Notes by Nectar

Your destiny lies in your own hands

What do you do if you’re allergic to deodorant?

Earlier this year I became allergic to deodorant. Literally overnight. My skin would burn every time I'd use deodorant – it was horrible and uncomfortable. I think the scary thing about allergies is that they can suddenly start at any age for no reason at all. 

Initially, Dr Ming gave me a small jar of cream to apply in the morning and evening – I don't know what was in it. It had to be kept in the fridge and it smelled like mint and something else I couldn't place. In two days my skin would feel fine, so I'd use deodorant again and be right back at square one. I switched deodorant a few times, tried some for sensitive skin – but the same thing happened. 

I tried a 'natural' deodorant from the Body Shop but my skin burned as soon as I put it on. Nothing was working. Neal's Yard had a couple of natural deodorants – one was lavender and aloe vera – it didn't appeal to me at all. The other was lemon and coriander – I have no idea what it smelled like but all I could think about were the lemon and coriander chicken slices I used to buy at M&S. I didn't try either.

I decided I'd have to go deodorant-free and trawled the Internet for alternatives, all the time worrying I'd end up sitting at home alone on weekends because of a hygiene problem! I eventually came across something called Perspi-Rock – made from potassium alum crystals and no chemicals. I read the reviews, figured I had nothing to lose, and ordered one.

2011

It's easy to use – you simply wet the rock and apply it to your skin. It worked! My skin didn't burn and the rock did everything it was supposed to. And the rock seems to last forever, I've had mine almost four months and I think it'll last another four.

The ultimate test was when I went to hell – sorry, I mean Bikram yoga – of course I did sweat, but that was it. 

I've been really impressed with the rock – and I'm glad to say that my fears of never being invited out were unfounded!! 
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Baby boom

All my close friends seem to be having babies. Or have just had babies. Or are planning their second babies. They're everywhere.

2010

As a result, I have a constant stream of invitations to baby showers, christenings, first birthday parties, and so on. If they're close friends, of course I'll attend – and it's usually entertaining. If they're not part of my inner circle I decline the invite and get on with my life. It would be easy to spend every weekend going to some child-related event, but who really wants to do that?

One of the problems I have is not knowing what to buy as presents. I have no idea what's suitable for a one-year-old. Or a two-year-old. I find it hard enough buying gifts for adults, for children it's impossible. I usually end up buying clothes – but I'm aware that the parents will appreciate this more than the kids will.

When I was at The Boodles yesterday, I met one of my ex-boss's current colleagues and it came up in conversation that his wife has an online children's clothing store. The website is Bambino Boo – and they stock a variety of children's designer brands such as Petit Bateau, Marese, Emile et Rose, and others. You can browse by size or designer and filter the results by gender. It's so simple. And the clothes are so cute. 

Now if only I didn't leave everything to the last minute, I'd no longer have to wander around children's departments in a mad rush looking totally lost or gawk at a £30 price tag on a T-shirt that will fit a child for all of 5 minutes! 
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The Boodles – almost a washout!

I was invited to celebrate the 25th anniversary of one of our suppliers, Air Business, at The Boodles in Stoke Park. The Boodles is an exclusive tennis tournament sponsored by Boodles, Patek Philippe, Jaguar and Pommery – you just know it's going to be a glamorous event:

2011

My day didn't start well – it was raining hard so I had to completely re-think what I was going to wear (and obviously didn't bode well for any live tennis later), the rain led to traffic and I missed my train, and then I had a 20-minute wait at Slough station waiting for the shuttle to Stoke Park. There were a few other people waiting for the shuttle so we got to talking and the time seemed to pass fairly quickly.

It was raining even harder by the time we got to the grounds. The champagne reception was held in The Boodles Gallery where the jewellery was being exhibited – it was too crowded to see much at this point, but I went back later and had a good look! The intention was to spill out onto the patio where there were tables and seating areas, but this didn't happen because of the rain. Amazingly, about 20 minutes later there was glorious sunshine and it stayed that way almost until the end of the day!

After having our glasses constantly refilled for over an hour, it was definitely time to eat. Lunch was served in The Player's Enclosure – a three-course meal, wine, coffee – there was a lot to eat! We had a seafood starter – sea trout tartare and gravadlax with a potato and broad bean salad, the main course was grilled chicken with chorizo, pomme puree and thyme jus, and dessert was a collection of mini tropical deserts – mango, lime and mascarpone panna cotta, coconut and lemongrass sorbet, caramelised lemon and passion tart and some pineapple thing (which I didn't like – I'm not a huge pineapple fan)… While we were having dessert, David Ferrer came up on the stage and answered a few (very odd) questions from the audience, such as: Could you beat Serena Williams in an arm wrestle? Where can I find you on a Friday night? Who do you think is the Ryan Giggs of tennis (he didn't answer this one)? Where would Serena Williams rank in men's tennis (I don't understand the fixation with Serena)? And you get the gist!

After lunch we headed out to the centre court – I was surprised at how intimate it felt. I was two rows from the court, and this should give you some idea of how close I was to Djokovic and Simon:

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And Nalbandian:

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And Nalbandian and Gasquet:

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I don't need to tell you that the champagne was still flowing, throughout the matches. After the Djokovic/Simon game, Djokovic entertained the crowd with his brilliant impression of Maria Sharapova playing tennis!

After the Nalbandian/Gasquet game, we went back to the Player's Enclosure for tea and scones (and more champagne).

We finally left Stoke Park at about 7pm, some in worse shape than others! All in all, it was a fantastic day out – and if you can afford it, you should go!! 
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Chapel Down – English wine

In April 2010, we were at The Warrington in Maida Vale and ordered a bottle of the Chapel Down Bacchus Reserve. I'd never heard of it.

It had been a long time since I'd tried an English wine – the last time being in 2003 when I did a wine-tasting course. I hadn't even wanted to go on that course – and when asked why I said 'Because I know I prefer white to red'. Ten weeks later I still preferred white to red.

That didn't last though – over the last couple of years I've found myself drinking much more red than white – unless it's a white I *really* love. The Chapel Down Bacchus Reserve is one of them. I was so impressed the first time I tried it. The Warrington describes it as 'almost an English Sancerre' – and it doesn't disappoint. I haven't seen it in any wine shops yet – but you can order it online via the Chapel Down website. It's a lovely 'summer' wine – smooth and refreshing. 

2011

The Bacchus Reserve is the only wine I've tried from the winery in Kent – I haven't seen it on many wine lists – but I'd love to try the Nectar (for obvious reasons)!

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Bikram yoga: sessions in the torture chamber

I first heard about Bikram yoga in 2008, perhaps 2007. I went to my first class at Bikram Yoga West on a Sunday in July 2008. I’d read reviews, people’s blogs, what the ‘experts’ said, what a friend said… and I gave it a go. I was prepared for nausea during certain poses, the heat, not being allowed to leave the room… but what none of these reviews (or even my friend) told me was that the studio stinks to high heaven. 

Nothing prepared me for the smell of stale sweat which started in the changing room and got worse as I walked closer to the studio. It makes sense – it’s a place where hundreds of people sweat every day. Of course it’s going to smell. But it’s nothing I’d even considered before then.

Luckily my first class was fairly empty – there must have been about 15 people there on that Sunday afternoon. The heat was relentless, I could barely do some of the poses, but I got through it. I got home, started watching the Wimbledon final, but passed out on the sofa. In the evening I called my friend and asked her why she hadn’t told me about the smell – she said that if she had, I wouldn’t have gone. She was right. I went back 3-4 times a week for a month. Evening classes were packed – there was about an inch between the mats – sardines. I learned that I absolutely hate Triangle Pose – I don’t know why. I just get annoyed when I’m in it. I lost a little weight, I slept so well, and everyone commented on how my skin was glowing. Then I went on holiday for 3 weeks.

On my return, I *intended* to go back to Bikram, but I never got there. It took a year for me to get back to it. I started going to Bikram Yoga Soho – it was a 10-minute walk from the office and I could get to a 5.30 or 6pm class after work. Again, I went frequently for a month and then went on holiday.

This time it took me 18 months to get back to it! I ambitiously bought a 10-class pass at Bikram Yoga West over Christmas – I was off for 2 weeks, I would go every day (yeah, right). I went twice and didn’t go back. My card expired. I renewed it and went back – after a four-month break. I was standing in the wrong place – I could see the clock behind me reflected in the mirror ahead. It seemed to have stopped. I must have checked it about 70 times in those 90 minutes. Halfway through the floor poses, I realised that I absolutely *hated* Bikram yoga – the heat was relentless and why on earth was I putting myself through that?? Once my pass was over, I wasn’t going back. Ever.

I went to two more classes after that – both during the week at 7pm. I think one of the drawbacks of going to that class is that the next class starts at 8.45pm. So, when I finished my class at 8.30, the changing room was completely full! After each class I just wanted to sit on a bench and recover, but with all the bustling women around me, it was impossible.

My pass expires on Friday and I still have five classes left on it. I’m planning to go tomorrow, but that’s it for me. 

Whenever someone asks me what it’s like I tell them ‘Be prepared to be covered in sweat, and not necessarily your own!’ I never tell them how bad the studio smells!

2011

For now.
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Hay fever, Ming and me…

Ever since I moved back to the UK when I was 11, I've had hay fever every summer. The first time I got it, I didn't even know what was wrong with me. I was 12 years old and when someone told me what hay fever was, I thought it was absurd. I'd spent many summers in London until then, and had never suffered. When I think about it now, we used to get here at the end of June or early July – and of course hay fever season is pretty much over by then.

Each year it got worse and worse, the sneezing would make my nosebleeds more frequent and nothing seemed to work. NOTHING. Clarityn, Piriton, Beconase, Benadryl, Opticrom – all useless. 

2011

A few years ago, a friend of mine suggested I go see his Chinese medicine doctor. I said I would, but I never got round to it. Every year, we'd have the same conversation, and every year I said I would go.

In 2009, my hay fever was so bad that I couldn't even sleep at night. My ears were itching, my skin was itching, my eyes were watering – and all I wanted to do was reach into my throat and claw at it. I knew I had to call this supposed miracle worker.

Dr Ming to the rescue! I made an appointment to visit Dr Ming at her Hendon Traditional Chinese Medicine Centre on a Sunday afternoon (her centre is open on weekends). I was late. She wasn't impressed.

She sat me down, took my pulse and looked at my tongue. 'Does your skin itch?' Yes! 'Are your ears itching'? YES! 'And you can't sleep?' Hell, YES! I didn't even have to describe my symptoms to her – she could tell just by my pulse and tongue. She gave me three jars, each containing 200 little black pills, and a small clear plastic bag which held little green pills. She wrote down how many I was to take in the morning and evening – I did some mental arithmetic and realised I'd be taking about 60 little pills a day. 'In the morning, take them before breakfast.' Er. That *is* breakfast. I went home – not entirely sure it would work – my consultation had only lasted 5 minutes. But I took the pills.

I promise that I'm not exaggerating when I say that after just two days of taking these pills, I had no hay fever symptoms at all. I was over the moon. And I also wanted to weep over all the time I'd wasted by not going to her! For years, I'd avoided going to the park in my lunch break because I'd come back with a sneezing fit or a nosebleed or both – and now, I could walk home through the park in the summer without worrying about anything… I felt like Jack and his magic beans!

She doesn't just treat hay fever – she treats everything from the common cold to infertility and cancer. In fact, I've all but stopped going to my GP and see Dr Ming for any ailments I may have! I would highly recommend her…
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Silent Sunday 1

2011

Silent Sunday
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Curls! Curls! Curls!

I’d been fighting the frizz for about 20 years and was fed up of my long frizzy/curly hair – years of blowdrying and colouring had damaged my hair and I wanted to chop it all off. I needed something something shorter and easier to manage. I spent hours on Google looking at pictures of hairstyles and eventually came across a website that literally changed my life: Naturally Curly! I read about different kinds of curls, different kinds of treatments, shampoos, you name it, it’s there. The site also has a message board where people can ask questions or leave tips for other readers. I spent hours browsing the website and figuring out what was best for me.
The first thing the site recommended for unruly curls was to ditch the shampoo. ‘What?? That’s gross!’ I hear you say. And that was my initial thought too. How can you NOT use shampoo when you wash your hair?? There was a detailed explanation of how the chemicals in shampoo strip curly hair of any moisture it might have and this contributes to the frizz factor. Instead, they recommend co-washing, or washing your hair with conditioner. As I read, I begin to wish I’d never given up chemistry at school – it goes into detail about silicones and sulfates and many other terrible things that go into shampoos and conditioners. Once I thought I’d figured it all out and had bought my new products, I gave it a shot.
Before going shampoo-free I had to get rid of any build-up on my scalp by using a clarifying shampoo. Pantene do a good one – I used to use it every 3 to 4 weeks.
I was now ready to go shampoo-free. I washed (with conditioner) just as I would if I were using shampoo, scrubbing, etc. The conditioners I used to wash with were Original Source Mint and Tea Tree Conditioner and sometimes I used the Superdrug Coconut and Almond Conditioner. You need to find conditioners without silicone/mineral oil – these cause build-up and the only way to get rid of that is to shampoo. It’s a vicious circle. Surprisingly, you still get a good lather even if you’re just using conditioner.
Once I washed with conditioner I used a heavier conditioner to condition – the ones I used were Aussie Frizz Miracle, Miracle Moist or L’Oreal Elvive Nutri-Gloss Masque (in the tub, NOT in the bottle – the bottle version containes silicones) – I usually alternated between the three, I didn’t use them all at once! I only combed my hair during this stage – with a wide-tooth comb with conditioner in my hair.
Once I’d rinsed out the conditioner I would hold my head upside down, dripping wet, and scrunch in either Boots Curl Creme (pink gel stuff) or Giovanni Direct Leave-in Conditioner (it used to be only available in the US but I believe you can order it online for UK delivery). While still holding my head upside down, I would wrap it in a microfibre towel and then get on with the rest of my getting ready… The microfibre towel is ultra-absorbent and is much better for your hair than a regular towel. I got mine on amazon.com and they weren’t expensive at all.
And then I would take the towel off and either just leave it to dry naturally (if I had time to spare) or use a diffuser but only for a short while – not until it was completely dry… And then I’d be ready to go. The results were astounding:
2011
Before I had frizz, now I had properly defined curls, even ringlets.
And because my hair was so much softer, when I did have the occasional blowdry, the result was much smoother hair:
2011
The other thing I used to do before I went to sleep which helped retain the curl definition was I would turn my head upside down and put all my hair in a loose scrunchie and sleep like that. When I woke up in the morning, I’d just let it down and run my fingers through it – it was brilliant. I avoided many bad hair days by doing that! If the curls looked a little flat and I didn’t want to wash my hair all over again, I used to have a spritzer filled with water and a tiny bit of conditioner in it. That worked wonders!
This is a really useful link to get you started if you want more info but the products are mainly US-based. It took some getting used to but it’s definitely worth the effort!
Since then I discovered the Brazilian keratin treatment (you can read about that here)!
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Sex and sneezing…

Now that I have your attention…

In the December 2008 issue of the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, the editor decided to publish an article about sneezing induced by sexual thoughts or orgasm. 

The response was overwhelming – until that point I didn’t think anyone even read the journal each month.

The reason I bring this article up 2.5 years later is that I *still* receive emails from people saying ‘Yes, this happens to me too’. What I want to know is – do these people who write in expect a response? What exactly are we supposed to say? ‘Er… Good for you’? You can read some of their comments here.

2011
(Image from Esquire magazine)

It must be a very inconvenient affliction to live with. But now every time someone sneezes I wonder what they’re thinking about!

Bless you!

PS. I bet this post gets more hits than the one entitled Outsourced!
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A (quick) trip to Åland

Earlier this week I had to go to Åland, a small island between Sweden and Finland, for an editorial board meeting. 

2011

The Åland Islands form an archipelago in the Baltic sea and is a Swedish-speaking region of Finland. Not too confusing then. 

Before the trip I’d checked various websites about what the weather was going to be like – they all said the same thing: 13°C was the warmest it would get and it would rain. I packed accordingly. I realised my mistake after spending a few hours in Stockholm (where it was 27°C) – Mariehamn, the capital of Åland, was only a 30-minute plane ride away and could it really be that much cooler there? I finally got to Mariehamn just after 9pm – it was still daylight. And it was HOT. I actually hoped it would be cooler the next day or I was going to melt in the clothes I had taken for the meeting.

I got the impression that not very much happens in the town in the evenings. I got to the Hotel Pommern at 9.30 and the restaurant had just closed. The opening times were for breakfast (7am to 9.30am), lunch (10.30am to 1pm) and dinner (6pm to 9pm). I went up to the room and watched some TV, wondering how dark it would get. 

At 10.30pm, it looked like this:

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At midnight, it looked like this:

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That was as dark as it got. It was confusing as hell – and the curtains were little help. I had to keep checking the clock to make sure I hadn’t overslept as I had no idea what time it was. 

My meeting didn’t start until 11.30 so after a breakfast of cold cuts I decided to wander around the town (it was still hot). It’s a small place, I didn’t see any buildings taller than three storeys high and most of them were made of wood. I came across a pedestrian street, Torggatan. It seemed to be the main street and had a few shops and cafes there. I ended up  sitting outside and having a coffee – it was most civilised! People were already having ice creams at 10am and I decided I was definitely having one after I was done with work! I did notice that I was the only non-white person around – and all those tall blonde Scandinavians actually made me feel short!

2011

I wandered over to the harbour and then decided to head to the conference centre where my meeting was being held. One thing that really struck me was the fluency with which everyone spoke English. Can you imagine if a Swede came to London and assumed everyone would speak Swedish? I was almost disappointed that nobody sounded like the chef from the Muppet Show.

My meeting was done by 2.30, I headed back to the hotel via Torggatan, had the scoop of chocolate ice cream I’d promised myself, and left for the airport. 

I’d consider going back for a holiday, perhaps in July or August when you can swim at the beach. I’d definitely break up the journey though – I’d spend a couple of days in Stockholm on my way there. Warm weather, loads of fresh salmon and healthy seafood (I’m not sure how I feel about eating grilled seal though) – what more does one need from a holiday? Just remember to take your black-out curtains…

Where’s your favourite holiday destination?
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