Chatting just now with a customer I learned a startling fact. Queen Victoria’s knickers…
… were scented with patchouli! Well I’m blowed.
It seems that 18th and 19th century silk traders from China packed their cloth with dried patchouli leaves as moth repellent. This led wealthy Europeans to associate patchouli with opulent Eastern goods. Which, in turn, caused Queen Victoria, Empress of India, ruler of half the globe, to pack her knicker drawer with the famous Hippie Gold.
Royalty came to Piccadilly on Monday as part of the jubilee celebrations. Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, sat down with locals, bigwigs, bodyguards, shopkeepers and tourists to celebrate the Queen’s diamond jubilee. You can see St James’s Church in the background!
One of the most exotic oils we sell is frangipani. We describe it as ‘rich, heady, exotic, deeply floral’ but that does not do it justice. Together with jasmine, gardenia, lotus, the roses, and a few other flower scents, frangipani is an aristocrat of the sweet, in-your-face, ‘feminine,’ essential oils/absolutes.
Some people baulk at the scent. It’s so sweet. Rose, for example, can be understated. But not frangipani. In its raw form, as an absolute, it grabs you by the throat and may make the eyes water. The variety we sell — plumeria rubra — is coloured blood red.
The frangipani tree enjoys a symbiotic relationship with the Frangipani Hawkmoth (pseudosphinx tetrio). The caterpillars are tremendous: six inches long, a poisonous yellow and black, a spike on abdominal segment eight, feeding on the frangipani leaves before pupating and emerging as a moth with a five inch wing-span.
The moth returns to the frangipani flowers, attracted by the perfume, in search of nectar, and a dirty trick is pulled on it: there is no nectar, only pollen, which the moth distributes unwittingly to other trees, causing fertilisation to occur.
There’s much more to be said about frangipani. It has a role in both religion and sex. It is the national tree of Laos (called dok jampa) and every Buddhist temple has one or more in their courtyard.
In Polynesian culture, the frangipani is worn by women to indicate their relationship status – over the right ear if seeking a relationship, over the left if taken.
A rare, expensive, and (in Chinese culture) historically important scent: Osmanthus (osmanthus fragrans).
The scent is described variously as a blend of jasmine, gardenia and ripe apricots and like new shoe leather with cherry-like overtones. This will be available once we source a good, reputable, supplier who doesn’t charge an arm and a leg!
The beautiful gardens at St James’s Church, next to Piccadilly Market, contain seven magnificent London plane trees which have just decided to shed their flowers.
See those spines? As the flowers spin through the air — the trees are air pollinators — the spines break off and turn into highly efficient bioaerosols. These attach themselves to the skin, mouth, throat, eyes, and may penetrate into the lungs. Result: coughing, sneezing, watering eyes, itching. Asthmatics need to be careful.
High temperatures and a strong hot wind don’t help (humans) but, of course, help the trees. Heat = perspiration = more plane tree bioaerosols sticking to the skin = more itching.
What can be done? Tree surgeons wear gas masks when dealing with a flowering plane tree. It’s that bad. Or refuse to go near them until winter. Those forced into close proximity should chew gum to wash the spines from the throat, and bathe regularly to remove the spines from the skin. Lavender essential oil — a natural antihistamine — may help a bit but pollen isn’t really the problem.
Women in summer hats and frocks, men in t-shirts and sandals, lovers holding hands in the church gardens, tourists perspiring but happy. It’s the first day of summer
at Piccadilly Market!
After months of cold, snow, hail, a wind like the devil running round the churchyard (as if attempting, fruitlessly, to gain entry to the church) the warmth comes as a blessed relief.
The St James’s Church gardens are a secret delight. The stretch of central London from Piccadilly Circus to Green Park is a heavily built environment with little greenery. The property developers are in permanent action, knocking down buildings and building new ones, driven by some of the highest property prices in the world.
So in this dusty, car exhaust-laden, glass and concrete urban desert, the St James’s Church gardens, between Piccadilly and Jermyn Street, are important.
Piccadilly Market, in the courtyard of St James’s Church Piccadilly, is often referred to as a ‘hidden gem.’ But gems should be worn. They should sparkle and give pleasure. They should not be hidden away.
When someone Googles ‘london markets’ or ‘london street markets’ Piccadilly Market should appear near the top of the search result. It has, after all, existed since 1981.
People can then visit, enjoy the market, tell their friends, eat their lunch in the beautiful gardens, attend a concert, walk round the church, discover that William Blake was baptised there in 1757, and attend a church service. But they need to know about it.