Wednesday, 13 February 2008

My lucky day

I don’t go out a lot these days – I don’t mean I don’t go out in the evenings; I mean I don’t set foot out of my building much. I’m not agoraphobic, just very busy. And, it’s cold out there. And, if you’ve tried to use London public transport recently you will know that it’s a hassle at the best of times. And, it certainly doesn’t help that our nearest Central Line tube station has now closed for eight months (this deserve a slap of its own – some other time).

Anyway, from time to time, I get the urge to leave my postcode, and yesterday was one of those times. The abiding reason was this: I wanted to buy a French beauty product that is not widely available in the UK. I couldn’t find it on the Net (or rather I could, but the postage and packing costs would have been exorbitant) so I got in touch with the company, who gave me the name of their UK distributor, who in turn told me where I could get it in London. (I’m very good at this kind of sleuthing.)

It so happened the said product was apparently on sale at the ‘pharmacy’ (chemist’s shops are called ‘pharmacies’ in posh areas) I used to go to when I lived in Notting Hill Gate (obviously, at the time, it was just a small local chemist’s, whose owner was very good at not noticing things: ‘I can’t see anything,’ he said once, when I pointed to a huge gap in one of my eyebrows – caused by stress, in case you’re wondering). So I called the pharmacy (hey, Pooh Bear wouldn’t set off on an ‘expotition’ into town without checking everything in advance, and neither do I) and this very nice, but practically unintelligible man, assured me they stocked the product I was looking for. I still couldn’t be certain, but decided to take a chance. I hopped on a bus and walked along the streets I used to know so well. Notting Hill Gate is only minutes away from where I live, but I feel as if I’m entering alien territory now. One thing I noticed on the way was that all the still-familiar stores (Tylers, Boots, WH Smith, etc.) now had automatic doors. Posh people don’t ‘push’ or ‘pull’ like you or me: they glide in or out, unobstructed, whether or not they’re carrying armfuls of posh bags.

The guy from the pharmacy welcomed me like a long-lost friend when I put the product in question on the counter. We were both very pleased with ourselves and each other. Had he not told me he carried it? Was I not as good as my word when I had said I would pop in? Encouraged by my good humour, he asked me to fill in an NHS questionnaire while he was torturing my credit card. It was about how satisfactory my ‘experience’ had been in his establishment. It had been fine, thank you very much. To make sure I expressed the ‘correct’ opinion, he pointed to all the ‘Very good’ boxes and prompted me to tick them, which I cheerfully did – well, it had been very good.

What I didn’t know yet was that the experience was soon going to be even better.

As I always do when I buy cosmetics (especially rather expensive ones), I asked if I could have a sample of ‘something’ – after all I had filled in a questionnaire in a way that made his pharmacy one of the best in the country. He nodded and motioned me to the displays; there he opened a drawer and took out a basket full of Caudalie samples. I exclaimed with delight (I’m so girly sometimes) and prepared to select one suitable for my skin type, but before I could do so he said, ‘Open your bag!’ I obeyed and he tipped the entire contents of the basket into it; then he turned to another display, opened a drawer full of Avène samples this time and filled my bag with them. It was preposterous and delightful and made up for all those years of being refused ‘a little tube of something’ by snooty sales assistants – all in one go. (Of course, there was the time when I was left alone with a basket of Alexander McQueen perfume samples in a large Oxford Street department store... but that is another story.)

I could slap the above-mentioned snooty sales assistants, who lie through their teeth when they tell you they don’t have any samples of ‘anything’, but today I’d rather pay tribute to that lovely, generous pharmacist who made me laugh so much yesterday.


  1. Oh how cool! I tried (and failed) with Avena but if someone gave me a load of their water spritzes for free, I don't think I'd say no.
    Am currently searching for a sun screen that works (ie zinc oxide or other functional ingredients in correct quantity) and doesn't contain silicone (which makes me zitty). I may have to make my own at this rate.

  2. bela,
    i have a serge lutens related question, and i didn't know how else to get in touch with you, so sorry this is off-topic.

    i've seen your lutens website and read some of your comments on various perfume blogs, so i know you'll know the answer to this - i've seen rose de nuit attributed to christopher sheldrake in some places, including basenotes, but in other place, gilles romey is listed as the nose. which is it?

    i would really appreciate it if you could help me on this - it's an exquisite perfume, and it's driving me crazy not knowing. thanks in advance!

  3. B, that was a once in a lifetime thing. I couldn't believe my eyes.

    Some companies are more generous than others. What is absolutely certain is that they all produce samples, and it's up to sales assistants to give them away to customers. I once saw a Clinique SA give a big bag of samples to a friend of hers, who'd turned up to collect her at the end of her shift, seconds after said SA had told me she'd run out of 'everything'. Grrr!

    I use a moisturiser with SPF15; it's probably OK for the amount of sun or even light I get on a daily basis. Hope you find the right one for you very soon.

    GSE, I worked out the other day that the total worth of that mound of samples was £126.92.

    K, I have to admit I have no idea whether Gilles Romey created Rose de Nuit with Serge Lutens. All the SL scents are credited to Christopher Sheldrake - except Féminité du Bois, on which he worked with Pierre Bourdon; Iris Silver Mist, which was created by Maurice Roucel, and the mythical Nombre Noir, which was created by the late Jean-Yves Leroy.

    I will try and find out about Gilles Romey. In the meantime, don't let that 'small detail' spoil your pleasure.

  4. bela,
    thanks so much! i take rather extensive notes on all the perfumes i try, including creation date, notes, perfumer, etc., so i would love to know - though believe me, nothing could spoil my pleasure with this scent. i adore it!

  5. My goodness what a haul. And what an unusally nice salesperson too. We don't have chemist's shops here, we have pharmacies.

  6. How absolutely wonderful! This just makes my day. I love it. Such a rare event!

  7. ooh la la! how lovely! that's the kind of thing that i have dreams about.

  8. I think Dr Hauschka might have saved the day with an oil/shea butter based 15spf.


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