Category Archives: Flowers










I have woken up alone. D has gone back to work. There are no children, no students, because they are off – by law – until May 7th. But teachers……





It was hard for me to sleep last night thinking about the sheer futility of the delay in calling a lockdown, as Tokyo finds new surges in corona cases. And to imagine : sixty or more teachers in a windowless, unventilated room ‘preparing lessons’ for a studentless beginning of term when it is epidemiologically obvious that they instead should be self-isolating at home. I can’t stand him being there in that situation. I feel enragedly helpless. I myself am due back on Thursday, theoretically, but am not sure if I will be able to go back, psychologically. I don’t know if I could tolerate having to do it when it is so against my will and my feeling of common sense. I have just this very minute heard that there is apparently about to be a state of emergency declared, but I can imagine this being limited to Tokyo (even though all the trains I have to catch are going back and forth, back and forth, all day long between the megalopolis and where I work; teachers live in those places and come down; the trains and buses are full of people; it makes no logical sense. My blood is inflammable this morning —- you could take a match to me —- so I think I will leave it there before I say something I regret…)




On Sunday afternoon we sat on the balcony in the warm sun. (Well, we call it the balcony: really it is a ‘veranda’ or whatever you call a place that you hang out the washing). That is what Japanese people would use theirs for, in any case, and probably find us very eccentric for turning it into our outside relaxation space  – usually just functional places made of plastic, the previous owners of this place had instead made a really nice one made of wood which we have decorated with furniture and hung with rugs and plants – and curious seventies furniture and metal ashtrays, so I suppose it could also be thought of in truth as being a ‘deck’ – in any case, it is the place we often go when the sun comes out for just sitting and reading the newspaper or drinking wine and listening to music. Just staring out into the sky. Taking in the pleasing ambient sounds of the neighbourhood that we live in; children in the distance, cats, the sounds of bird song. People laughing. Our retreat. Sadly, we were intensely aware that the spring vacation was coming to an end and that we were about to be senselessly forced back into the worksphere right in the middle of a silenced epidemic (Japan just really doesn’t want to admit that this happening. The recalcitrance, the refusal to accept reality is astonishing in this case…………………..but in a land where ambiguity is key, and it is the ambiguity that has probably kept us here, as it is so much more beautiful and malleable for people like us than the Anglo-Saxon overemphatic dissection, and is the basis for all of the things that we love about living in Japan), except on this occasion : : : :  when our lives our literally at stake, and my vote most definitely goes for European rationality,  and precise, completely logic-based, action. 






In perfume, though. We get so used to the vamp, the hooker, the slugging showstopper. The contextual mindfuck; the ‘latest addition’, ‘the new eau de toilette’. All these heavily contrived and market researched perfumes that command such attention and require such commitment as you endure them through your day from their top notes to their unwashable bases that you sometimes forget that the quieter, more gentle perfumes – at the right moment – can feel like an absolute godsend. Like moments of awakening. Cue Koke Shimizu, or Moss Water, a perfume I have neglected to ever try on properly previously as it seemed so light and inconsequential when I undoubtedly had more ‘lordy’ preoccupations on my mind and was flouncing or stampeding through the house like Napoleon Bonaparte meets Charles Baudelaire: at other times I would have probably thought to myself, when dripping laboriously in unguent, that I couldn’t even actually smell it.

















In the rays of the sun coming down onto the balcony, on clean skin, I applied some Koke Shimizu onto D’s left wrist. And I must confess when I came closer to smell it I did something I am not sure I have ever done before: I instinctively brought my whole head down onto his arm. In exhalations, and rested there inhaling from that spot, like a fawn in a forest coming to drink water near to a pool of light in an afternoon clearing.  Air. Grass.  The muffled quiet of moss on trees. A pool just in the visible distance. A moment of grace. How perfumer Satori Osawa achieved this effect I don’t know – the notes available online do not correspond with how I smell the result – she has crafted something of great delicacy here – but it is wonderful to know that a whole other world of perfumery exists, if you are lucky enough to come across it, in which private moments of reflection like this can create an oasis of calm that you can truly retreat into. Just pause, and look up. Admittedly, the ending of the scent is not as interesting as the beginning, ceding to a delicate oakmoss powder that does not quite contain the clear serenity of the opening, but even this, later in the evening, on D, had become like moss in the moonlight. Alone in the garden of the temple precinct; self reliant; unconstrained.










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So our quarantine from the world comes to an end. D goes back to work in just a couple of days. I return on Thursday. Just as the cases in Tokyo are escalating. Sometimes doubling by the day. And the always prevaricating government, desperately trying to avoid an economic crisis at all costs, only commits to puny, measly, half measures. Avoid restaurants and large gatherings. ‘Telecommute’ from home (try telling that to the majority of Japanese salarymen, for whom being seen to be sat at the desk is the point, no matter the productivity). No karaoke. Don’t go to nightclubs. But pin ball machine parlours (where the powerful get a lot of their income, and where hundreds of smoking, gambling addicts sit cheek by jowl fingertips smearing screens, breathing the worst air you can ever find in this country )  – absolutely fine. ‘No viral clusters have been found at pachinko!’ proclaims yet another bureaucrat blinking in a suit.





Our little bubble – where we have been protected, and very happy, is now being encroached upon by the outside. It is unavoidable. I know that. We have to work. It’s just the timing. Everybody knows that the Japanese government has been alarmingly, exasperatingly inactive; underplaying everything. In denial. Cases are on the rise in Tokyo – just twenty minutes from Yokohama on a packed train, where I am supposed to be going to next week (the irrationality: ‘avoid crowded spaces! Stand six feet apart!, when it is literally impossible in such a crowded conurbation and I have no other way of getting there), when the worldwide mortality rate is now, according to the WHO, approximately 3.4% I feel more fearful. It is getting closer.





A friend of ours who lives in Fujisawa – where the headquarters of my work is based – is currently in hospital fighting the coronavirus on ventilators. Sealed off from other people. He was something of a sensation, actually, featured on the national NHK news, returning from England – though he maintains that he probably caught it before leaving Japan as he didn’t really go anywhere in the UK – he is seen as a typical example of infection coming from the gaikoku : abroad. It comes from outside. The foreigners are the carriers. Which is just very laughable.  Abe has finally decided to close all borders – at this stage – to countries in Europe and all areas of China (only now?! how about during the first weeks of January you dumb fuck when it might have actually made a difference?) Like most people in this current situation we veer from feeling alarmed and very angry : if this turns into a ‘foreigner thing’ I will not be able to control myself, to resignation and black humour or else just retreat into our lovely little world in here which I could very happily continue for the rest of the year and beyond. But  THERE HAS BEEN NO SHUTDOWN. PEOPLE ARE HAVING HANAMI CHERRY BLOSSOM PARTIES. THE GOVERNMENT HAS BEEN DOING NOTHING. PEOPLE ARE SPREADING IT IN TOKYO. Japanese people. They are all in close contact: it has nothing to do with people from outside. Yes, it is possible that those returning from other countries may bring the virus in as well, so the immigration precautions are obviously necessary. However, anyone who is not a complete imbecile knows that the virus is already in the country : god, there seem to be so many of those around at the moment,in power around the globe – Jair Bolsonaro, the brainless president of Brazil proclaiming bizarrely  the other day that ‘”Brazilians are uniquely suited to weather the pandemic because they can be dunked in raw sewage and don’t catch a thing. God is Brazilian”, something that made me scream out loud laughing when I read it in the morning newspaper (D was almost in tears laughing at Duterte’s command that people in the Philippines who venture outside during the quarantine be ‘shot dead on the spot’ WTF! FFS! being the only reasonable reactions. They all make  Donald Trump look positively sensible in comparison. And Bolsonaro has apparently since come down with the virus himself…..




No, the magic of isolation couldn’t last forever, I realise that (unless…………unless there really is a pandemic coming our way and the Japanese authorities finally relent). But I wonder if they ever really will. It would be seen like giving in to defeat. As weak. Like other countries: a stubborn resistance to ever letting people ever have the more comfortable option, which of course goes against the grain of graft and endurance, of samurai stamina no matter how difficult the circumstances, which can be impressive at times, but which at others it can be gut-twistingly irritating.. How many times have we been let out of work before an approaching typhoon just after the trains have stopped?  When there was no way back? When I had to stand in a taxi queue being buffeted by bone breaking gale force winds and lashing rains as my umbrella blew up like Mary Poppins and I stood desperately trying to root myself firmly to the ground with the top of my strength and not get blown into a concrete bollard until finally, after what felt like an eternity, waiting, drenched to the pores, getting into a freezing air conditioned taxi and paying an absolute fortune to get home? When they could have just let us go home thirty minutes earlier…….But No. You have to gamman. Put up with things as much as you can.







I much prefer it in here.  It feels like paradise. We realized yesterday that we have been happily eating home-cooked food for a full five weeks. And how much we have enjoyed it. It has been so cosy. I can see all the cherry blossom trees in the surrounding hills – I don’t need to go out and have some regimented picnic coohing and aaahing underneath them sucking up virus. It has been reinvigorating, and perfumed. Samantha at I scent you a day put up a very interesting post about the pleasures of perfume the other day during isolation, the essence of it being ; that you might as well ; just go for it : spray yourself silly, to distraction – because if not now, when?









I agree. No point holding back at this stage. Spray it till you taste it. Bathe in it. I indulge to my heart’s content; scent up the cocoon like King Ludwig and his private, castle lagooned Swan’s Lake, slowly drifting on gilded gondola, surrounded by intoxication and oblivion. Some days, like Cleopatra I have gone to  extreme, powdered lengths. Long showers in  ‘Muse’ soap – a Japanese staple, very creamy and balanced, leaving a perfect surfactant, creamed base ready for your next stages on skin. I have then been availing myself of the almost absurdly baby powder like bagno schiuma, of Erbolario’s Iris – which is wildly infantile and powdered as a puff , as well as small doses of the very same perfume’s body creme, an inexpensive but perfect appropriation of Lorenzo Villoresi’s classic Teint De Neige (but which could also work underneath perfumes like Chanel’s rose violet Misia:)  this cooing, sugared baby of a scent has the smooth, long texture of orris root but more talcumed pressed together with swathes of with violet and hawthorn, vanilla and balms – I emerge from the shower and apply some Imperial Leather talc to my gleaming shoulders and trunk just for good measure and then – quite naturally – some Shalimar – because why not….; soon, within a week I will be smelling of nothing more than stress sweat and fabric conditioner, of soy.  Just be quiet and let me have my moment of unadulterated indulgence (D laughed out loud when I approached him in the kitchen the other day as he was painting a shelf;  what to me was a delicious regression into chalk and parma violets, was to him just a cloy as I moved towards him in my pyjamas with arms outstretched like a Chucky Doll).






Louis Vuittons’ Contre Moi (‘Against Myself?’) strikes me as quite an unusual title for a perfume, although I do recognise that we all do things in life that aren’t always in our best interests, that we self-sabotage (including all the confidential material I expose about myself on this blog; this blog is dangerous for my life). To be honest, I never really liked Louis Vuitton, that grand conglomeration, even as an idea, let alone a perfumery, so I am perhaps not the right person to review their perfumes; to listen without prejudice. Yes, it may be divine to see Audrey Hepburn with her train of valued valises as she suavely enters a hotel in Charade, because no one was more elegant, and so in certain contexts, the logo on those hard, durable, impossibly expensive suitcases as they are loaded up into limousines is iconic. But though this has thankfully died down now, for the first fifteen years or so when I came to Japan it seemed that each time I got on any public transport here every female, no matter how rich or poor, had to have an LV handbag (was this written into the constitution?) with that tedious, tedious logo (so aesthetically unappealing! Such vulgar conspicuous consumption!)  – and it became such a ubiquitous visual and ethical/philosophical eyesore ( that people would literally believe, in their sad hearts,  that owning such an ugly accoutrement would somehow confer respect on them no matter what else they were wearing, or how it contradicted the overall impression they were giving off, the impulse behind the purpose to just keep up with the Joneses or rather Suzukis; all of this was quite devastating to me: couldn’t they see that LVMH was just geniusly milking it at their unthinking expense?). If Guerlain were to suddenly launch a prȇt a porter or couture range, models stalking the runways in Thierry Wasser’s ‘spectacular’ wedding dress finale, I know there would be a glitch in my brain centre: : :   something in the water does not compute. Guerlain just should not be doing clothes. My body’s blood cells are rejecting this. And somehow, I have always felt the same about the clothing collections of Louis Vuitton: they feel………unnatural. Not what the doctor quite ordered. Dior, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent:  yes, they always straddled the entire empire: the lipsticks, the extraits, the coats, the shoes and the dresses. But Louis Vuitton’s perfumes, all of which I have smelled cursorily, some of them quite decent, quite deft, still just give me the feeling of being trapped in polystyrene wrapped in polyurethane in a stock cupboard locked as the light go out with a preening store manager’s key : I feel like merchandise, about to be transported by cargo ferry, to a dockland somewhere near Shanghai.






Contre Moi the perfume itself is quite pleasant. Nothing original, but a decent orange blossom vanilla (both Tahitian and Madagascan), ‘fluffed’ and rounded with sharp synthetics, sensual  – in an office context – with its herbs, roses, and magnolia petals: I paused for a moment when I sprayed it, and took it in. Mmm. Yes. Efficient. Commercial. Cute, in an adult kind of way. Perfectly acceptable. And yet, for me, slightly dead inside. The chemical miasma of a mass orchestration of ‘notes’ in the air  I feel whenever I dare to survey the insides of the gravely respectable boutique in central Shinjuku; taking the long, ceramic swabs from their holes dipped in LV and receiving a tight, pinching feeling at the top of the sinuses or even the mean, dark core of my head. No, these perfumes are not for me. They remind me too much of exactly what I don’t miss. The transactional exchange of ‘designer goods’. The employed, being ferried along by public transportation to their computers. The frenzy of the city, of asymptomatic office ladies in regulation heels leaving virus on the escalator, unknowingly, as they rush to their destinations and appointments. THE HORROR OF OUTSIDE. 




Filed under Flowers

black feathers




Filed under Flowers








All Black Narcissus readers know that I have a deep love for the floral aldehydics of the 1970’s. With the mossed introversion of musks and woods born in silver; flowers, citruses and green notes eternalized through aldehydes; preserved, for me these perfumes – Calandre, Rive Gauche, First, Bleu De France, Tamango and many others, have a beautifully yin inscrutability; an  ‘underplayed’ energy to them that is cryptic: cool, emotionally.  Urbane and distant, with a clear discernment – such perfumes need impeccable clothing and presentation; troubling, they plant seeds of sexual enigma in the mind of the person who follows in their trail. The warmth will come later.



Shiseido’s ‘Rivage’ – lake shore, or river bank in French – is a long discontinued perfume,  still available for extortionate prices at rare vintage websites by the millimetre –  close to Calandre, as well as Rive Gauche (even in name, this is obviously a Japanese homage – Shiseido has often taken on popular French classics and created domestic equivalents – Concerto = Jean Patou 1000, Murasaki an outtake of No 19), sometimes softening them for local tastes – but not with Rivage. If anything, this is sharper, more potent (in the edp that I am wearing today); the rose oxides, the hyacinth, galbanum and jasmine cassis; the iris, the ambergris and sandalwood a protectant, self-insulating hideaway; a house from another time. The silence of a white bedroom. The pure solitude of material being.









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I first met Mr K around twenty years ago. As one of the most experienced and knowledgeable English teachers in the school, he could explain the finer grammar points to me better than I understood them myself, and he was valued by the company for his ability to instill this impractical but necessary English in students for the higher level entrance exams. Suspicious of me at first, his narrow, deep set eyes watching me closely in his snide, if humorously and appealingly hippopotamus-like face as I walked into the room, with his faltering, heavily-accented English that he was obviously quite self-conscious of, he hesitated to address me directly, but gradually let down his guard and began to take to me –  and me to him. I found him amusing. We had a similarly absurdist sense of humour, a general skepticism, a playful mockery and politically left of centre tendencies (he had supposedly been a ‘revolutionary communist’ at his university, when longhaired and speaking Chinese and womanizing). He had a wild side I could correspond with,  even if I hardly agreed with his general philosophy of life. With his louche and sexist ways – constantly disparaging his wife and ex-wife in mean fashion – he was almost disgustingly libidinous, always reducing women to their basic physical elements and appraising their value as such: after work he would usually drink sake in Fujisawa late at night at the ‘hostess’ or the many Thai ‘nyu-haafu’ (transsexual ) bars until he passed out, sometimes coming in to work the next day dishevelled and reeking of alcohol as though he had slept under a hedge. I would give him mints and tell him to go and smarten himself up. In many ways, he was a disgrace. His views often offended me, but he also amused me : at least here was somebody with character and obvious defects he didn’t try to hide. He wasn’t always trying to appear ‘perfect’. I found it refreshing. At least at first.

Despite his dissolute lifestyle, Mr K in other ways was as rigidly conservative as they come, very much of the old school way of thinking – still very prevalent – that the university you go to completely defines you as a human being, meaning that with my Cambridge credentials I was automatically elevated to ‘acceptable person’ status. Graduating from the ivory towers was all he needed to know. I was bona fide, based on my certificate: my academic ‘prestige’. Little else really counted for him.This man fully believed, deep down in his soul, that ‘intelligence’ could be measured solely by how a person performs in the hopelessly archaic Japanese high school and university entrance exams; that your fundamental worth comes from the establishment that you eventually, after years of studying hard at schools and cramming at night schools, manage to enter. It was all hierarchy, ranking, name. It irked me. And was nonsense. A student, say, who to me was obviously very talented, even possibly a genius at several subjects would be immediately discounted as competely ‘stupid’ if they couldn’t do mathematics or science (so that obviously includes me as well then ), or if they were more logically minded  – a future Nobel scientist – but  couldn’t grasp the nuances and ambiguity of written Japanese (‘baka’ : :  he is stupid). No. Only a blinking automaton who acquiesced in a servile manner: humble, committed to rote learning and using their ‘intelligence’ consistently across the board in order to answer, passively, all the multiple choice questions that will never really help them in real life; who bowed respectfully when he walked in, managed to stifle their yawns in his notoriously static and mind-numbing evening classes (I saw this on many occasion with my own eyes when I passed by his classroom)  – only they would be accepted as being, in the severe restrictedness of his view, remotely ‘intelligent’. And intelligence, and academic prowess, were all that mattered.

Mr K had gone to the elite Tokyo Institute Of Foreign Languages, where he had specialized in English and Mandarin in the 1970s. Coming from Kagoshima Prefecture on the lusher, slower island of Kyūshū, this was his one claim to greatness; the one fact his porcelain pride could cling to  – seemingly, even the very pillar of his identity – he was always talking about it, though he had left that linguistic institution more than thirty years before. Despite his occasionally amusing anecdotes and observations in the teachers’ room, to me it made him an objectionable academic snob. Ranking people in direction proportion to their university degrees. The lower, the more inferior. But worse, I later came to realize that he was also an inveterate bully. And it was this, as I gradually witnessed him viciously verbally abusing at least three of my Japanese colleagues first hand  – two of whom developed very serious psychosomatic illnesses as a direct result of his nastiness, with all the standard consequent psychological repercussions – that made me quickly realize that I was teaching in quite a toxic environment. And later, it would happen also to me. At his hands. I had always thought of myself as much stronger – immune, if you like – but I came to see and experience personally just how badly bullying does affect people. And it was this side of Mr K that then dominated in my view of him, despite his better attributes – I know that he was proud of, and loved his children very much – and why I was glad, in the end, to see him gone. Even not, ideally, in those particular, sorry circumstances.

While Mr K continued to quietly, if openly, bully a sweet, if somewhat docile  – and in truth, occasionally incompetent –  English teacher I sat next to and got on perfectly well with, on the whole, this harmless married man in his thirties was able to take – just – his ‘superior’s’ incessant, critical verbal tirades about his lack of ability or lack of intelligence –  until the time he finally started developing quite crippling stomach pains – probably ulcers, or polyps- from all the stress, and which in the end kept him from work for quite a while (highly unusual in Japan  – people do not take days off from work here unless they are virtually dying). I really felt for him, and tried to be nice. Chatting to him and making small talk in order to encourage him. And when alone with Mr K, I told him directly that he should stop being so obnoxious, criticizing him openly when he wouldn’t let up, and the poor man sitting next to me seemed nervous and pale.

I wasn’t to know, however, that he was just warming up. Saving his most hateful and hot-blooded vitriol for a lovely young teacher who became a good friend of mine and his eventual suffering victim and who I shall for the rest of this chapter call Yuina. As far as I was concerned, this new, petite, smiling and girlish colleague that I found sitting next to me one spring and whose marriage I would one day go to:  her parents came up to me in order to thank me personally for looking after her during this terrible time in her life – was a quick-silver intelligent, self-deprecating person, immediately loved by all the students, very genuine, if vulnerable, and someone I instantly clicked with. At the beginning, she was always smiling. Someone who enjoyed a lot of things and laughed a lot, while simultaneously being aware. And although she claimed not to be able to speak English despite having lived in America for a while as a child, she understood everything that I was saying, with all the nuances (which Mr K never had a chance in hell of doing, and I think it was that which made him jealous). A Disney lover – something I can’t relate to personally, she was also a bass guitarist in an all girl pop punk rock group who she loved performing with;she appreciated the darker side of life too alongside her enjoyment of happy endings: horror movies, thrillers..we had what I call the ‘ether’: banter about nonsense that made me laugh unselfconsciously and quickly – not all the forced humour of the teachers’ room where everyone is basically permanently on edge and performing -just random silliness: she would say things in Japanese, and I would reply in English and vice versa, which was an odd state of affairs but we always knew exactly what the other was talking about. I was so happy to finally have someone beside me I could actually feel at home with.

Was this why the mean-spirited man opposite us, vituperously stewing in his own juices and pride every day, decided to then pick on her so ferociously? Because with Yuina he became a monster. Yes, when teaching the students and joshing in the hallways, messing with kids’ hair and teasing them harmlessly, he seemed just like a jovial big bear. But with my friend, riled with incomprehensible rage he seemed to desire nothing less than the destruction of her spirit. To ‘tame’ her. ‘Bring her round’. Nail her. He truly seemed to hate her, and used his position of power and advancement to say to her whatever he wanted, unpunished. He was never reprimanded. At least not in front of me. And I simply couldn’t understand it. She hadn’t done anything. Except, perhaps, just be her sunny self. And, of course, to not have graduated from the blessed Institute Of Foreign Languages (but she had been to Keio – equally respected, if you really care about such things……. I just found the whole thing utterly ridiculous) One factor I think that led to her being subjugated to his vicious whims on a daily basis was that she was what is known as a kikokushijo, or ‘returnee’, having lived abroad for a while because of her father’s work and therefore, in some people’s eyes, not ‘pure Japanese’. This is a common problem for people coming home: although it is possible that envy – in being able to speak real English, for a start, which the current Japanese education system simply does not allow people to do – plays a part, it is also the issue of differing temperament and behaviour. Although ethnically identical to their friends at school, a few years out of the straitjacket can do wonders for a person’s perspective on the world – not to mention having the experience of that strange and exotic, unimaginable concept called free time. Students here simply can’t believe that in Europe and in fact most of the world, a six to eight week summer holiday, or even longer in places like Italy, where you are pretty much free to do whatever you want, is essentially the norm. And the students I teach who have experienced this uniformly love it.

They get used to it. The body language changes. It loosens. There is more eye contact, a slovenly effect, I suppose, sometimes a sense of being a bit too comfortable in one’s own skin, that comes across to some as iikagen or bad-mannered; immodest, lazy at any rate – not a person who has done the full conveyor belt J-citizen factory from kindergarten through to graduating from university. To many, the returning students are simply not ‘real’ Japanese anymore, and they therefore often face a peculiar kind of discrimination. Perhaps this is what I liked about her, I don’t know. Not being able to transform myself into the kind of foreigner who willingly absorbs Japaneseness to the point of no return, I myself was also like a hybrid in many ways, and so was she: to me Yuina was just a unrestrained: she dared to be ebullient. But Mr K detested this. To him she was some kind of abomination.

From the moment she entered the teachers’ room, even though, or perhaps because she had been a former student at the school, taught by Mr K – how dare she now be his equal in the staff room! – he was finding fault with her, almost leering in his constant pinpointing of what was wrong with her – that she wasn’t ‘polite’ enough, that she wasn’t ‘feminine’ enough, that she was insolent, indolent, spent too much time talking to me, that she didn’t know anything about English or English grammar, that she was a useless teacher, and he would frequently reduce her to tears. In the staff room.  I would do all that I could to intervene, when I was working with her at the same time, though I knew that whenever I wasn’t it was even worse, that he really laid into her, got really deep and wouldn’t let up. And as a new teacher, an underling, she had no right to answer back. Particuarly not to an older, experienced, ‘veteran’ teacher. I noticed that she was getting more and more run-down. Red-eyed. Coming down all the time with colds and coughs with a permanent, slightly too high temperature. Wearing surgical masks to cover her face and protect herself from some of the criticism. She didn’t look well at all, and started to speak much less to me, keep herself to herself. Sit quietly. I think the incremental bullying accrued in her bloodstream; accumulated, little by little knocking down her immune system and self-esteem;  along with the stomach pain that the two other male colleagues I had sat next to suffered – one was visibly becoming more and more disheartened and depressed as the weeks went by; he apparently had the ‘sin of arrogance’ (admittedly, he wasn’t subservient, and had an ego, his own ideas about things, and was quite ‘K.Y’ – literally kuki yomenai – someone who can’t ‘read the air’ ie clueless) but he wasn’t a bad sort by any means either and certainly didn’t merit such horrible treatment – for just existing. Yuina, though, the object of K’s deep misogynist fury – was obviously in a class of her own.

One day, when I was sitting next to her one afternoon, she suddenly couldn’t see. ‘I can’t see anything’ she said to me quietly. She was staring forward, eyes open. ‘I can’t see’. Clearly very distressed, as was I, but trying not to draw attention to herself, she was closing her eyes, then opening them – but she wasn’t able to focus. She sat still in her seat, trying to compose herself, willing this away. I didn’t know what to do; couldn’t quite believe what was happening. She couldn’t see? It seemed that the stress of all the bullying had made her temporarily actually go blind. Not just a migraine – which the other bullied teachers were also sometimes getting – but so many flashes of white in her irises that she simply wasn’t able to see. And she was in a panic – and I for her (blindness is my greatest fear) : and I could hardly believe what was happening; and he just sat there, blank-faced, almost enjoying it as another human being was going through such tremendous suffering, inflicted by him, as she was led out eventually and, once the initial crisis had subsided and her eyesight was working a little again, allowed to go home. I had no words.

Except I did, a little later, when we had one of the few social events that I was somehow required to go to  – a goodbye party in an izakaya organized by our jovial, good-hearted manager Mr Takamine (a well meaning individual, overall, but why didn’t he step in more to intervene in this situation? Such vile and demeaning treatment by one of his teachers? Did he also think that she needed to be ‘taught a lesson or two’ or ‘go through the ropes’? (was this some form of psychological hazing?) I was sat in a corner opposite Mr K and next to Yuina who, despite the food she was picking at and the alcohol she was being coerced to drink  – even though she reacted badly to it – and the supposedly upbeat and  ‘celebratory’ atmosphere was, once again, unsurprisingly, being bullied (but at a party?)  And this time it was like a soliloquy.  A rant by him;  a monologue against her. Yuina weeping silently, head down, as the puffed up, unthinking ‘linguist’ continuously hounded her with insults and rudeness until finally, my blood boiling I could take it no more: smashing my fists on the table to the gasps and stares of other onlookers in the restaurant, standing up and shouting into his face with multiple middle fingers and fuck yous I erupted into a blind rage that totally shocked everyone there and I instructed him to stop this immediately, shouting at my manager for not doing anything either as she cowered into her corner probably wishing she could disappear but I couldn’t stop ( I should have done this decisively, and earlier).  I told him how cruel he was, that I wouldn’t stand for it any longer, that he was hurting her, in a mix of English and Japanese, imperfect, but there was absolutely no doubt whatsoever for anyone there about how I felt. I stormed out in a cyclone of mayhem and  with a feeling of despair that verged on suicidal. An inchoate sadness at the inherent injustice of the situation. A person in power taking advantage of someone in a weaker position and just intentionally ripping her apart. Day after day. His behaviour offended me to the depths of my being in its unfairness, its pointlessness, and sheer cruelty.

Which is, of course, the essence of bullying, a problem that lies at the heart of Japan – and of virtually every other culture, no one is immune –  but particularly here, and a problem that can no longer be ignored. A recent government report indicates that cases of bullying, both physical intimidation and verbal abuse, have escalated over the last few years, particularly in elementary and junior high schools (with maturity, it seems the problem is less endemic once kids actually start to develop more empathy as their brains develop), but as in any culture where blind conformity is expected, fissures of stress will inevitably break open, and those that are weak, independent or different in any way will always bear the brunt. Deru kugi wa utareru  – ‘the nail that sticks out must be hammered down’ is a famous expression in Japan, a proverb that speaks for itself. I have had students who have been bullied at their schools (not our evening classes – I have an absolute zero tolerance policy towards anything even approaching bullying), and who come to juku depressed, sullen, unresponsive. The bullying can range from the familiar victimization of anyone physically different, to those with ‘quirky’ personalities, to even just the stress of being in a ‘group’ of friends at school where you are expected to do what your friends do without question. Girls, especially, seem bound to belong to a trio or quartet of some peers from their class or their club activity, with a designated ‘leader’ who makes all the main decisions for which their tacit acquiescence is required; they do everything together; decide everything together, and while much of the time this can undoubtedly lead to fluttering hearts and passionate pubescent mutual confidences, and in the best cases, true friendships for a lifetime, it can also lead to huge frustration and a stultifying loss of liberation and personal identity. One girl I taught, a student who had been abroad and was basically friends with everyone in her class there, was horrified to find that she was silently expected to join one of these cutesy ‘cliques’ made up entirely of girls of her own age when she really didn’t want to. A naturally fun and effusive girl, it was very alarming to me to see her getting more and more sad and listless each time she came to my class, weighed down with the burden of intricate social minutiae she wasn’t remotely interested in to begin with, all the unspoken social ‘rules’; that she was supposed to intimate her friends’ deeper feelings through intuition, rather than having them stated far more openly, which she said that she was used to (an intrinsic cultural gulf, that exists deep down in the essential supposed differences between Japanese and western cultures made small in the confines of a provincial school classroom). But it was all just a hassle to her. And she knew it couldn’t continue (whenever students tell me ‘I hate my friends’, I always explain the inherent contradiction).

One day she had had enough. That evening she came in cheerful and beaming. I asked, as I always did, about the subtle bullying she had received at the hands of the ‘leader’ and her handmaidens in the playground. ‘I am no longer a member of the group’, she told me. ‘How did that happen?’ I inquired. ’I wrote her a letter today. I told her that I didn’t like any of them, and that I was leaving’ she told me – ‘I have left them’ : an act of great bravery in the context I thought. And that was that.

Others are not quite so lucky. One student of mine was repeatedly viciously bullied, both physically and verbally, on a daily basis, by a group of boys who harangued him relentlessly to the point where he actually barricaded himself in his bedroom for a while and refused to go to school for a few weeks. His mother was in contact with me, pleading with me to give her ideas on how to help him: one particularly heartless student at his school, one day forced him down onto the floor and deliberately stood on his leg, pressing down with all his weight until his femur cracked, and act of physical and emotional violence that agonizingly painful and traumatizing to him. No wonder he felt he had to cocoon himself away. His crime was twofold : again, he had been in America, like many of my students, and had just not been able to get used to the overseriousness of Japanese school life, and again, he was a little ‘K.Y’ – maladjusted to his life in Japan, and I supoose also quite immature emotionally, often acting out in class and taking it out on me on a Friday night – I have often been used as an emotional punching bag by students, absorbing their angst, while trying to getting them into a decent high school to kickstart their futures so they can go to a university and then escape all of this, but it can take years for them to process and heal from the trauma of bullying. The effects of it can resonate for a lifetime.

With my naturally strong personality and waywardness, I had always personally thought of myself as ‘unbulliable’; having emerged from an education in England largely unscathed. My first school, in the Black Country area of the Midlands, was decidedly rougher than my second, in the much more financially comfortable area I grew up in, and I was, admittedly, sometimes pushed about a bit in the playground. There was an atmosphere in that place that felt threatening. And as a four year old, I had been wide eyed and astonished (and so bitterly crestfallen) when some tougher kids deliberately, after I had gone into the woods and picked them in sweet fairytale ignorance, knocked the Snow White-like red and white magic toadstools I had lovingly wrapped in crepe paper and brought to school to show my teacher out of my hands and then stamped on them on the floor, for no reason. Just for the hell of it. It was a senselessness I couldn’t fathom or understand at that age and I remember staring at them, bursting into tears. I was occasionally kicked a bit at breaktime, but was protected by a big West Indian girl called Sylvia who took me under her wing and physically forced them away from me. Most kids, in any country, experience some kind of teasing or conflict. It is a part of growing up and learning to deal with other people. And I cannot deny either ever having been spiteful to other students or teasing people heartlessly: I think insecurity and pressure causes people to behave that way: being a child is not easy, and I wasn’t an innocent angel either. I could be mean to certain kids I didn’t like as I had a big mouth on me: words at my disposal. At comprehensive school, there was the odd incident in my teens when I had been badmouthing and gossipping about some of the more badly behaved boys in my year who were sleeping with girls and I suppose I got my just deserts – being pushed over in the playground or even forced into a physical fight, but these were rare incidents. On the whole, my time at school was fun and enjoyable – and I thrived on it. I don’t think I could ever truly claim in all honesty, to have really bullied when I was growing up.

The first time I was, it was in Japan. By Mr K. And as a ‘middle-aged’ man (an easy target here, actually, where anyone past the prime blushes of young manhood, with the unforgiveable sins of ageing, or a receding hairline  – god help you if you should go bald! – or have weight gain, the all telling expanding waistline, the prime symptoms of being an ‘oji-san’ – literally ‘uncle’, but more generally a friendly pejorative for a ‘man that is past it’). Even though he was about fifteen years older than me, very overweight and no handsome young prince himself, to put it mildly, I suppose with a bully, it is easy for these people to find the Achilles Heel, the obvious chink in your armour; hone in to your vulnerabilities, and then exploit them to their advantage. My appeance was mine. ‘You look good in photographs but terrible in real life’. ‘How fat you are!’ ‘How much you have aged!’ etc etc, he would say, as though these were acceptable things to say to a colleague in a work situation. I laughed these comments off, but they always really hurt. I am very sensitive, and I suppose narcissistic. But nobody expects the people they work with to say things like this to them out of the blue, during the working day when you are preparing for your lessons. It wrecks your mood. It is very wounding.

Ageing is what it is. We all come to terms with it in our own way. And most people don’t look the same at 50 as they did at 20. No matter. Despite of the fact that the teachers’ room didn’t exactly look like a modelling agency, any change in size or weight or visible wearing of stress on a person’s face was often remarked upon, out loud, in front of other staff, on a fairly regular basis. Part of this can be attributed to one part of Japanese culture in which it is acceptable for men to make jokes about each other’s appearance; family members also joke around about such things perhaps more than we would do in England, for example. And I was aware of this. But this was somehow different. Even after I developed severe leg pain because of a hereditary, arthritic loss of cartilage in both knees with the resulting loss of mobility, he would taunt, out of the blue, when I came back from lunch: ‘Wow. Mr Chapman was so handsome when he joined this school. And look at him now’ – to the embarrassment of the other, far more decent teachers- they knew that this was unacceptable and contained nothing but ill intent. I laughed, or protested weakly, but had been disarmed and weakend. I learned what bullying can do to people for the first time, first hand. You become more generally prone to anxiety, more worried, more depressed; you get a lurch in your stomach even thinking about going in to work – it can have a significant impact on your quality of life. I got so wound up and upset at the thought of being mocked in front of other teachers that I eventually started writing up a very carefully worded legal document threatening him with action if he continued in this manner: that if he didn’t stop I was going to take this seriously, take it up with the senior administrative staff and get him removed; at the very least, reprimanded. In the end, it wasn’t necessary.

Coming back to school after a six month rehabilitation for knee surgery, having had to learn to walk again from scratch – a long and arduous process that involved a lot of pain and effort –  one of the things I was most dreading about returning to my desk was having K’s mean, beady eyes fixed on my sorry frame as I hobbled back into the room and making new and merciless jibes at my expense. I was dreading it. And wasn’t sure if I could take it.

As it happened, though, when I entered the room and saw his empty desk, asked where he was, I was told that he had in fact recently had a severely damaging stroke. This had incapacitated him completely, and he had not only had to learn to walk again like me, but also talk. No more mean words. Ironically, while I had been learning to walk again, so had he. In his case, though, it had also affected his brain and he was now a shattered man. Although the school tried to allow him back eventually, to teach some lessons, he was so slow, thin, weak, shuffling along with his walking stick that it was obvious he would never be able to work there again. His long-suffering wife was now looking after him, at home, where he just sat and watched TV. When I heard he was coming into the school one day to say goodbye, I felt a tightening in my chest; a darkness, but when I saw him, I could not gloat. He looked pathetic. I couldn’t help but somehow feel sorry for him, as a human being. We had shared some laughs. His life was over. At the same time, as I got stronger, and back into the work routine, I can’t exactly say I mourned his absence.

Bullying is an extremely seriously problem in Japan, leading to a great deal of stress, mental illness, and often suicide. It prevails in all parts of society, and in a variety of different ways. It can be the straightforward malice of the classroom, the ‘power harassment’ of the workplace, the ganging up on mothers in ‘mama-san’ groups of parents (a good friend of mine was forced into expensive psychotherapy, her dread of the other mothers’ censure and malicious conformism growing to such an extent that she could barely function normally); it can be the ‘playful’ bullying of bosses forcing their underlings to drink alcohol even when they are allergic to it, to down shōchū and beer at after work parties, or university students feeling obliged to drink very dangerous quantities of spirits at binge-drinking gatherings, where they are egged on to go further under social duress, even to a perilous degree. Year after year there are reports of deaths from the highest level universities about students, unaccustomed, succumbing to extreme alcohol poisoning, under the canopies of campus cherry trees.

The key to beating this scourge is, I believe, education. The society is changing, often in very good ways, and I encourage my students to be themselves as much as possible, to think outside the group where necessary (to discourage group dynamics completely would be akin to dismissing the essence of Japanese culture, which derives many positive aspects from being group-oriented – see the response to the Great Tohoku earthquake of 2011 as one example, and there are many). To try to instill self-confidence in one’s own peculiarities and uniqueness; to respect differences, and to refuse or denigrate any form of coercion or bullying in the first place. To stand up to it.Although the sheer toll of ijime on the thousands of souls of Japanese people by Japanese people is incomprehensible (in 2018, the number of reported cases of severe bullying in elementary schools was 317, 121 – and that was just those that came to light), concurrently there does now seem to be more awareness of the seriousness of the problem,  both at the individual and societal, even governmental level – there are posters featuring famous athletes and other celebrities on my local bus with appeals to stop bullying, campaigns in schools, all of which raises the hope of letting some light in (Yuina eventually moved to another school, teaching younger kids where she nows seems bright as a bean) :  illuminating, and hopefully destroying, the darkness of all this wasteful, devastating, and totally unnecessary misery.




Filed under Flowers










My scent of the days is 4160 Tuesday’s Rhubarb & Custard.

It smells like…………rhubarb and custard. But not only the classic British pudding, which I love and sometimes viscerally miss – especially rhubarb crumble and custard, a classic ending to a Sunday dinner when you are so full you just want to collapse onto the sofa and listen to the birds sing from the garden,

















but also, and for me just as delicious (this morning, after randomly reaching out for this perfume from my futon, I found myself badly craving confectionery – there has just been far too much healthy home made cooking going on recently)     the boiled sweets you get in a crumpled white paper bag filled with sugar coated hard boiled loveliness that were always my favourite when you got them after school at the sweet shop in the newsagents at Dovehouse Lane.

















Oh my god I used to love these. Lemon bonbons too. And I quite liked Kola Kubes, even if there was something rather odd about them (that I kept coming back to). Chocolate limes somehow repelled me, the way the clashing liquid chocolate interior melted into the crunchiness of the coloured citrus in a way that I knew wasn’t right, and dad was always all alone with his blackcurrant liquorice, barley sugars, and striped humbugs, which only he liked.




I loved the tartness and milkiness of Rhubarb and Custards. The contrast between the acidic fruit taste (my grandmother Ivy always bought me hard boiled sour cherry sweets as well which I loved equally : I would eat a whole packet in one go until the roof of my red mouth actually hurt)  – and the vanilla custard flavouring, packed around it dusted with smashed tiny icicles of confectioner’s sugar.






One spray of Sarah McCartney’s tender childhood gourmand brought all of this rushing back this morning. This very likeable and easygoing scent convincingly captures both the dessert, with real fruit, and the sweets, though as the composition tilts into a simple warm vanilla, the acerbic tang of the rhubarb gradually fades (if never completely), leaving you with a sweet, nuzzly array. Today I find all this enormously comforting.






It is strange when you think back to those times when your world was so much smaller. And yet looming equally huge. A small being, growing up, with terrors and excitements, the immensity of sensation and uncovered feelings; the delights of simple pleasures; the fastening on to what you knew you definitely liked; the things that defined you.





And things like a bag of sweets – in America you would say candy I think – were so exciting.  You would daydream at the back of the classroom just thinking about the moment the bell would go and you could get out of school; take the 893 bus, your goal only your Rhubarb & Custard, or the Double Decker or Milky Way or Refreshers chews (my goodness I loved those as well; chewy fizzly things with a great dollop of sherbet in the centre that made your mouth pop – I would arrive home alive and effervescent dying to watch TV and put off my homework as long as humanly possible). I would walk down Dovehouse Lane, linger, past Gwen’s house if we were walking home together; sometimes dawdle via Helen’s down Bourton Road, and then after a while after a mug of tea at hers go round the corner and down the road past Owen’s,  then Julianne’s, then turn round the corner again and eventually get home to number 51:  all with the pleasantly tired afterfeeling from school and the lingering sugar taste of whatever confectionery I had just been eating and savouring immensely (as though, at that moment, your world was nothing more than the ever disappearing sweets at the bottom of the paper bag; sugared sheddings adorning the inside as you pudged down your finger to access the sorry last one; eat every crystal.)…… It is amazing for me to remember all these memories again, today; as adults we eat and enjoy so  many things ( I can still go into a slightly religious trance eating chocolate), but it is not quite the same – that time  when your entire world was perfectly concentrated in one, adrenalizing, single sugar rush.










D reminded me also this morning of this, which I had somehow forgotten in the brainless sands of time. Roobarb & Custard was also the name of a TV programme, a cartoon that was shown five minutes every night just before the news.







Watching the intro music just now














just plunged me down a rabbit hole of deep remembrance, the zoingy moog squelch of the buzzsawing main theme: wow: I can see myself as a five year old – or was it older?  – sat goggle eyed in front of the screen on the carpet in front of the fireplace when it was on, ravenous for dinner; the travails of a green dog and a pink cat, and a narrator posher than I remember –  the name of the cartoon obviously referencing the old fashioned traditional dessert that some people dreaded having to eat after their main meal on Sunday but which I basically  loved (my mum grew a lot of rhubarb down the garden as a lot of people do, along with runner beans and sweet peas : how I loved those flowers’ delicate, refined scent);  and the smell of the gorgeously sour magenta and green stems bubbling up with sugar as they were boiled in a saucepan, filling up the whole house, is a memory I have very vividly but also want to experience in person again this summer.  I love rhubarb – as does D  – and it is something that you can only buy on import here in Japan as a gourmet item in louche supermarkets; tiny stalks wrapped up  in cellophane for petite experiments with foreign ingredients in expensive restaurants (although some farmers’ markets have started selling it in certain places). Still, it is not a well known fruit  – so it is possible that perfumes like Hermès’ Rhubarbe Ecarlate, a chic approximating of the fruit in a stringent grapefruity atmosphere of Parisian cologne that I think is quite nice might be appreciated for its smell but not ring any particular rhubarbian bells in those Japanese perfumer wearers who may try it. Aedes De Venustas’ austere take on rhubarb similarly has a velveteen, woody deep gravitas that I also quite like but it does not quite fit my personal, more down to earth associations with the fruit. Comme Des Garçons Sherbet Rhubarb is much better in that regard – I like its upbeatness. On a whim I recently, in Italy, bought L’Erbolario’s Rabarbaro for Duncan : a rhubarb-centred fresh summer cologne that smells like a more purpled and fruit tinged Kenzo Pour Homme, but which will most definitely be best enjoyed when the weather gets much hotter. For today, if we are talking rhubarb (and we most definitely are), then 4160’s Rhubarb and Custard gets the pink and yellow Sports Day rosette.

























Going back to rhubarb and custard  (sorry, I have nothing else to do today),  the fruit ladled in with the English tinned version of crème anglaise  – almost all households that I knew of made their custard from a powdered packet, or else you had cans of Ambrosia, which I loved and would sometimes steal a can of and eat cold with a spoon from the direct source upstairs in my bedroom; also their delectable cold rice pudding: heaven!  —— musing on this hot, regular pudding this morning it also brought back memories of personal domestic irritations and niggling bȇtes noires. We all have them: I read yesterday that since the quarantine has been lifted in Hubei province and other places, the law courts have been flooded with files for divorce from couples finding that they simply couldn’t tolerate living with each other all day in cramped spaces with nothing to do but stare into their computer screens trying to avoid each other and won’t take it a single minute longer ; the suffocation of warm, heated interiors and net curtains peeping outside for other signs of life; the smell of the grill; the annoying little foibles of other people that drive us crazy even when we don’t know why; those that make you grit your teeth or shout out loud to just stop it; family flare ups over pittances that can turn into full scale domestic armageddons.









One of mine was definitely the un-kosher mixing of the rhubarb crumble and custard together. I can’t remember which people in my family, as we sat gathered round, committed this grave tabletime sin – I know I tried it a couple of times myself and then couldn’t eat it; I think others did it voluptuously just to spite me but it made me sick. And still does. In one whirl of the spoon my world is ruined. I like to keep these things separate. To enjoy as mutual complements. I can’t stand it when Duncan stirs his cappuccino too much either – the tinny spoon continuously tapping the side of the cup really puts my teeth on edge, as does any scraping on earthenware or stoneware pots and dishes ( I die internally);  or when he folds foods into each other on the plate (no!!!!: leave the maple syrup where it is, and don’t mix it actually into the porridge, like this morning; I can’t bear it. Please leave the honey actually in the centre of the yoghurt where I placed it à la Grecque (blending it just turns it into cat food).  You spoon the yoghurt and then take on a little bit of honey. Don’t dazzle; dip your headlights. Obviously, I know that it is his right to do whatever the hell he wants to with his breakfast, or dinner, or lunch, but I am just saying  – I know you have similar pet hates, and I am dying to hear them. This can be hilarious:   I remember Helen actively wanted to kill people who ate with their mouths open. Or had long, greasy hair (a loathing I have inherited from her directly and have to keep in check when I come into contact with such people in public on the bus)). We all have things that grate on us when we are all cooped up inside together: asking Duncan if there were any such things that drove him crazy about me this morning he replied with an unhesitating yes: never throwing things away (‘ you’re a hoarder!’); squeezing the toothpaste from the middle  – why do you do it? ; oh my god, not putting the lids or caps back on anything grrrrrrr it’s so annoying ; never putting your clothes away, leaving oils and gungy fragrance crap on lightbulbs, god I hate that; ugh,  stained bedsheets from essential oils you drip all over the place; is it really necessary to have so many pots of rooibos tea crowded round the bed? I know he also detests all my perfumed experiments, the scented sticks stuck in random places, the goo, the mess;  the vaseline; the very worst being once when I stupidly heated a vat of frankincense crystals up in the oven in our old house, turning the smell environment into a vast, catholic mass –  that I loved – it smelled amazing –  the problem being that every future dish from that oven then tasted of charred olibanum; bread and butter pudding a la frankincense; frankincensed chicken; (I learned my lesson with that one); me aside, he also can’t stand it when old Japanese men pick their teeth grossly with toothpicks or make strange gurgling noises with their throats (or spit out snot into the street or even on moving escalators ); I can’t stand it when office ladies here won’t drink directly from their own plastic water bottles, but tip it – slowly, slowly, daintily, up gradually towards their mouths until a polite little drop tips gently onto their tongue: at that moment I always feel like rushing towards them with a hose pipe and hydrating them forcefully, but of course I know that it is precisely up to them. I know that. 










Duncan told me also surprisingly that his mum Daphne can’t stand the toilet seat being left up; it must be closed (you could have told me! All these years, Daphne………….I am sorry and will never do it again). His dad shares my deep, deep hatred of tea and coffee that isn’t hot enough ( Duncan, this morning’s tea was really substandard. I was so miserable drinking that tepid crap, in which you hadn’t left the tea bag in long enough, and put too much milk in to boot – you know you are supposed to heat the entire tea cup with boiling water beforehand; I was miserable as I sipped at the failed Earl Grey just after I had woken up); both Rod and I, and my mum too, must have our coffee piping hot or it makes us heave  (my sister Deborah, conversely, really, really hates it, and flies through the roof if any scalding drink comes near her cat-like tongue); my brother Greg and I when children used to challenge each other to make the perfect marmalade sandwich, in which a Mother’s Pride white loaf would be commandeered to create the idealised proportions of butter and bitter orange marmalade, spread to the edges and cut just so; (oh my god, I have just remembered  – the rage of butter when it has been refrigerated too much and cuts holes in the bread in the morning and you immediately lose the will to live; No No No keep it at room temperature in a nice white ceramic dish, please – – – –  I beseech you.








The list could surely go on and on. We all have our foibles and pet hates and things that truly irritate the hell out of us at times  – when we have the luxury to do so. It can’t be helped. We are only human. Last night, on the brilliant recommendation of Michael, we watched an amazing, very beautiful documentary called The Joneses, about a family of what I suppose you might call misfits, in a trailer house in Jackson, Mississippi, a close – if quite argumentative – family with a lot of problems, illnesses physical and mental, serious financial issues and even big challenges in terms of identity and hidden secrets: there were some really crippling scenes, and the levels of emotional honesty and the dignity they consistently upheld were heartrending, yet very uplifting. We finished it, together on the bed with the cat, feeling purified, tranquil, and grateful. It brought home what is important. People we cherish. Being stuck at home, bored out of our brains, on Saturday and Sunday rainy afternoons as kids. Tedious, tedious, football matches playing on Match Of The Day. The exhortations upstairs to bring down your cups and to tidy your room.  And then the wondrous, delicious, smell of the Sunday roast downstairs……….  wafting into the living room from the kitchen.








Filed under Flowers













The weather is a psycho. It has been sunny, even humid; people picnicking in the parks. We woke up this morning thinking there might be burglars downstairs or a poltergeist, but were too tired and snug under our duvets to be bothered to go downstairs and check (the cat kept restlessly going in and out across the balcony during the night in the cold rain keeping us from getting a proper night’s sleep, and we were completely out of it in the a.m). When I opened the shutters this morning I gasped out loud: there had been a bout of heavy snowfall , dropping from the roof in great clods, and the roofs of the houses next door and all along the street. Soft thuds. This strange happening apparently only last occurred over two hundred years ago during cherry blossom season: yesterday, in the bruising winds it was raining sakura petals; the temperature dropping clearly as we cycled along an avenue of cherry trees, the sky darkening, the flowers pattering down being blown by brooding gusts. Our friends will be getting married in falling snowflakes today, in a silent plague of epidemic: but I know the strictly monochrome theme will making perfect, shivering photos of the black and white attendees (I was just about to write ‘huddling’)      –    standing six feet apart from each other in the snow.







Yesterday, with all the gloom I found myself yearning for something solar and brain tight; nothing too drowsy or doleful or earthy – a perfume with no strings attached, and the beauty that is the extrait de parfum of Romeo by Romeo Gigli, was the perfect accompaniment for the evening on the back of my hand. I have two or three bottles of this: a 30ml parfum and two 5ml miniatures that I was lucky to once find in a Fujisawa antique shop: it is a perfume I use only for such occasions. This really is true sunniness though :  orange blossom and neroli are always fundamentally happiness-inducing main ingredients in perfumery, and yet much as I love them, fragrances featuring these flowers as their main theme are often very flush and bucolic; blowsy; rasping: all nuptials in Normandy, fresh air and white dresses: the pleasures of spring, indolic orange buds on new sheets and mattresses : joyous.








Romeo Di Romeo Gigli, particularly in the extract, which is the version I would definitely recommend of this extremely crisp and glinting perfume, is also centred on neroli and orange blossom but tautens the whole beautifully with a very galvanising and wind shorn orchestration of fresh top notes that clasp the orange flowers tightly in an almost fluorescent white room of eighties and nineties urban chic: to me I am always reminded me of glass tables and ginger lilies next to a leather sofa in a room of Robert Mapplethorpe.















































Vivid, fresh green top notes of lime, basil, marigold, various citruses, and, unusually, the sulphuric Indian herb asafoetida alongside a hint of mango bind and pressurize the neroli top note into a shining realness that can stop me in my tracks; a lure of other flowers (freesia, jasmine, lily of the valley, possibly tuberose) keeps the bouquet buoyant and lively. The whole is vaguely redolent in some ways of some of the other florals from the era such as Cabotine, Red Door, Tendre Poison, et al, but is beyond, more timeless:   (Tora, if you are reading this, I assumed you wore this back in the day or still do now – if not it would be a perfect addition to your orange blossom collection, worn discreetly with a white Gianfranco Ferre tailored shirt);  the end notes of benzoin, orris root, incense and a discreet sandalwood serving as a gentle denouement.










The perfume’s tagline in the original advertisements for the initial release was ‘a perfume that reminds you of a woman that reminds you of a perfume’ – an intriguing idea, and one that I think makes sense in the context of how the fragrances smells. There is an abstraction to this scent that makes it difficult to immediately decode: this is not the flowers in your garden, but neither is it artificial. More, it is the kind of perfume you can walk into an empty room, make your presence felt,  and leave an artful trace.






















































Filed under Flowers