Sometimes it is difficult to distill experiences into words. Especially when they have been among the most intense and memorable of your life (this post might take several chapters; or alternatively, realistically, as time gets swallowed up in the living of the regular week, not even amount to much at all – yesterday I went back to work, shaved my beard off, and became someone I am not again, with all the damage that entails to the body and the soul). The flight home was exhausting, memories gestating in my head, the bifurcation of cultures, the rabbit hole of my existence.
England was fantastic. It was great to have our own pad in Pimlico to slink back to this time, rather than carting suitcases on the underground and half-sleeping on other people’s sofas (those days are gone: I am too old). It meant we could retreat and conserve energy. And wake up on white, Georgian streets, and see England with new eyes. Night taxis past the Houses Of Parliament and the London Eye; gliding silently past midnight clad in new perfumes to demarcate new experience: I had been given a bottle of a perfume by Anima Vinci, and also something entirely not me (and yet me: I wore it in great profusion……after meeting Monsieur and Madame Persolaise for a catch up at an Indian restaurant, though exhausted from the night before – the launch and the gathering afterwards – there was one more assignation to Dalston to go to the house of one Lyall Hakaraia : a fascinating creature from New Zealand who lives in permanently flower drenched air, on this occasion an almost suffocating pleasure of lilies, hyacinths and tuberoses, his own club in the basement – Femmetopia – but it was too cold for me to dance; my heating needs are now beyond reptilian – Garrick, the host of the party where I played with Anne Pigalle (did I really?) there, resplendent in what looked like black Issey Miyake……it felt like a stage set, I was in The Matrix, Lyall in silk Japanese dressing gown, classical music coming from Radio 3 as they waited for JT Leroy, who was staying there and drinking at a pub around the corner………(surreal).
I had been unable to bear the smell of all the fried onions on my clothes, to the extent that I couldn’t even wear my coat (death for me): instead I had had an emergency shower and different, boring clothes, and sick of bloody No 19, which I have been signaturing all over the shop, felt like a new skin: : :: Mugler’s Love You All sprayed all over me like a waterfall: all steamed, laundry fresh ultramodern neroli and probably lime and the most innocuous, almost angelic, white musks, for that moment it felt strange but absolutely right, and our host made motions of pleasure as he inhaled me brushing past, climbing the stairs away from the revellers in the basement to the unbelievable florality of the reeking fleurs du mal of the living room and kitchen where we sipped neat Zubrowka vodka and rambled coherently about all kinds of nonsense until it was suddenly 3am and we had to leave in order not to miss our morning trains.
Back home at my parents’, I was completely drawn to wearing Anima Vinci’s delicious Sesame Chan, a perfume of extreme, soothing comfort that fits me like a glove and is my new favourite scent. Those that like Hermes’ Vetiver Tonka will in all likelihood also like this warm gourmand based on vetiver with delicately balanced notes of ginger, hazelnut, cereals, sesame and an eventual base note of pure, soft vanilla……I was LOVING myself on the train ride home, past fields of green, lost in thought and a novel, constantly aware of the aura around me: sweet, but not too much so, fresh, light, yet long lasting and completely pleasurable ; for me this is a perfectly blended comfort blanket and I am going to wear it today in Tokyo as well (tonight, in a sharp reverse from yesterday’s dungeon of condensed office culture I am attending the launch party of a Canadian poet, Joy Waller, and her first published book of poetry, Pause: Heartbeat, at which a range of foreign Tokyoites are going to interpret some of her works, including Duncan, who will be Icarus, and myself and Lola his Grecian tormentors (Burning Bush in a sack and a rake….I am getting whiplash just thinking about it: sometimes I feel that my own life is happening beyond my authorisation and I just watch it salaciously).
It was somewhat similar at the Launch party. The day before, I had been on BBC Radio London, live, which was a terrifying experience (have I already talked about this? probably), but it was so heightened and heartbeaty arriving at Broadcasting House, getting through all the levels of security, going up to Jo Good’s floor, where she was doing her show, talking about all kinds of things: Brexit, the price of tuna steaks, Neil Chapman’s perfume book – and feel free to call in and ask him any questions about fragrance! I am also going to ask him to guess what I am wearing…….as I sat in the lobby, knowing that I would be on after the news and a song::: holding my bag o ‘ perfumes close to me, knowing I would be talking live and having absolutely no idea how it would turn out…Neil you are on in five; Neil you can come in now, as the new single by Bananarama was playing – who were being interviewed after me – I now wished I could have hung around a bit longer and met them as I used to love their early stuff, but I was already being ushered out at that point, the fifteen minutes having gone by so quickly. Ms Good was a lovely woman; really enthusiastic, and she loved the fact that I had taken so many scents in for her to try. I found myself quite enjoying myself by the end, getting into my stride.
It all took its nerve toll, though, and although D and his parents came round in the evening, fresh from the Norwich bus and staying at the Windermere Hotel next door to hear me on the radio – like families gathering around the wireless in the 1940’s there was something very special and beautiful about this, my mum having also called up having just got back from the hairdresser’s, hearing something about tuna steaks and then not being able to believe her son was on the radio, she and dad gathered around the computer back home……
The next day though I had to be alone to get my act together for the evening. The Launch.
There are times in your life that you know are going to be defining moments. And this was definitely one of them (hopefully not the apex, but who knows? Perhaps this was my small moment). Whatever it was, it involved people from my life coming together – ‘characters’ from my book : girls, women from the past -(and present, we are still in contact) Rebecca, Natasha, Julianne, Julia, of course Helen, but in the flesh – friends from university I hadn’t seen for twenty five years (Lesley! Artemis, it was divine to see you, seriously), my family, and Duncan’s – plus The Perfume Society, hosted by Jo Fairley, who had just rushed across London fresh from winning a Jasmine Award, and though I have realised that in truth I am not entirely comfortable with eyes and attention on me (hence not wanting to teach any more – at times I feel violated by it: : :I get more and more sensitive as I get older, not less – I thought it was meant to be the opposite); this was different: in essence a celebration. The book, with its gold-embossed pages, was piled up on a table near the entrance. The handsome duo of my cousin Dominic and his husband Scott arrived (both architects/ designers) and seemed quite taken with it; there was Mrs Dalloway from The Black Narcissus too, and Catherine, standing shyly in a corner (very nice to meet you!), Samantha from I Scent You A day, with a friend (so sorry we didn’t get to properly talk: it was like that with everyone though: I was jealous of people being able to just relax and have conversations): Emma we hardly spoke at all, which I regret: Rachel and Sally, hardly at all either (sorry!): a lovely Japanese lady who has given me some introductions to perfume people in Tokyo (I am trying to get a Japanese co-edition put out for the small but passionate fragrance lovers of this city), all kinds of people, but in truth within the swirl of the champagne and the food – which I didn’t touch, weird for me I didn’t even get a chance to relieve my bladder- and with everything going on I had to be interviewed in front of everyone and read from the book, and I was not entirely present. At the time, or immediately afterwards, I couldn’t even remember anything I said: : afterwards I realised that despite feeling like the heaviest person in the world, heavier than lead, an animated corpse jolted by electric batteries to come alive and say something, as though I was rallying myself and battening down to the primal basics, eventually I started flowing; Jo was down to earth, relaxed and saying very nice things about the book, and I let my eccentricities out – I do remember quite a few times that people were laughing.
I signed books – by the end of the event there were none left, or maybe one (Georgia, I can’t believe you bought four, or was it five?) and we all piled next door to a cocktail bar, where everyone met and talked and the time went in no time in a blur of booze and love, and we found ourself in yet another taxi going home.
So: the book is out. It came out in America on April 2nd. There have been some extremely glowing reviews from The Perfume Society, Persolaise, I Scent You A Day, Australian Perfume Junkies, The Fragrant Wanderer, and Old Herbaceous (thanks very much), all of which I am so delighted with, – you never know how things will be received,) so it does seem that my crazed and pressurised labours of last year were not in vain. I expect the intense and touching memories will eventually decompact themselves and I may write more on all of this again, but for now I have to get ready for Duncan’s piece tonight, again on stage: : what has happened to me! Am I an extroverted introvert or the other way round: (how about you?). His piece, based on another’s poem, on the intense desire to escape life, or at the very least reality. Which, ultimately, in many ways, is what my book is basically about. The desire for beauty, and the transcendental.