Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Not just common scents

I was going to post about male grooming products today anyway - and then found that Cheapsmells is launching its half price sale today. The link I've put there isn't sponsored at all, makes no difference to me whether you go there or not; of the aftershaves and colognes on display I could see myself going for Dunhill London, or I could have until I actually had a bottle for Christmas and found that for some strange chemical reason my wife couldn't smell it on me. I could. Odd.

What I've been trying out this season is Limited Edition by Pecksniff's, which you can get from QVC. It's a bit fruity and heavy for my tastes, a lot of spice, hints of fig. I think maybe it's the fig I wasn't wild about - very fashionable, there's an Acqua de Parma which has very heavy fig and is selling well to people with tastes other than mine. Some people will love it.

Returning to the market recently has of course been Old Spice. I've been sent a sample and of course it smells exactly the same as it did in the 1970s when my dad as well as every other male in the UK wore it. Note the aftershave smells the same; the slight fug of tobacco accompanying it as everyone seemed to smoke at the time is reassuringly absent.

It's heavier than most of the stuff I'd use and ideally you'd use it sparingly (again, unlike the way people put it on in the 1970s, particularly after Henry Cooper urged is to "splash it all over" - OK, he was talking about another brand but the message sunk in).

It has a lot going for it. A distinctive, nostalgic scent and very much one that fits into the "under a tenner" bracket - and more particularly, one whose skillful marketing has led to it not being perceived as naff. It could have backfired spectacularly. My advice to men of "a certain age", at whom this blog is targeted, is to use with caution. We can't get away with the "ironic" use of older scents that younger people might. Also watch for partners' reactions; I won't be wearing this when visiting my mother in law because I absolutely couldn't turn up smelling like her husband did when her kids were young - it would remind her too much of her recent loss.

What I'd welcome - also available from QVC and elsewhere including Amazon - is the Elemis Men's Essential set. I've used it for a couple of days (funnily enough it's the same set they used on me when I had my facial a few months ago) and can honestly see a difference - I look a bit less haggard, although nowhere near as healthy as if I got a bit more exercise and ate and drank a bit less. Two cleansers, some moisturiser, eye cream, shave gel - I'm positive that the time I'm taking over it is having as much effect as the products themselves, but if your bloke likes to pamper himself a bit (whether he admits it or not) this could be a great post-Christmas reviver gift. Just tell him delivery was delayed by the post.

(The link here is a sponsored one from Amazon - I get a small cut if you buy, that's a declaration in the interests of full disclosure).

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Warming yourself with Whisky

I've always been a fan of a good single malt whisky and I've tried a couple for the Christmas season (I know, I work very hard for the readers here), both as gifts and as drinkies at home. I'm not a professional taster or anything so feel free to suggest alternatives or disagree vehemently.

If you have someone who's interested in single malts in the family but who doesn't know loads already, have a look at the Single Malt Whisky Experience pack you can find in supermarkets. It's a great introduction to the different styles of Scotch - the peaty Talisker, which is so smoky it tastes a little like seaweed to me, the Singleton of Dufftown which has a similar character...personally I'd be happier with a full bottle of Dalwhinnie, which is less peaty, a lot smoother and tastes so rich you could mistake it for a liqueur. The novice who wants to know a bit more will welcome these small bottles - getting stuck with 75cl of something you really don't like isn't great.

The existing buff, though, will know all of these brands well. They're owned by Diageo, a bit of a mega-corporation when it comes to imbibing and they have the distribution and marketing to match. You might want to consider one of the less obvious "brands". My own tastes are for the smoother, less peaty whiskies (whisky is filtered through peat, by the way, which gives some of it the smoky taste so many people love). If you share that in common with me you might want to consider a bottle of Glengoyne, from the distillery near Glasgow and which is the only unpeated single malt in Scotland (or was last time I checked). On a friend's suggestion I tried Bunnahabhain, which is more complex and has a richer flavour.

My favourite, though, has to be the awkward one - most of the whiskies I like are Scotch; I haven't tasted so many Irish whiskeys (note if it has an 'e' it's Irish or American but never Scottish), but I'm very keen on Buffalo Trace bourbon which makes a spicy alternative. The best, for me, though, has to be the Welsh single malt - Penderyn (available in bigger branches of Sainsbury's and other supermarkets) is as unpeated as I want, tastes very clean and very smooth and the fact that it's the only single malt from Wales makes a good talking point as well. There's a peated version around too but I prefer the original. Anyone looking for a last-minute gift for me would be welcome to look for a bottle of Penderyn or Glengoyne...OK, OK, I'll get me coat. Tomorrow: skincare and scents.

I have had a look at the DrinkAware campaign and support its aims fully - a well crafted whisky is a fine thing but also very dangerous if abused.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Phoning in the cold

So I thought I'd spend the next few days rounding up gifts for the bloke in your life for Christmas. I was going to do a top-ten style run-down then deadlines took over.

So it's going to be a bit random, and today's quite arbitrary topic is audio. I use my mobile phone a great deal on the move  and normally I'm happy to hold it up to my head and speak. The cold weather, though, makes that a bit of a palaver. First I have to find the phone, which is suddenly in one of six rather than one of three inside pockets because I'm wearing an overcoat. Then I need to uncover my ear, which is tucked under a dirt cheap but very warm beanie hat from Thinsulate.

You get the picture - this is the one time of year I want to use a Bluetooth headset. I used to use them a lot before car kits connecting to stereos became easier to afford and get installed. My favourite on the market at the moment is the Jabra Wave (pictured) - a variation on the original Jabra design but slimmer. Set-up was simple - charge, switch on, enter code on phone. Volume switch is easy, it's slim enough to be worn under a hat whilst wearing glasses without suffering discomfort and it just works. There's all sorts of technical guff under the bonnet but I don't care - i just need something that works and is comfortable.

Which is why I'm also kind of attached to a pair of earphones Audéo has sent me to evaluate. Called Perfect Fit, the sound is perfectly fine but the clever bit is that you rub the foam earpiece and it shrinks, then gently expands in your ear so it's a perfect shape. Tailored, noise reducing earphones which are then audible at safer volume levels because the earbud blocks out external sounds, £119.99 - the last pair of tailored, fitted earphones I had retailed at £499. Admittedly that was a long time ago but even so, something effectively bespoke to your own ear at the current price is pretty good.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Clothes for the office Christmas Party

Hi all - today's post, on what to wear for the office Christmas party, appears as a guest blog on A Suit That Fits' website. Click here to read it and click the link to the blog on the bottom.

(Declaration of interest: when you click the link it gets me some loyalty points - this happens when you click the link and costs you nothing).

And if you're here for the first time, having read the piece on the ASTF site, welcome - I hope you find plenty to interest you here.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Sound Asleep: the talking pillow

The Sound Asleep pillow is a neat idea. It's a pillow - just say if I'm going too quickly for you - with a little wire attached, which in turn connects to a small speaker inside the stuffing. There's another wire provided with which you connect to an MP3 player, computer or anything else with a standard earphone socket, and it plays music, talking books, whatever you want, very quietly. It has to be quietly so you don't risk waking your partner up. There's no need for batteries or to plug it in to an external power supply as it's self-powered.

Sounds simple? It is, and at first glance I liked it very much indeed - practiced using it watching a bit of telly on the computer, and last night my wife had it plugged into the iPad and she didn't disturb me at all - OK, there was a bit of a murmur from the speaker but cars driving past outside made more noise. And of course she didn't get tangled up with wires as she might if she turned over wearing headphones.

So far, so excellent. Only...then my wife inspected it a bit more closely. She found the inscription on the care tab, "do not wash". She also found the word "polyester".

And here we enter the realm of "more information than you particularly wanted". In summer when it's hot I tend to perspire quite a bit. Even if I didn't, I'm likely eventually to want to wash any pillow I use - the thought of declining completely to do so is frankly icky. I can't, though, wash this.

One thing that helps, though, is if I have a good quality pillow - something whose cover is made of a good grade of cotton. It makes quite a difference. And of course it would push the costs up.

So I have mixed feelings about this little lifestyle gadget. The immediate benefit is great, I can attest that it performs its function perfectly. Now, if the manufacturer were to speak to P2i, who I mentioned in the waterproof boot blog last week (they treat things to be ultra waterproof and now look at electronics as well as garments so you could protect the speakers for washing) and make a premium version with better grades of breathable covering, you'd have something magical.

As it is, as long as you're not a freak like me this is an excellent buy.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Why spend thousands on a watch?

My philosophy about watches has always been pretty simple. If it looks good, is affordable and tells the time accurately it's fine. Others disagree and I've always wondered why people spend thousands - sometimes tens of thousands on a watch.

Watchmaker Bulova has recently released the limited edition Spaceview (pictured), which will set you back £3000 or so. I'm delighted to welcome Gordon Dickens, general manager at Bulova, as a guest blogger offering some insight into why this sort of price - others in the range come in at just under £1000 - is considered worthwhile. Anyone wanting to buy me one for Christmas is welcome...

Spaceview watch from the Accutron range by Bulova
Watch purchases are driven by passion – but they are rarely an impulse buy.  Most watch purchases follow a period of research among watch retailers, friends, or fellow enthusiasts.
Although recent research [Mintel, 2010[1]] claims that the majority of people are no longer wearing watches, preferring instead to use another technological medium such as a mobile phone to keep track of time, the luxury watch industry is going from strength to strength and the Bulova Monitor[2] identified that 63% of survey participants still wear a watch every day. 
The Bulova Monitor found that appearance drives watch selection with 60% of respondents saying that watch appearance is the main factor in their purchase decision.  Watches are often regarded as jewellery or as collectible works of art rather than just a method of timekeeping. The watch market ranges from affordable yet accurate watches with electronic movements - intended solely for telling the correct time, to extremely expensive luxury watches that serve mainly as personal adornment or as a demonstration of high achievement, complete with precision mechanical engineering.
Those in the know are aware that although what a watch looks like is very important it's actually what's on the inside that counts - the all important movements.  Traditionally, Swiss watchmakers set the standard for quality, especially for mechanical movements; however, since the 1980s, Japanese-made movements have arguably caught up to their Swiss counterparts in terms of quality. Those who appreciate the European tradition of constructing exquisite timekeeping devices may have a preference for fine watches with mechanical movements, as well-built mechanical watches can often last for generations.
Watch purchases are motivated by desire rather than need.  According to the results of the Bulova Monitor, impulse purchases account for only 23% of watch purchases.  Many people justify a luxury watch purchase through the reason of ‘rewarding themselves’.
About Bulova:
Bulova has a rich heritage of 135 years of timekeeping experience including Bulova’s landmark technology - Accutron clocks and timers were used by NASA from 1959 through the early 70’s in satellites and manned-spacecraft during the Space race.  

[2] Throughout 2009, Bulova conducted comprehensive research and created the Bulova Monitor to obtain information on purchase decisions (sample size 1,424 consumers).

My thanks to Grace Zeal of Ogilvy PR for organising this guest blog.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

The water-phobic boot for winter

Hi-Tec Altitude Ultra boot
If you hadn't noticed, the snow is very deep and it's time to dig the waterproof boots out if you haven't already. I've had mine for a couple of years and they're worth talking about because they're very waterproof. No, really seriously waterproof. Scientifically you'd call then hydrophobic.

They look like ordinary walking boots from Hi-Tec. They feel like them too. But they're not.

This is because a company called P2i is involved. It has a process by which the garment is treated at molecular level. It's a bit like putting a load of boots into a microwave - the top layer of molecules is actually altered subtly so that the water rolls off it. Here's a YouTube video demonstrating how it works:

I attended the launch of these at the London Aquarium a couple of years ago. I notice the comments on the YouTube video suggest they won't work for long; my two years suggests they will indeed, but of course if your socks get wet above the boot there's nothing to stop the water seeping down and making you uncomfortable - not the boot's fault, a wet sock trickling down from the top just does what it says on the tin.

I've been very comfortable in these for a couple of years now and will wear them again today. As the thaw starts I'll probably switch to golfing shoes - my feet will get wet but they are completely brilliant for grip when the snow turns to ice underfoot.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Sartorial mistakes of the larger man

Following an excellent blog post yesterday by Izzy of A Suit that Fits (anyone ever thinks I look terrible in a suit, blame her, she's advised on most of them, actually I'd recommend the service to anyone) on dressing for the smaller person I thought I'd add a few thoughts for the larger man (and I don't mean "tall"). Let's face it, it's that time of year, we're all going to start piling on a few pounds sooner or later.

First, having met Izzy a few times, I can state it had never occurred to me that she was below average height. She might argue that this is because she's following her own advice and that's fine; I'd add that very few people are interested in other people's height once they've left primary school. It's probably true of weight as well - nobody outside the family is going to notice if you're carrying some extra poundage.

That said, you can be a bit careful so you don't draw attention to any expanding middle bits. Here are five suggestions, mirroring Izzy's five yesterday:

1. Don't fall for the old "vertical stripes make you look thinner" schtick - it's been proven that this doesn't actually work. You run the risk of your midriff looking like a contour map. Subtle pinstripes are fine, anything bolder will actually make you look larger.

2. Dark colours, in blocks, are better than patterns on suits for us fatties. Light colours, particularly on suits, will make your figure stand out a bit. Or a lot.

3. Izzy suggests avoiding layering too much as it draws attention to the smaller person's lack of stature. Fiddly shirts sticking out of jumpers, fashionable though they are considered, will have much the same effect on the midriff of a bigger person.

4. Izzy also suggests a good fit will make you look better if you're on the small side. This is even more vital if you're a bit big - the best way to get rid of the muffin top is of course to lose it; the second best way is to get clothes that won't make it spill over.

5. Get fit. This will overcome any awkwardness about being fat because you won't be any more - it's what I'm planning to do and I've already lost a little. The clever bit, though, is to talk to your tailor first about how much they charge for alterations and remakes of your clothes - get them to be as reasonable as you can without bankrupting them. Losing weight is a fine thing; the realisation that you've now got to replace your entire wardrobe is a costly result of a successful New Year's resolution.

Izzy is my usual consultant as A Suit That Fits - anyone who's interested can click this link to make an appointment or just look around.