Inscrutable, Menacing...


Some of the most fun I’ve had was working as a product reviewer, talking up (or down!) all the weird and wonderful essentials you never knew you needed – from whisky and wine, to luggage tags and lip gloss (all basic essentials, surely). 

I covered beauty, travel, tech, plus a few alarming things in jars (The Icelandic Phallological Museum) to build a large social media following of savvy, sophisticated urban consumers. 

Tumi Alpha Bravo Frequent Traveler

Bottom Line: Inscrutable, menacing, ballistic nylon. Your solution to the shame of wheelie luggage.

At JFK, the guard took one look and sent me to a completely separate area and my ballistic nylon Tumi and I were whisked through security in about 3 minutes flat. Still, I felt like the bag’s +1. The thing has an inscrutable and slightly menacing air, as if it might suddenly go rogue and kill you in your sleep. Which is why, presumably, it comes with a traceable serial number. For guys especially, the silly and macho sounding Alpha Bravo might be the best bet for getting away from it all, and more important, getting away with wheelie luggage.

Vaseline Rosy Lips

Bottom Line: Nostalgia in a Little Tin

Pop open the lid of Rosy Lips and you might feel six years old again, your Mum rummaging in her handbag for a wholly unwelcome scrap of tissue with which she insists on licking and then dabbing on your face. Annoyed and embarrassed, you’re also vaguely conscious it smells of her lipstick, a comforting mixture of English roses and something quite indefinable. 21st century lipstick no longer smells as sweet, but Rosy Lips, a subtle blend of rose and almond oil which lends lips a delicate pink hue, does. Proust's madeleines had nothing on Rosy Lips. Nostalgia, if you dare, in a little pink tin.

Boom Volume Booster App for Mac

Bottom Line: Supersonic, roaring sound

I feel sure that having bagged this app when it was only $4.95 is like buying Intel at 70 cents. Less yachts and racehorses, though. It's pretty simple: you upload Boom to your Mac (and I am assuming most of you lot are Mac users....) and it boosts your sound a whopping 400%. True fact! 

At first, I feared the supersonic sound roaring from my tiny laptop might blow the speakers. But calm down, Mary, because Global Delight (who debuted Boom at Macworld) assured me there have been no reports of this so far. Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? 

Still, it felt worth the risk as I listened to the World Service from the shower while drowning out the sound of the neighbours’ yapping miniature dog. Worth it at twice the price, in fact – which, at $8.99, it now kind of is. Ha! Or should that be: HA!!'

Languiole Pocket Knife

Bottom Line: Useful, Beautiful, and Good Enough for Napoleon

I was given my Languiole pocket knife in 1996, a gift from a naive friend. What were they thinking?! 

Let us say simply that the Languiole is both handsome and useful in many situations - and really, what more could a woman want? Too right. And one more thing about being female: you can believe me when I say that mine is not only strong and beautifully made, but the blade is fully nine inches long. Speaking of size, Napoleon Bonaparte was also given one as a gift, and subsequently affixed his seal of approval to it (this review being my own). Every Languiole knife has his bee symbol on the handle. 

Made in the French village of Languiole, you can watch a video about all this and the meticulous effort that goes into crafting each one on their endearingly written website.

Patagonia Down Sweater Vest

Bottom Line: Surprisingly fabulous

I am a bit cross with Patagonia’s copywriter for using the patronizing term “folks” and for using the word “shop” as a verb – but their quilted vest somewhat makes up for it. Absurdly light, it keeps the chill out, folds to the size of a small sandwich and this past winter it even got to “party” at events that otherwise required elaborate ballgown-type ensembles. You'd think that such a get-up would invite comparisons to Edie from Grey Gardens, but I got heaps of compliments so I can't say that I care. This Patagucci (as outdoorsy sorts call them) vest is that fabulous.

Mindfold Relaxation Mask

Bottom Line: I love you but I've chosen darkness

One of the very many sound arguments for separate bedrooms is that for some (ahem) people, bedtime is a real Operation: white noise machine, earplugs, alarm clocks (two), lock the door, check under the bed, teddy, sleep mask. I’ll admit to being a reluctant connoisseur of the latter, and sleeping (or not sleeping) in general. Most sleep masks I’ve tried fall into the itchy, scratchy, hot, let-all-the-light-in variety, and so, like some cheating, dissatisfied spouse, I am always on the lookout for something better.

My newest bit of strange (as it were) comes via Mindfold. And as if the name isn’t sinister enough, it arrived in the post with a little yellow sticker affixed to its plastic baggie announcing: ‘Total Darkness With Your Eyes Open!’ I’ll be the judge of that, I thought, recalling, with a nasty shiver, a man I once saw at Doha airport who had fallen asleep with a glassy, half-fixed stare.

Be that as it may, it is essential to be free of not only light, but that uncomfortable, icky pressure on your eyeballs. Mindfold gets round this by lining their mask with foam that contours neatly around the eye socket and – yes – provides total, utter, complete, impenetrable, delicious darkness. Indeed, the mask comes with the ominous disclaimer: ‘You assume all psychological risk and liability in connection with MINDFOLD’.

Nights one and two I yanked the thing off more from frustration than existential horror. The foam felt scratchy. However, on our third date, though the earth didn’t quite move, I was definitely more satisfied and woke up feeling refreshed. Still, I am not quite sure how the mask might, you know, look to anyone else in your immediate vicinity....It is not a girly come hither in your pink frilly boudoir type of accessory. With it’s hard, black plastic outer shell it offers a more geeky, VR, sci-fi appeal, like a prop from The Matrix. (‘It’s a Relaxation Revolution!’, after all). Neither does it come embroidered with a knee-slappingly hilarious slogan like ‘Wake Me Up for Coffee!’. What a shame. 

Mindfold doesn’t do knee-slapping, and their list of suggestions is endearingly keen. Hence, we are told with no irony whatsoever that the mask is perfect as ‘A Blindfold for Games’ and also, further down the list, ‘Headache Relief’. H’mm. ‘Headache’ relief for your partner when you attempt to engage them in any ‘games’ while wearing it? Unless he’s Morpheus, the God of Sleep, that is. With Mindfold you will fall into the arms of Morpheus quite easily.


Bottom Line: Free software that will put you to sleep

Does your computer dream of electric sheep? Possibly, though I doubt it ever counts them. Your computer goes straight into sleep mode on command. If only we non-android organisms worked the same way!

Worse, for insomniacs the computer itself might be the culprit. Recent research has established that staring into a computer screen in the evening can leave you sleepless and counting sheep for hours. Not a huge surprise perhaps that exposure to a glaring light source at the blue end of the spectrum of an evening does none of us any favors. It has been found to reduce melatonin, compromising your body’s ability to properly ‘switch off’. 

What to do except don sunglasses indoors a la Wintour – and pray no one catches sight of you looking like such an ass? Enter f.lux – free software which notes your location and mimics the onset of darkness, so that, as the sun sets outside, so it goes inside by eliminating your computer screen’s pesky blue tones.

It seems to work. The orangey glow might be a bit off-putting at first, but I got used to it in no time and in fact found it soothing. There is a strange pleasure in watching the changing light of the screen as the process starts (you can specify how long this takes, together with the type of lighting you prefer – good old tungsten in my case). You can also read up on the interesting sleep research which the f.lux people have sensibly included on their site. 

As a talented insomniac, made fun of for skulking round at night switching off all the lights (and with the bruises to show for it) I recommend this product as wonderfully vindicating. Sheep – electric  or otherwise – begone!