirteen: the music, the lights, the seeing friends in a different context, the submersion of it, it was all like a dream to me and it is a feeling that I have wanted to repeat in my life intermittently ever since. Hence our events in various locations through the years here, including The Rite Of Spring, Voodoo, You’ve gotta say yes to another excess, The Taxidermist’s Half Pint (now that was a strange one), and Delicate Delinquents, among many, many others.

A more unusual example of putting ideas directly into action though was when a friend of mine, Denise, and I were watching Luc Besson’s Fifth Element one evening at her apartment, adored the Blue Alien singing Donizetti’s exquisite aria from Lucia Lammermoor, and decided that somehow we would perform it (sadly not in costume: I think the elderly citizens of Kamakura city hall, where we took part in this all day music recital, where the performers paid to be on stage rather than the audience  -so you can imagine the general quality – would have been just too flabbergasted and horrified had Denise come on stage actually as the alien, but the fact was, we did perform it: I accompanied her on the piano and she did quite an amazing job considering that she had never had any opera lessons). For me this felt like some kind of advancement in my life, not merely being a passive retainer, but actually doing something.

Somehow I know that when I was just out of university, something like this just could not ever have happened. It just wouldn’t have. I felt paralyzed and overwhelmed by everything, like I had been spat out into the world with nothing to fall back on. I was hollow. I was defensive, reactive, volatile (still am, but more then) and could hardly deal with anything at all. Much as I am obsessed with cinema, one of the true love affairs of my life, the idea that I might actually MAKE a film myself would have been utterly inconceivable. Because how?

Yet this project, Girl Goned, simply came one night from an idea one night that Duncan had when we were watching the brilliant seventies cult film The Wicker Man (set in the northern islands of Scotland among a religious cult community) and he just suddenly started chuckling to himself as he then imagined a pastiche/ parody version of the story, but set in the drag queen cabaret venues of underground Tokyo.

The next thing I knew, he and filmmaker/ performance artist Yukiro, a beautiful Swede we have become very close to, and who often comes round to our house to watch movies, were writing the script, skyping each other laughing their heads off as they did so; actors, camera people, sound people were being assembled with no one charging for their services, just doing it for the sheer love of it, and before you could say Suspiria we were actually making it.

Just being there on the streets of Tokyo early on a Saturday morning with D and Yukiro shouting ACTION! as we freaks performed our stuff without any shooting permits was so exciting (Japan is wonderfully laissez faire and liberal, even permissive in many ways, which you might be surprised to hear considering all the formality I am often talking about……..that, though is the official work space: when you sink into the demi-monde of Tokyo, the pleasure districts such as Asagaya and Koenji, a downtown area of the city we adore (and which yields a lot of vintage perfume, I can tell you!!) you see an entirely different aspect of Japanese life, one in which people, who party as hard as they work, lose themselves in the red-lanterned, glowing, open but secretive streets, night time honeycombs of libation and laughter that you can sink into like a vampire. Hardly anyone batted a weary eyelid.)

 

Ten years or so ago, all of this would have been unthinkable. I was asking Duncan this morning about when we first got the internet, because it seems to me that all of these positives that I am discussing now, in particular my writing The Black Narcissus, which I love, stem from the fact of being online and connected to people; being able to ‘talk’ to people at the touch of a computer key, when for a while back then I was slowly drifting into an abyss of despair and isolation that was stunting my pleasure receptors and filling me with a vast black lake of self-loathing and emptiness.

 

The responses to yesterday’s post really amazed me. I had no idea that just writing about one’s personal experiences, even when to me there is nothing especially interesting about them, could generate such reactions. I do feel more inhibited today writing as a result, more self-conscious that I have to produce a ‘Part Two’, and I don’t really know where to start, especially when I don’t consider the source material – my life – to be particularly interesting in the first place.

 

 

And why did I suddenly start writing about all this yesterday in any case? Perhaps it is because there is something really looming in my brain, my impending hospitalization on March 21st for six long weeks in a miserable Japanese hospital followed by three months or so more at home for rehabilitation ( I have serious knee problems: I wrote about this three years ago or so, post Sexual Emergency (now that party was a blast) when I seemed to have nothing more serious than a torn meniscus in my left knee. I suppose I have been putting it off and off and trying not to deal with it all, but it now transpires that I have quite serious damage to both legs, zero cartilage in the front of both knees, torn meniscuses, internal bleeding – my left leg is also apparently ‘deformed’ (I have never been called that before!) and in truth, I am now in constant pain. Each step, bone on bone, like the Little Mermaid, is extremely painful, and it can be delayed no longer. I will be having double osteotomies, a nightmarish sounding operation in which my bones will be sawn and cut, my embattled legs rearranged and wedges of some kind inserted. I am too young for full knee replacements apparently (great story: my dad also had double knee replacements, the whole thing is hereditary, was in a wheelchair for a while unable to walk at all, yet a few months after his surgery he was in a dance contest at a hotel shinding in Havana, a fact that never fails to give me hope when I feel myself sliding into grim imaginings and self pity), but it is not going to be easy for me.

The hospital I was originally going to have the surgery at, much nearer my house in Ofuna, is bright, breezy, has great feng shui, and I know I would have been much happier being hospitalized there. However, a man cannot live on aesthetics alone – the surgeon there seemed inexperienced, had never done a double osteotomy before (he said he would ‘have a go’, but that didn’t exactly inspire confidence, and so the whole process was delayed further (agonizing referral letters and delays and obstacles that have driven me to the point of distraction), I am now addicted to painkillers as the condition further deteriorates (right now it is really bad, actually – I can hardly walk, and don’t know how I am going to last until March 21st), but in any case, the surgeon who will be doing my operation is apparently the best in all of Japan and internationally renowned, and so I do feel comparatively safe in his hands.

It’s just that I have turned out to be more of a coward than I thought I was. I am not abnormally afraid of pain (but I am not a masochist either), and I do admit that I lie in bed at night these days really quite afraid of what is going to happen. I am a neurotic individual: I am panicking about everything from not being able to sleep at night (because I won’t be able to : I can only sleep in dark, silent places, not in the chest rattling wheezing of dying, Japanese geriatrics); I am hysterical about what is going to happen in terms of the toilet and smell (already planning my perfuming in GREAT detail: the main scent will be N0 19, which I will be emitting from my person during the operation, but I will also be taking Roger & Gallet’s Gingembre (thanks, Nina), which is a great, generic, trustworthy citrus cologne that you can spray on when you stink (how the hell am I going to wash? I HATE the smell of dirty hair, oh jesus, if any of you have any advice on any of this I would really appreciate it); the thought of shitting in the bed is just…….too unbearable, far worse than the genuine anguish I feel at the idea of waking up alone in a Japanese hospital in agony and unable to move……..just sitting here writing this I can hardly breathe. I wake up at three in the morning in a panic at the thought of being totally immobile and vulnerable, dragging myself across the hospital floor like a pitiful, human slug.

I panic about water, as I have a serious dehydrophobia fixation, worsened after the Great Tohoku Earthquake, when I stood at the wall of the gym I was in, clutching my bottle of cold green tea, thanking god, or whoever, that at least if I was about to be cast down into the rubble (which felt like an authenthic possibility), I would at least be able to stave off death from thirst for a while, which is my absolutely biggest fear in this life, alongside the cold, which I am also quite deeply concerned about. Being naked, like a blue slab of meat as they cut me up in those freezing temperatures…..I worry about not only waking up pulsating in pain but also on the verge of catching pneumonia again. Cold is my mortal enemy…..I can deal with extremes of heat (just call me Burning Bush), I am a fire sign, and worship the sun. But cold, for me, I equate with death. I can’t even imagine how I am going to feel when I wake up after this ordeal and they touch the rehydration gel to my desiccated lips and I throb in excruciation and anaesthetic nausea.

 

If I wake up, that is,  and therein lies the crux. I know this is a ridiculously melodramatic statement to make (moi?), and I know that death on the operating table is very unlikely given that the surgery I am going to have is not supposedly life threatening; aside slightly high blood pressure I am basically healthy, my blood tests usually all come up fine;  I am a bit overweight but not obese, I am sound of mind (maybe) and will be in the very best of hands (god I hate that idea, though, of being so helpless; of being manhandled like that against my will, well not against my will, exactly, because I have finally realized that I cannot put off this operation any longer now; he has told me that, and I know it instinctively at this moment: this is the time to do it, but still, that oblivion, that helplessness, the fact that anyone can do what they like with me (there have been some cases, I kid you not, recently, in Yokohama hospitals where some mad killer nurses have murdered their patients by poisoning their drips : no, this is not a story line from Duncan’s crazed Girl Goned but actual fact, but anyway); of course I am not actually expecting to be executed a la Daryl Hannah in Kill Bill, with some sexy nurse with an eyepatch whistling down the ward in killer heels and a lethal injection, but you know what I mean……I know that what I am describing here is commonplace, but I do think it is going to be like a nightmare. The food (yuk! You probably all think I love Japanese food, well yes, I love the food you can get here, but not all of washoku itself, slimy fish heads and seaweed and fermented business served at room temperature……..someone save me, but don’t worry, I have a week after finishing this term before I go into hospital and oh yes mama you had best be assured that there will be a giant, pre-planned rucksack full of essential oils, my essential perfumes, reading matter, and tasty treats like nuts and chocolate treats. Don’t be surprised if I secretly order in a pizza or two as well, though I am sure that that would really get me into trouble.

In any case, ENOUGH. Just thinking about it all is making me shudder, and I wasn’t even going to mention any of this. I am just trying to get to the bottom of why I found it necessary yesterday to start relaying back my life to you in such a way that the majority of people would find it difficult to do (something, in truth, I can’t relate to). Maybe it is that slight fear of not waking up on the operating table (it does happen, I read about someone my age dying in the middle of a standard knee procedure STOP IT STOP IT STOP IT, sorry), but I think it must be this that has made me write all of this up, you know, just in case. 

As for the comments put up after yesterday’s post (oh the gorgeous freedom of sitting here in our house in Kamakura right now, sunlight on the balcony, the sound of children playing outside, Duncan in the other room doing final edits on the film (they are trying REALLY hard so that I can be at the première, if possible on March 19th, which is cutting it fine, but I am one of the essential characters (a ‘mute low-life’, according to the script), so yes, Duncan doesn’t let me utter a single word in the film, but you had best believe that I am by FAR the most terrifying entity in that film: in fact, seeing Burning Bush in the finished product kind of scared me: is that really me? I don’t think that you will like it. My epitaph.

 

Who knows? But as I said, reading the comments yesterday it seemed as if many of you are surprised that I am able to just……express my own ‘story’ on here, that I can just be so ‘honest’ about my own life. Though I was delighted with what you were saying, in a sense, as you seemed to be reading what I wrote with some kind of pleasure, at the same time it makes me wonder if I am not in fact some kind of freak. Is it really that unusual to just relate what is there inside your mind ? Is it emotional pornography? Are we really supposed to just keep things inside ourselves and live out our lives like closed vessels marinading in secrets? How hideous. Of course there are things that are mine alone, that I wouldn’t share with anybody (are there, I wonder?!), and it is true that in the past when I have put up posts that are confessional/personal/ revelational I have felt splayed open and raw and wondering why I had done it in the first place, and even pondered whether I should immediately delete them. I think though, that although my day job is teaching, which I enjoy to a certain point as I love people, and kids (particularly teenagers, who I can relate to because mentally I still am one) and get a lot out of it, at heart, I am probably some kind of artist. It has taken me a long time to realize this, but I literally cannot live without some form of self-expression that touches other people in some way, particularly if it can be beautiful in the process. And that, essentially, is surely what art is. I think it was sublimating this, or not realizing it for so long, that caused me such emotional pain in the past, as though I was trapped or unrealized in some way that I myself was possibly also unaware of.

 

I can’t believe that I am now going to delve back into my childhood once again but I do think that, as with almost everybody, that precious time in our lives holds the key to everything that we are today; in my own case my need for honesty, and my absolute refusal now and forever more to be anything other than myself (god this all feels so self-indulgent now, and because of all the comments yesterday I am hyper-consciously aware that I do have an audience: yesterday I felt as though I were just writing it all down for myself: now I can feel you, but you brought this on to yourselves, you egged me on, you want me to stand naked here before you so here I go….

 

If you look at photographs of my brother and I, you can see that he was essentially born melancholic. I like to think that he wouldn’t mind me saying this about him, because it is true. He is a pure and poetic individual who feels everything so keenly; at least as sensitive as I am, but in that heterosexual (sorry to stereotype), Nick Drake, tortured artist way (even though he has a hilarious sense of humour).  A brilliant musician – though he himself doesn’t seem to realize it (I was always the lauded pianist in my childhood but he taught himself guitar and other instruments, writes music himself, and is fact incomparably more talented in that regard) he nevertheless, while still loving what he loves, as you can see from those pictures, one of which I put up the other day in my Bohea Boheme review, sees life through a constant mortality-aware, sorrowful, lens.

 

I, though tortured in that classic Proustian mother’s kiss kind of way, trembling over shadows in my bedroom at night (and I do think that there is nothing more petrifying than childhood: sometimes I was quite passionately nervous and could hardly cope with anything) was essentially more the vibrant, joyous creature, receptive to everything, alive to all my senses, a ‘fairy’ if you like (I played Peter Pan in the school play), and I do see these early years of mine as something inimitably beautiful and happy: playing in the garden, reading books from the library among the rosemary and the pinks, days and days spent playing in the forest with my brother and our friends, delighted to play the piano and have a natural talent for it (up to a point : I was never going to be a concert pianist: I never had the technique nor the will power, just the natural sensitivity); good at school and enjoying it, immersed in my imagination ( I would imagine that I was a warlock, or a black panther), popular but never in any clique  – I never have been and cannot be – skipping about, basically  as gay as the hills.

 

And that was the problem. I think with universal human joys and pains we sometimes diminish them because of their very universality, be they the experience childbirth, death, falling in or out of love: all the wrenching human experiences that sear through us and mould us become almost like clichés, standards; everybody or at least half of humanity goes through them, so no matter how painful or joyous they might be, they become like experiential common places. And yet, if you are love sick and heartbroken, it doesn’t matter how many others have gone through it, because in your own world, which is ultimately the only one you will ever know, it really does feel like the end of the world: you might even want to die. The same with bereavement: I have never really been through it, but I know of course that it will one day be coming and I can’t imagine how terrible it is going to feel.

 

At least a twentieth of this planet, probably much more, more like a tenth or even more than that, also had to go through what I went through as a young child – the petrifying, and I mean petrifying, gradually dawning knowledge that I was a pervert, an invert, a ‘homosexual’, and though there is nothing remotely new or original about any of this, I can’t even put into words how much damage that secret did to my soul in those early years (from about the age of eight) even as I was genuinely happy and loving my childhood simultaneously. I have written about this before, and so feel you must be think yes blah blah blah your coming out story, but you see just the fact of having to ‘come out’ truly makes me white hot with fury because it is so fucking unnecessary in the first place. All this fucking rigmarole (and yes, the swearing is absolutely essential so you can just fuck off to a more conservative and ‘pleasant’ website if you don’t like it), of having to pluck up the ‘courage’ (which is so hard, dear god, that fear of rejection, or in my case possibly even being beaten up or being thrown out or killed as I come from the officially most homophobic town in the entire United Kingdom, Solihull); that downright terror, which lurks within your soul for a decade even as you are the teacher’s pet or the most popular boy in the class with lots of ‘girlfriends’ and you know deep down that if anyone knew the real you, the real you, they would hate you.

 

Anyway. Suffice it to say, that with the kind of personality I have, despite all of the possible outcomes, I just couldn’t take it any more at the age of eighteen, and even if I was killed, then so fucking be it. I had to emerge from this chrysalid of shame and be myself. Because what is wrong with that?

 

Aided immensely by Merchant & Ivory’s beautiful and affecting ‘Maurice’ from 1987, the  homosexual version of A Room With A View if you like but which literally saved my life and was probably the reason I was so desperate to go to Cambridge – one of the most beautiful places in the world, I still think; so beautiful  – it was just like a dream to go there; my heart would just soar at its beauty on a daily basis as I lost myself in literature (oh dear I am actually starting to cry now writing this: I wonder what particular part has set it off?)I don’t feel overtly sad though, more just emotional: lord this is way more, insanely open and honest than even yesterday, isn’t it? I can imagine you just closing your computer lid embarrassed for me here as if I have gone too far or something but fuck it: if I do have a lasting legacy of any meaningful kind it will be in refusing to compromise myself and telling the truth. And the truth is that although I am happier than I have ever been in my lifetime right now – the university department I moved to within my company six years ago was an absolute life changer, the teachers way more interesting, the lessons more enjoyable, no more teaching games to eleven year olds out in the sticks (my tears have dried now, don’t worry), I am really quite enjoying the teaching, I love the writing I do and the friends that I have and the family I have back home, but despite this, I think that I do, still,  have an absolute rage against society, any society, that will never be quenched. Like Madonna, the death of whose mother set her off on some kind of endless search for validation, and whose rape on a brownstone balcony in New York and its robbing her of her autonomy set her off on a life time quest to be in control and to be never be told by anyone else ever again what to do (which is why she is such an absolute inspiration for me: no one fires me up the way  Ciccone does), I, if on a far smaller scale, feel that is my life’s mission to not let anyone stop me from being who I am, and if possible, to impart that sense of self worth to my students.

 

It is harder than it perhaps seems, though. It is not just a question of society’s acceptance, but possibly much more. I am not a religious person per se, but I grew up in a basically Christian influenced environment, and the fear that I might go to hell for admitting my desires (so natural, so real to me that it seemed insane that I could be considered a pervert when I had never been perverted by anything : I had felt this way essentially from birth) was a torment that caused me great pain indeed. Thus, in my second year at university (this is the only thing that I have written or am about to write that I am actually embarrassed about), I found myself under the influence of an evangelical Christian who lived in the room next to me in the boarding house I was staying in, some maths students in lycra pants who would constantly be out riding his bicycle (to stave off sexual desire?), but whose manic ‘inner light’ had a certain strange sway over me, and I would be there at night, before a picture of the Virgin, actually trying to pray in the dark for salvation from what I had become…….

 

 

Jesus, moving on..What can I say? How did I get through all of this? Well, through having a relationship with someone for a start, and then through sheer philosophical, intellectual will power and deep thought, and just the fact that I am not an idiot and can see through things,  I eventually managed to see the light, coming to the conclusion that if god exists, then god made me (because I am very conscious of not really having changed very much since I was born: of course things have happened, and I have evolved, as we all do, but like a seed becoming a stripling become a tree, I feel that I have been on one continuing trajectory that started from birth and hasn’t been contaminated by ‘immorality’ or perversion (so seriously, fuck Mike Pence and his desire to start conversion therapy for homosexual people: nothing could be more damaging or wrong when it often takes people so damn long to where they are in the first place. A life style choice? Say that to my face and I will punch your fucking lights out.)

 

 

 

 

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But to perfume. Always, I had loved it, from a young boy and the flowers in the garden to the fragrances in my parents’ bedroom, both of whom wore scent on a daily basis and which I would linger and pore over and smell and even wear, until as a teenager around the age of sixteen I started to buy them and wear them myself. What was it about them? Why was I so drawn to them? I think just the sheer, mysterious, unadulterated pleasure of it, the surrounding yourself in something invisible and beautiful yet palpable and real, that four-dimensionalizing aspect of leaving a scent trail behind and of immortalizing memories.

 

 

I have been wearing scent on a daily, obsessive basis ever since, times I have great memories of as part of my emancipation, like talismans or an exteriorization of the spirit (because that is what perfume really is, when you think about it: it is making the hidden you open; it is touching a person in a way that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise, entering their body and mind but not as an invasion (unless you are wearing La Vie Est Belle), more as an incitement, or an abstract flirtation that adds to and embellishes your personality.

 

 

Through all of the important eras of my life, from junior high school (Armani Pour Homme, Givenchy Xeryus); sixth form college (Chanel Pour Monsieur, Kouros, Givenchy Gentleman) university (Obsession) and my year in Rome (Christian Dior Fahrenheit), through my early years in Japan when I realized that gendered perfuming was bullshit and I embraced all that smelled good to me (Kenzo L’Elephant, Shalimar, No 19, Vol De Nuit), I have worn scent as an armour and as my clothing (I don’t apologize for my relative lack of interest in fashion; for me what I wear refers to my smell, as it means so much more to me). To say that I am and always have been deeply interested in smell would be a grave understatement.

 

 

It had never really occurred to me that you could write about perfume, though. I don’t mean shit magazine PR copy like Marie Claire and the like, which as perfume writing is as appealing as an IKEA catalogue. I mean intelligent, descriptive, writing on scent that through words could actually evoke the perfume in question, something that for some reason when I first came across it in John Oakes’ The Book Of Perfumes, which I got at the end of the nineties and devoured repeatedly til it fell apart (flowerly, old school writing, torrid and dramatic but still compelling).

 

And then I discovered Luca Turin. Helen happened to send me a copy of the original French edition of his original Le Guide, and mon dieu: what can I say, the man changed my life.

 

At this point, let’s say around 2004 or so, I was still in the old department of my company, travelling all over the place in Kanagawa prefecture to teach rooms of twelve year olds I had no interest in teaching, essentially lost, with no idea what to do in the future, my days filled with something like a heart of darkness which I tried to contain and just get on with my life (because what else can you do); but the arrival of this writing, on perfume, quite honestly truly did blow my mind and revamp my entire neural wiring. Although I couldn’t understand every word of Turin’s wry, sophisticated and often extremely beautiful French, I decided to undertake the translation of as much as I could, for my and other people’s enjoyment,  and found that his exquisitely romantic reviews of perfumes such as Chanel’s Bois Des Isles or Cuir De Russie were just so evocative and beautiful that I would just read them over and over again while at work like clandestine love letters.

 

During this time, as I was discussing with Duncan this morning, we had a dial up internet connection on a crappy computer by some company or other, and it was before Facebook (which I think is one of the most monumental events in human history, but I’ll come to that later) so I wasn’t connected to any communities like I am now and was far far far more isolated and lonely than I had ever been (Duncan works in a high school and gets up at 5:40 every morning and gets home in the evening at a normal time such as 6 or 7: I work in a night time prep school so get there at 2 or 3 and get home at 11pm or even later, so we hardly even see each other from Tuesday to Friday, which now is no problem: I adore my solitude and free time to write or read the New York Times (my love), delivered every day and which I read cover to cover over copious mugs of coffee, but then, it was an entirely different story altogether.

 

Once I discovered the perfume blogs, though, like Alyssa Harad in ‘Coming To My Senses’, it was, for mw, like a portal to another universe, one that I felt intrinsically drawn to and exhilarated by. Bois De Jasmin, Perfume Smellin’ Things, Perfume Posse, Now Smell This, all the original perfume blogs I just couldn’t get enough of. I would read the reviews I liked over and over again until the words were stuck in my brain. At this stage, it had never really occurred to me that I could do the same myself: in life we sometimes assume that we are incapable of something when actually if we just make a slight effort we can (no, not chemistry and kanji: I stand uncorrected on those two impossibilities in my life).

 

Having nothing else to do though, having so much time to myself and with virtually nothing there to fill it, one day at work, I just picked up a piece of paper, and although my pen hovered over the surface for quite a while before I actually wrote anything, a few minutes later when I looked back at it I had written my first review – of Mitsouko. Why I chose that one I’m not really sure – perhaps it was the moss, and the being in Japan, but I did feel that something almost monumental had happened.

 

 

 

 

 

If you can bear it, to be continued……

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