The weather was too warm for wool.
Not windy nor crisp enough to merit the heavy woven cloth in houndstooths, Princes of Wales and other checks she chose to wear to church that Easter.
Then, she could hardly be said to be one for fashion.
Stuck somewhere in the last mid-century so far as cut was concerned, her skirt would have been at home in the wardrobe of a Bakelite suburban housewife with dreams of swapping her ’50s semi for a life in the Cotswolds.
She still tucked in silk her blouses and lacquered her defiantly neat hair years after women two decades her senior had moved onto mousse.
Her feeling was that good things last, that everything, including style, must come around again.
“Even…”, she laughed, recalling a film popular in her Cambridge days…
“Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day”.
She stood alone in her pew in a moderate example of one of the great multitude of Gothic barns built across the metropolis to accommodate the deluge of extended Victorian families at prayer. Today it was empty bar a few oddballs, herself included, and refugees from climes where belief has not perished; and she felt her faith breaking.
Maybe good things didn’t last, perhaps happiness was a once only offer.
Was it possible that the passion she had then was never to be resurrected?
The priest, as bright and shiny as the copper pans in his beautifully appointed kitchen she’d seen the night he and his husband invited her round for dinner, spoke movingly about Syria.
How quickly the suffering of millions had slipped silently from view he said, how it seemed to be the fate forever of The Holy Lands to be locked in turmoil.
She reflected that perhaps in a past time the preacher might have mentioned ‘purgatory’: that the poor souls living with cousins, brothers, friends in Beirut and the Beqaa valley might have been thought to be trapped somewhere between salvation and hell.
But this cellophane-wrapped, well-meaning, linen-suited, vanilla-scented young man was by his own admission ‘not much for theology’ or ‘religious metaphor’. Besides, she guessed he was probably struggling both with the uncivilly early start of the dawn Eucharist and the literalism of Christ’s rising, this Sunday more than most.
When the communion wine came it was sharp, just a fraction off where the vinegar held to The Dear Lord’s mouth must have been. Just citrus enough to be palatable. Softened by the strange vacant sweetness of the host that preceded it.
The portion was generous, almost more than a mouthful. There were so few of them and he seemed keen to empty the ewer.
She walked back to her seat through the slight fug of the incense that he allowed only at this time of year. She was glad of this one concession to tradition, and that the pews had lasted one final season.
Come Christmas they would be on scatter cushions.
Taking her place back in the congregation she felt a tear running down her left cheek, though she hadn’t noticed she’d been crying. This made her sadder, for it meant she must be nearly this unhappy almost all the time.
The service over, she straightened herself and, with great effort, brightened her face. The makeup, liberally, though unshowily applied, helped. She hoped it hadn’t run.
Approaching the vicar, his towelling soft and slightly childish perfume met her a few paces in advance. It did not appal her, though it did not appeal either, and she very was pleased her aroma was by contrast so spry and what she fancied to be vigorous smelling.
“My don’t you smell out-doorsy, Catherine!”
His smile reached from ear to ear and revealed teeth so immaculate that even the most beneficent god would surely not have furnished them to any other than his own son. So white, so regular, so perfect. She suspected man’s intercession.
Happiness radiated from him, and though Catherine suspected he didn’t really understand the intricacies of the religion he represented, one could not help but feel that he was an innocent enough embodiment of its hopeful teaching.
She left, if not lifted up, then better for having made an early start.
The day was bright and already, at just eight, the sun provided a little warmth.
Having no hurry to go home, she decided to take a turn via the flower market, wondering on the way if it would be diminished on account of the holidays.
She needn’t have feared; Columbia Road was a riot of tulips, running a mock in the increasingly outrageous colours dreamt up by geneticists to keep sales from flagging. More and more they resembled the wildest Murano glass vases she was endlessly eyeing up in antiques shops. Always scared to take one home, lest it prove a little too loud for its surroundings.
Today was not a tulip day.
In fact, among all the flowers, she had the sensation of being between rows of beautiful corpses.
The already dead stems seemed to lack lustre and she longed for something alive so headed for the few stalls of pot plants and shrubs towards the back. Here, her instant temptation was to go for a herb.
Some rosemary, so practical and hardy. Just like herself. No.
Then she saw it. In an improbable imperial purple pot: a great patch of lavender. Bright green leaves softer and less fragrant than the usual sort, with flowers as big and fat and furry as giant mauve bumble bees, suspended at the end of eighteen inch stalks like shadow puppets feigning flight.
For the second time that morning something broke within her, this time it was not faith but self-control that snapped. Without quibble on price or considering where she could find enough sun to keep the plant thriving she bought it and resolved to catch a cab, not the bus, home.
“He’s slept in this year.”
The taxi driver said.
“I beg your pardon.”
Catherine could see his eyes in the rear view mirror, younger than the average cabbie’s, or perhaps drivers like policemen simply get younger as we age.
“He’s slept in. That’s what my grandmother used to say when Easter falls so late.”
She smiled, their gazes met for a moment in reflection.
“It’ll be this Spring sun that’s woken him. Puts life back into us all, don’t you think?”
“Do you know anything about lavender plants?”
Catherine asked, willing him to look at her again.
If ever there was an excellent example of a moderately priced perfume done to perfection then Tweed by Lentheric in its vintage composition is it.
Sharply, but unfussily sophisticated. This is a scent with an air of self-assurance almost impossible to find for small money these days.
It is a fragrance that seems to have been designed and made to fulfil the ambitions of the wearer rather than please the saccharine fantasies of those who would smell it.
Based on a formulation dating as far back as the 1930s, this is a classic chypre construction paired back not to the minimum, but the essentials.
A spiced citrus opening with a pinch of peppered carnation also has a chemical punch that leads one to conclude there may be some aldehydes in this version.
Indeed the opening has a distinct air of hair spray when it was a luxurious, amorphous near-magical beauty aid to be admired and inhaled.
This allusion will, no doubt, cause some to recoil from its synthesised, stylised understanding of glamour as alien as organised religion in an atheistic world.
Very soon after an aromatic floral heart, with equal measures of lavender and blended white florals, with some ylang ylang for piquancy blossoms briefly before the main event.
For this is a scent, like so many of its era, all about the oakmoss. The moss here is a lighter shade and more effervescent (possibly the consequence of the aforementioned chemical enhancement) than many contemporaries.
The word radiant seems to suit it, for it achieves a weightlessness and aeration that is not normally associated with the note. This is bought with a certain artificiality, but to my mind at least is worth the price, for the result is more art than mere artifice.
The patchouli here is applied much more lightly than one might expect and the drydown belongs as much to the interplay between vetiver and moss, sandalwood and benzoin as it does to the herbaceous border.
The final softness of the scent is a long time coming as the wooden heart is satisfyingly enduring, but when it does come, it is worth waiting for.
How one wishes they made perfumes like Tweed today: chic, affordable, complex, filled with character and with something to say.
This is an exemplary antidote to the anodyne aromas one finds around for under £10 now.
Is it too much to hope for a resurrection of such good scents?
Happy Easter one and all.
See you again most awfully soon.
The Perfumed Dandy.