The Unwritten Fractal Redstone Chamomile

The Redstone Diary, Klorane Chamomile, Bioderma micellar water, Hannu Rajaniemi, Unwritten Mike Carey Peter Gross… or “my recent purchases”.

I’ve been talking about Klorane a lot so I won’t go on about it now, but I’ve just re-stocked on the Chamomile shampoo and conditioner (and decided to give the much-talked-about Bioderma micellar water a go at the same time – is running fantastic French Pharmacy brands promo in June which seems to have been designed just for me).

I’ve wanted a Redstone diary for a while. It’s tactile, chunky; has a weekly view and interesting photos, quotations and poems. I have slightly peculiar diary habits (I am currently using one for work and made my own for personal use from an A4 hardback notebook).

Fractal Prince by Hannu Rajaniemi is a follow-up to his debut science fiction novel The Quantum Thief (which I enjoyed immensely even though his use of Finnish words for names kept irritating me because it pulled me out of the world every time; won’t be a problem for most readers, though). Hannu has great ideas and handles them deftly.

The two graphic novels at the bottom of the pile are books 6 and 7 in the Unwritten series by Mike Carey and Peter Gross. It’s a story about the nature of stories and beautifully told. Apparently they are doing a cross-over with Fables, another series I’ve enjoyed, so that’s something rather exciting to look forward to. I don’t want to spoil too much about Unwritten if you haven’t read it yet, but it has great ideas and blends fantasy and reality in an enticing way.

A fine example that life isn’t fair – Iain Banks should have had at least another 30 years

I was fortunate enough to meet Iain Banks at the annual British National Science Fiction Convention (Eastercon) in 2010. Maybe I should have written Iain M. Banks as he was known in the science fiction circles. One of the great things about him was that he didn’t shy away from science fiction fandom; he embraced it. Sometimes you find clear science fiction elements in a mainstream novel but the image of the novel, novelist and publicity campaigns is kept staunchly mainstream, so as not to taint the work with the dreaded science fiction label. To people who fear it, I would say: go forth and read some Iain (M.) Banks. Understand that science fiction is about exploring ideas, not space. Well, sometimes it’s about exploring space, too, but that’s not actually the main point. (Anyway: exploring space is pretty damn cool and we should do more of it).

We tend to go to Eastercon every other year (read: whenever they are hosted in London). The Guest of Honour programming in 2010 was one thing, but Iain also hosted a whisky tasting panel because he was working on Raw Spirits: In Search of the Perfect Dram. I am not much of a drinker – a glass of champagne or a cider here and there very rarely, amounting to about 5 units a year. But I am very interested in aroma and flavour and the samples Iain had selected demonstrated delightful variation on a theme. My husband does like whisky and he has been quite a fan of Dalwhinnie ever since.

Death is always sad but I was affected by Iain’s passing more than I expected. It just seems so unfair that such a fantastic man and a great writer had to die so young. Life isn’t fair. Life has no feelings or intent, it just is. There is no Karma or Fate or great cosmic balancing scales, handing out good things to good people and bad things to bad. It takes human effort for those things to happen – and no human effort on Earth could have saved Iain Banks from terminal gallbladder cancer. He found out about his illness when he was 90% into a book about a man with terminal cancer:

Banks followed his usual schedule of writing in the early months of the year. He went to the doctor thinking his sore back was most likely due to having been sitting at a desk writing The Quarry. “On the morning of 4th March” – after he had been sent for a CT scan – “I thought everything was hunky dory except I had a sore back and my skin looked a bit funny. By the evening of the 4th I’d been told I had only a few months to live. By that time I’d written 90% of the novel; 87,000 words out of 97,000. Luckily, even though I’d done my words for the day, I’d taken a laptop into the hospital in Kirkcaldy, and once I’d been given the prognosis, I wrote the bit where Guy says, ‘I shall not be disappointed to leave all you bastards behind.’ It was an exaggeration of what I was feeling, but it was me thinking: ‘How can I use this to positive effect?’ Because I was feeling a bit kicked in the guts at this point. So I thought, ‘OK, I’ll just give Guy a good old rant.’ Like I say; that’s reality for you, it can get away with anything.”

Banks revealed his illness a month later, and the book world was stunned by his lack of bitterness, the dignity of the statement. “Yes!” he explodes with laughter. “I know; it’s not like me, is it?” Guy isn’t the therapeutic residue, the lees of unexpressed anger. “I’m not Guy – for example, he deeply resents that life will go on without him. I think that’s a stupid point of view. Apart from anything else, I mean, what did you expect?” The Quarry, nevertheless, is full of unsentimental, furiously exact unpickings of the cliches surrounding terminal illness. Guy skewers sloppy thinking, describing nostrums and alternative cancer treatments as like “running into a burning building and trying to put the fire out by means of interpretative dance” Iain Banks: The Final Interview

His original announcement, which began “I am officially very poorly” was also published by The Guardian newspaper. It’s so cruel that this was only in April and the few months he very cautiously hoped he might have had were cut so short.

He leaves behind a great body of work and leagues of friends and fans who will sorely miss him.

Iain M. Banks and Pia Long at  the Odyssey Eastercon 2010

Happier times (and such flattering expressions!) at Eastercon 2010

How Holland & Barratt’s social media campaign went horribly wrong (or: why homeopathy is a swearword on Twitter)

Just a quick one – if you are interested in social media or PR disasters, here’s what happened when Holland & Barratt started the #AskOurOwls campaign on Twitter:

[View the story “Homeopathy is a swearword on Twitter” on Storify]

The campaign was launched on “Homeopathy Awareness Week” in the UK. But as many people pointed out, more awareness about homeopathy would probably not be so great for business. There is no way homeopathy could work in the way as homeopaths themselves describe it. For instance, if water has a memory, why is the memory so… selective?

Nostalgic Cosmetics

A selection of nostalgia-inducing cosmetics that are popular in Finland

Lately I’ve been feeling a little home-sick for Finland and nostalgic for childhood summers spent frolicking on fields and swimming in lakes. Ignoring the part where a large proportion of my childhood summer holidays were spent sitting under the shade reading, I did genuinely have a great time at my grandparents’ summer cottage in Jaala. In my late teens it was also a welcome break from my part-time job behind the beauty counter.

There are a few products and brands I remember very fondly from Finland. Even now, in the big wide world, surrounded by all the choice of an over-saturated cosmetics market (or perhaps because of it), I get a lot of joy and comfort from using some things from way back when. I’ve gathered a little selection of products that I use or stock up on when in Finland.

1. My grandmother’s favourite hand cream – Lemon Juice & Glycerine (and that’s pretty much all there is to the formula). It’s inexpensive, widely available in Finnish supermarkets, smells delicious and a little goes a long way. My gran had not just a green thumb but ten green fingers. Her cottage garden was magnificent. She would use this cream after a day’s hard work outdoors and her hands were always soft.

2. Berner’s XZ-shampoos and conditioners are some of the best mass-market products you can get for your hair. The formulas are decent, as are the scents and if I forget to pack shampoo when I travel to Finland (as I did last time), this is the brand I look out for at the supermarket or chemist. I’ve tried a few of them now; the sea buckthorn range was a particular favourite.

3. When did I start using these? Late 80s, I think. The Deborah Hydracolor tinted lip balms are probably my favourite tinted lip balms, ever. I did stop using them when I came to the UK (as they don’t seem to be available here) but I bought four different shades on our last trip to Finland and they are all lovely. The flavour alone takes me back.

4. Louis Widmer, how do I love thee? There’s an interesting element to the Finnish cosmetics market. The Boots-type pharmacy/drugstore doesn’t exist; instead you have very sterile and serious pharmacies in which you can find a (growing) selection of (usually quite) earnest cosmetics. Hypo-allergenic, cosmeseutical; as long as it could be marketed by a man in a white lab coat, it gets in. The self-selection drugstore cosmetics are found in supermarkets, department stores, Anttila stores and standalone cosmetic stores (of which there are now many, many more than 20 years ago).The Swiss Louis Widmer brand has been a staple in Finnish pharmacies for decades. I first tried the products when I was working in one of the first standalone cosmetic stores in Finland and on my last few trips back I’ve been stocking up on the eye cream and vitalising night cream; the textures are rich and soothing (I use them in winter or at night if my skin feels very dry) and the scent is Nivea-like, comforting and old-fashioned.

5.Ô de Lancôme was one of my go-to summer scents 20 years ago. I first learned of it when working in that cosmetics store and I fell hard for that 70s-style cologne and for Givenchy III, a bitter citrus chypre that I couldn’t get enough of. If you think these are odd choices for a teen, it may be comforting to know I also adored Balahe (an oriental spicebomb with a boozy vanilla and eugenol accord), Jardins de Bagatelle (a sugary tuberose garden writ large which could give today’s fruity florals a run for their money) and even Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door. Ô de Lancôme was a great summer scent, though, and smelling it now takes me back to those days.

6. Yves Rocher was and still is popular in Finland. I mentioned the Chevrefeuille products I’ve been using recently and the Hamamelis-range is something we always seemed to have in our bathroom when I was growing up.

7. I wonder if there is a single Finnish cosmetics-using female who doesn’t own at least one Lumene product? A home-grown brand owned and manufactured by a pharmaceutical company, Lumene caters for the needs of Nordic women and uses some interesting local materials from arctic berries to peat. I’ve never visited Finland without buying at least one Lumene lipstick. There are many really flattering shades for pale complexions and the formulas are easy to wear – they don’t tend to feel heavy, drying or sticky.

8. 4711 was one of my gran’s staples along with the lemon hand cream and a touch of face powder. The cologne was more of a summer cottage thing; in town she preferred Arden’s Blue Grass. The smell of 4711 is very nostalgic; I love cologne, full stop – and it’s a great product to carry with you on summer travels. Something to rinse your hands with instead of alcohol gel, or to splash on after a shower. It’s nostalgic but still relevant.

9. I told you Lumene uses peat – here it is in all its glory; a deep-cleansing peat mask. I find this absolutely marvellous for my awkward ageing combination skin. I use this on my t-zone and buy two or three tubes to take home when I visit Finland.

10. Lumene Hydra Drops is a very lightweight foundation made with oatmilk and fluffy clouds. At least that’s how it feels on your skin. It’s one of the few liquid foundations that comes in a shade light enough for my winter skin and doesn’t settle into pores. I tend to prefer powder foundation overall, but when my skin is feeling dry, dehydrated or a bit cranky, this stuff is magic.

A Finnish lake view