Knitting · Norwich · Nostalgia

Outside my comfort zone

Belgian Monk
Now it’s The Belgian Monk, but forty years ago…

Picking up on last Monday’s post when I mentioned perfume, I would like to introduce you to a celebrated Norwich restaurant, The Belgian Monk. It serves a wide selection of Belgian beers and mussels galore, not to mention an extensive restaurant menu. It opened in 2000 and is still very popular. It is on one of the historic lanes in Norwich (actually a couple of doors down from Norfolk Yarn which I have also written about recently) and, as you can see from my photo, it is housed in a lovely old building.

How, I hear you ask, does that link in with perfume? Well, back in my teenage years and early twenties, this building housed a splendid perfume shop called Crofts and that was where I introduced myself to the fragrances that I still love today, most especially Bal a Versailles. Crofts was most definitely catering to the more expensive end of the perfume-buying public and whilst it stocked popular brands, it was somewhere you could go to find things that the department stores and chemists wouldn’t provide. Mostly, though, the experience of being in there was enough, even if you didn’t buy anything. The building is superb and with jewel-bright boxes and potion-filled bottles floor to ceiling, it had all the appeal of a sweetie-shop, without the calories!

Purchases I particularly remember were, of course, the Bal a Versailles, but also my first Boule Noir bottle of Lanvin’s Arpege, and a cabinet-style box containing a selection of Mary Chess perfumed bath oils. Mary Chess is no more, Bal a Versailles is very hard to find, and Arpege is the only one still readily available (it may well be the next perfume I buy as I haven’t worn it in a while).

Currently, I am a little outside my comfort zone as far as perfume goes. I am using up a couple of little 4ml gift/sample sprays of Clinique Aromatics in White, and not being one to douse myself in scent, I probably have enough of this to see me through to the other side of Christmas. To damn it with faint praise, this perfume is okay. I like it enough to use up the two little bottles I have, but not enough to want to buy it and wear it for an extended period. If forced to think about it, I find it best suited to summer; it’s very ‘bright’, even slightly brash, and lacking something that can’t be put into words. Which, let’s face it, is the whole thing about perfume – you can never describe why one particular perfume is right for you and others are wrong, even if they are in the same broad ‘family’ or have similar components. For example, a quite common comparison I come across is if you like Arpege you may also like Chanel No. 5 – I love Arpege, Chanel No. 5 leaves me completely unmoved. It is almost as if somewhere within the particular secret formula of each perfume you love, there is an atom of magic that makes that makes it speak to you. Conversely, when you try a perfume that isn’t quite right, you experience the olfactory equivalent of Mark Twain’s spring fever – “you don’t know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so.”

The other place where I am operating outside my comfort zone (albeit a little more happily) is in my knitting. As a lifelong lover of light- to medium-weight wools, I am currently working on two projects in heavier-weight yarns. My super-secret Christmas knitting is in a chunky yarn, knitting up at a gauge of 14 stitches and 20 rows to a 10cm square. I am using 6mm needles which initially felt like knitting with rolling-pins and I have to be glad that they are wooden and therefore lightweight. It surprised me how much I have come to enjoy working on this project and it is encouraging me to consider knitting something in Rowan Cocoon yarn for next winter. Me suddenly wanting to use this yarn after years of disliking it will probably be enough to ensure they discontinue it, but at least if they do I will be prepared and able to buy some before it disappears.

The second project I’m working on is a funky little neckwarmer for my Etsy shop (this is now open at This is ‘only’ an aran-weight wool and, although it is a bit bulkier, it is closer to my usual knitting choices. The only downside is that both of the projects I am actively working on are in almost exactly the same colour or, to be precise, lack of colour, and I don’t function hugely well with the neutrals. I keep gazing over at my vase of knitty pretties to remind myself about colour and warmth.

Knitty pretties

I am currently awash with inspiration for making colourful things from yarn so I hope some of it comes to fruition.

This weekend has mainly been devoted to steaming my Christmas puddings. I use my mum’s recipe which makes two medium-sized puddings, each enough to serve six people a good portion. As I spend Christmas alone (by choice, although for some reason many people seem to think that it is some kind of hardship to be able to spend the Christmas break exactly as it pleases you), twelve portions of Christmas pudding might be something of an overkill. I usually only make half the recipe which is still more than enough. One of the puddings will be cut into individual portions and go into the freezer, but my dieting self is eagerly anticipating the day she can just dive head-first into a six-portion pudding!

Speaking of dieting, yesterday I hit the twelve stone mark, which means I have lost one stone and ten pounds since I started dieting at the beginning of September. I feel so much better for it; I am enjoying walking again, and I love how my clothes fit me now, apart from the few which simply don’t fit at all any more. So I am patting myself on the back and giving myself a big thumbs-up for my perseverence. I am not thinking about the fact that the NHS suggest a healthy weight for my height is between seven and ten stone – the NHS are exceptionally good at most things, but I suspect they are a little too zealous when it comes to weight assessment.

I hope you are enjoying any projects you are working on, and that you have had an enjoyable weekend.


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