A bricks and mortar Christmas

Christmas gift shopping. You can love it, you can hate it; you can buy into it, or you can opt out of it – no matter which way you cut it, you just can’t ignore it. I’m trying to do as much of my shopping as possible offline, from bricks and mortar shops in my home city and this is working well for me. I have had to resort to ordering one gift online, but I’m really hoping that is the limit for this year.

I’ve also found that it is a mistake even to check online to see if local shops have the things I’m thinking of in stock because the result will not necessarily bear any relation to the stock they actually hold. For example, I failed to find one particular item in town yesterday so I looked online and found the local branch of a stationery chainstore claimed to be carrying it. I changed my plans for this morning and walked into town, only to learn in the shop that they didn’t have any stock and the item was discontinued so they were unlikely to have any ever again.

Some you lose.

Despite this setback, since I was in town so I thought I’d just check in the bookshop where I found three different versions of the very thing I was looking for and also several other inspiring items, making significant inroads into my gift shopping.

Some you very much win.

Speaking of local shops, somewhere in the past three months, whilst I’ve been busy with my move, the niche beauty retailers Space NK have opened a branch in my home town which is just perfect for gift shopping. Note that: gift shopping. Not walking in, trying on perfume, then deciding you just can’t leave the shop without buying it for yourself.

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As soon as this fragrance hit my wrist, I knew I was lost. It is exactly what I want to smell like right now. It’s not a favourite of yesteryear, it’s not something that reminds me of a particular place or time (although I am getting a slight hit of 1970s bath cubes, which I can’t imagine anyone as sophisticated as Jo Malone was intending). It is right here, right now, au courant, fresh new me. I love it.

How is the approaching holiday season making you feel? Are you full of fresh ideas, enjoying established traditions, or wishing you could hide in a cave? Shopping online, or enjoying searching in local stores? I’m fascinated by how everyone approaches the season with different intentions.

 

Five favourite beauty products from Avon

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I’ve been selling Avon for a few months now and, although progress is very much inch by inch (I’m not the world’s most natural saleswoman because I hate being “sold” to myself), there is some progress and my aims are low for this as a business. However, the real benefit of it has been the ability to try out reasonably priced products myself and so I thought it was high time I did a little report on which ones I have become particularly attached to. In the interests of balance, I’ll also do a ‘what I haven’t liked’ piece at the end.

I’m quoting the current full price of each product, but every brochure brings a fresh batch of offers, so a little patience can often bring rewards.

Skincare

The biggest surprise to me has been a re-think of my cleansing routine and becoming rather committed this late in life to using hot water and a humble flannel to remove my cleanser. Never thought I’d do that! The Avon cleansers I’ve tried can also be removed with tissues, which is how I used them when I began.

I have tried two cream cleansers – Anew Comforting Cream Cleanser and Mask (£6.50/150ml tube) and Care Hydrating Cold Cream (£2.00/100ml pot); both are very good with plenty of slip meaning you can give them a good massage to loosen up any make-up before you remove them. My favourite, though, was a very light milk/gel formulation – Care 3-in-1 Facial Cleanser (£1.75/200ml bottle). Although it was very light and liquid, it was certainly up to the task of removing the light make-up I regularly wear and it was just a pleasure to use.

Unfortunately, the Care facial range hasn’t featured in any of the recent brochures and isn’t listed in my online shop, so I fear times may be changing. As I definitely don’t like foaming cleansers, at present the Anew product is the only one I can opt for. That being said, the main Care range still has the Multipurpose Cream products which I will try out if the facial range is being discontinued.

My second favourite is also in the skincare line and is the True Nutraeffects Oil Infused Micellar Water (3.00/200ml bottle). I use this as a ‘toner’ step after using my cream cleanser and flannel. The oil migrates to the top so you have to shake the bottle before you pour a little onto a cotton pad, and then I find it is a lovely calming step before applying a moisturiser. In the interests of balance, I do have to note that one of my friends tried this before I did and she hated it, saying it felt like there was a greasy film on her skin after use and I’m not sure if our different opinions are down to skin type or personal taste.

Bathtime

I love the basic bubble baths (£2.00/500ml bottle; £2.50/1 litre bottle); they foam well and have nice, gentle fragrances. At this price you don’t have to frugal with them. So far, I’ve tried the Jasmine and Herbal Meadow versions (Herbal Meadow is an older one and is currently available in the clearance sale). Coming up in the next brochure (from 9th August) the newest version, Goodbye Tension, will be available and I’ve had an advance bottle of this to try out. I’m loving it! With notes of mandarin, lavender and musk, it is one of those scents that I like without being able to detect a specific element that makes me like it. It is warm but not spicy, definitely unisex, it makes me think of a walk in the woods. I recommend it.

Make-up

My fourth favourite is the Mark.Epic lipstick range. I regularly use Rosy Outlook and Hint Hint (£8.00 each) and I feel that as autumn approaches a darker shade will probably enter my life – perhaps Sangria Shock or Heartbreaker. I will also give an honourable mention to the True Colour Perfectly Matte Lipstick because I’m impressed with how wearable it is – not at all drying on the lips. I wear it in those moments when I want to channel the Dr Who companion, Clara Oswald, who always rocked a good neutral matte lip.

Perfume

Last on this list, but first in my experiments, it’s the Rare Gold Eau de Parfum (£11.00/50ml bottle). With notes of golden melon, orange flower and vanilla, it is just hits that spot for me of being a really nice scent. It’s a shame that, like a lot of Avon’s perfumes, it isn’t very long-lasting on the skin, but when it is frequently on offer for £7.00 or £8.00, there’s nothing stopping re-application during the day. The good thing about a perfume that fades fairly rapidly is that you avoid the possibility of reeking all day of something other people find offensive, which can happen with even the best brands. I have found Avon’s Eve Truth Eau de Parfum (£15.00/50ml bottle) is a longer-lasted scent and it’s nice, it just isn’t as nice as Rare Gold.

My personal misses

The things that really haven’t worked for me are:-

Skin-So-Soft Dry Oil Sprary – it’s an ultra-iconic Avon product; everyone loves it; how could I not? I’ll just say it’s not the product for me and leave it there.

Mascara – yep, all the mascaras, although I have to be fair and say it’s not just Avon’s offerings. I stopped wearing mascara many years ago, since when mascara technology has boomed. Now all the mascaras build length and volume and they are really, really black and I look even more like a doll when I apply them than I did in the old days. I just don’t like mascara and I’ve experimented with enough over the past six months to realise I never shall. I use a Glimmerstick in Saturn Grey to provide a bit of definition to my lashline at the outer corners of my eyes instead.

Sheet masks – like mascara, this is a category rather than Avon-specific fail. I find sheet masks too gloopy, messy and unrelaxing to use. Instead, I gravitate towards the Planet Spa tubes of face mask, and the Anew Ultimate Gold Peel-Off Mask.

Anew Clinical Lift and Firm Eye Lift System – this dual product in a single jar containing a gel to use above the eye and a cream to use below, just didn’t grab me. I tried using it as specified; I tried using the gel in the daytime and the cream at night-time; I tried using the gel on my lips and the cream around my eyes; I was just completely underwhelmed. I believe that an eye cream or gel is an important part of a good skincare routine, yet I have very rarely found one that is pleasant to use and that I feel improves upon not bothering. The one I did find was by Guerlain and it cost a breathtaking amount of money – I got it as part of a never-to-be-repeated offer, used every last atom of it, and went into mourning when it was used up because I knew I’d never be able to replace it. It probably wasn’t even as good as I remember it!

So, there we are. I hope this has been an interesting little insight into things I use and don’t use. If you’d like to take a look at my web shop you can click here – purchases can be made in the UK only, although if you’re somewhere else in the world you will doubtless have local Avon websites you can visit.

Outside my comfort zone

Belgian Monk
Now it’s The Belgian Monk, but forty years ago…

Picking up on last Monday’s post when I mentioned perfume, I would like to introduce you to a celebrated Norwich restaurant, The Belgian Monk. It serves a wide selection of Belgian beers and mussels galore, not to mention an extensive restaurant menu. It opened in 2000 and is still very popular. It is on one of the historic lanes in Norwich (actually a couple of doors down from Norfolk Yarn which I have also written about recently) and, as you can see from my photo, it is housed in a lovely old building.

How, I hear you ask, does that link in with perfume? Well, back in my teenage years and early twenties, this building housed a splendid perfume shop called Crofts and that was where I introduced myself to the fragrances that I still love today, most especially Bal a Versailles. Crofts was most definitely catering to the more expensive end of the perfume-buying public and whilst it stocked popular brands, it was somewhere you could go to find things that the department stores and chemists wouldn’t provide. Mostly, though, the experience of being in there was enough, even if you didn’t buy anything. The building is superb and with jewel-bright boxes and potion-filled bottles floor to ceiling, it had all the appeal of a sweetie-shop, without the calories!

Purchases I particularly remember were, of course, the Bal a Versailles, but also my first Boule Noir bottle of Lanvin’s Arpege, and a cabinet-style box containing a selection of Mary Chess perfumed bath oils. Mary Chess is no more, Bal a Versailles is very hard to find, and Arpege is the only one still readily available (it may well be the next perfume I buy as I haven’t worn it in a while).

Currently, I am a little outside my comfort zone as far as perfume goes. I am using up a couple of little 4ml gift/sample sprays of Clinique Aromatics in White, and not being one to douse myself in scent, I probably have enough of this to see me through to the other side of Christmas. To damn it with faint praise, this perfume is okay. I like it enough to use up the two little bottles I have, but not enough to want to buy it and wear it for an extended period. If forced to think about it, I find it best suited to summer; it’s very ‘bright’, even slightly brash, and lacking something that can’t be put into words. Which, let’s face it, is the whole thing about perfume – you can never describe why one particular perfume is right for you and others are wrong, even if they are in the same broad ‘family’ or have similar components. For example, a quite common comparison I come across is if you like Arpege you may also like Chanel No. 5 – I love Arpege, Chanel No. 5 leaves me completely unmoved. It is almost as if somewhere within the particular secret formula of each perfume you love, there is an atom of magic that makes that makes it speak to you. Conversely, when you try a perfume that isn’t quite right, you experience the olfactory equivalent of Mark Twain’s spring fever – “you don’t know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so.”

The other place where I am operating outside my comfort zone (albeit a little more happily) is in my knitting. As a lifelong lover of light- to medium-weight wools, I am currently working on two projects in heavier-weight yarns. My super-secret Christmas knitting is in a chunky yarn, knitting up at a gauge of 14 stitches and 20 rows to a 10cm square. I am using 6mm needles which initially felt like knitting with rolling-pins and I have to be glad that they are wooden and therefore lightweight. It surprised me how much I have come to enjoy working on this project and it is encouraging me to consider knitting something in Rowan Cocoon yarn for next winter. Me suddenly wanting to use this yarn after years of disliking it will probably be enough to ensure they discontinue it, but at least if they do I will be prepared and able to buy some before it disappears.

The second project I’m working on is a funky little neckwarmer for my Etsy shop (this is now open at pamalisonknits.etsy.com). This is ‘only’ an aran-weight wool and, although it is a bit bulkier, it is closer to my usual knitting choices. The only downside is that both of the projects I am actively working on are in almost exactly the same colour or, to be precise, lack of colour, and I don’t function hugely well with the neutrals. I keep gazing over at my vase of knitty pretties to remind myself about colour and warmth.

Knitty pretties

I am currently awash with inspiration for making colourful things from yarn so I hope some of it comes to fruition.

This weekend has mainly been devoted to steaming my Christmas puddings. I use my mum’s recipe which makes two medium-sized puddings, each enough to serve six people a good portion. As I spend Christmas alone (by choice, although for some reason many people seem to think that it is some kind of hardship to be able to spend the Christmas break exactly as it pleases you), twelve portions of Christmas pudding might be something of an overkill. I usually only make half the recipe which is still more than enough. One of the puddings will be cut into individual portions and go into the freezer, but my dieting self is eagerly anticipating the day she can just dive head-first into a six-portion pudding!

Speaking of dieting, yesterday I hit the twelve stone mark, which means I have lost one stone and ten pounds since I started dieting at the beginning of September. I feel so much better for it; I am enjoying walking again, and I love how my clothes fit me now, apart from the few which simply don’t fit at all any more. So I am patting myself on the back and giving myself a big thumbs-up for my perseverence. I am not thinking about the fact that the NHS suggest a healthy weight for my height is between seven and ten stone – the NHS are exceptionally good at most things, but I suspect they are a little too zealous when it comes to weight assessment.

I hope you are enjoying any projects you are working on, and that you have had an enjoyable weekend.


 

Kojak is not knitting a sock

Kojak Sock knitting
He may look like he’s knitting a sock

I was fascinated by the appearance of hand-knitted socks in one of last week’s re-runs of Kojak (Series 4, Episode 3 – Law Dance). One of the numerous things I love about Kojak is how he is portrayed as being fascinated by everything. Most episodes see him fiddling with something – blowing bubbles in a country store, leafing through a huge book about insects, trying on the cologne left by a suspect in a hotel room – or throwing off-hand remarks that are very esoteric. I don’t know if that came totally from the writing or if some of it is input from Telly Savalas’ interpretation, but I love it.

In this particular episode it was knitted socks – the lady handed them to him to carry whilst she cleaned her glasses and throughout their conversation as they walked along a corridor he was intently studying the needles and stitches. Later in the episode there was a close-up of the socks being worked on during a courtroom scene and again Kojak was looking down at the knitting, not up at the courtroom. The knitter in me was impressed. (The socks, of course, were brown and beige – it was the 1970s after all.)

So, sadly, Kojak is not knitting socks, but rest assured if he had been, they would have been the sexiest socks in the universe.

In other knitting news, I am having a bit of a crisis over the lovely gold cardigan I am knitting. Having completed the back and one side of the front, I am suddenly wishing that I was using the wool doubled to knit a thicker jumper, inspired by this one currently on sale at Marks and Spencer:

Yellow polo neck
M&S Pullover Winter 2018

I hope it’s just a passing whim and I will be back on track with the cardigan when my super-secret Christmas knitting is finished – or started, the knitting wool delivery is so super-secret even I don’t know when it will come.

Finally, a lament – I have finished my favourite perfume. The bottle is, as my mum would have put it, a “dead man” (something that is completely used up). The perfume is Bal a Versailles by Jean Desprez and I have worn this, on and off (more off than on because it can be difficult to get hold of), since the late 1970s. I read a story recently that Elizabeth Taylor wore it during the filming of Cleopatra, and apparently after that she gifted it to Michael Jackson who wore it for the rest of his life. Eek!

Bal a Versailles
It’s a dead man….

Do you have any favourite knitting scenes from TV or film – such as Dumbledore’s famous comment about knitting patterns in the Harry Potter films? Do you ever get part of the way through knitting something and wonder if it should be something else, and do you change, or do you persevere? Do you have a favourite perfume or just chop and change as the mood hits you?