This morning on start the week they were talking about smells and I remembered smells from long ago. I went to Moscow a while ago and it smelled like London in the fifties and I loved that. I have no idea why but there was a great odour of coal and gasometers though none were evident. I never located where the smells originated but they made me nostalgic for my grandma’s house in Turnpike Lane where I went for holidays where I shared her feather bed which had its own distinctive scent. I took her accumulators, heavy batteries full of acid that powered her vast radio to the oil shop to be charged – I have loved the smell of hardware shops ever since but then there was a sharp acid smell in my nose as I bought mantles for her gas lights. Her house had the smell of old furniture with beeswax polish and dust, the piano had a special smell of its own and I don’t think I even thought about the various smells, I just enjoyed them.
I remember the terrible fogs with affection because they disrupted school and were terrifying and exciting. The smell of winter is unique and not describable but it is distinctive as are all the seasons. The smell of foxes is plain to me, probably because my dogs have always rolled in essence of fox but most people can’t smell that sharp sour scent and they are the poorer for it. I love smells, am greedy for them and the smell of damp dog is one that is not thought of as pleasant but in my mind – or nose – it means that there is a dog around and it reminds me of my own dogs. Coffee is a wonderful smell and baking bread of course but there are some hideous smells around and they are entirely manufactured.
The other day in Boots, where I went to buy my nice subtle Givenchy perfume I spotted a lot of sample bottles, and being an avaricious freebee person I rashly squirted a random spray on my wrists – it was gross, sweet, sickly stuff that stayed with me all day – serve me right! This reminded me of groups of local youths who walk in a miasma of perfume like a solid block, they carry it with them – or perhaps it carries them. Of Youth Dew that was popular and worn in a spirit of optimism by every middle aged woman at discos in the eighties and of Poison that poisoned the atmosphere in my car for a week after I drove a friend home – fortunately I had a very smelly dog at the time and eventually doggie odours banished the Poison. I can remember overdosing on Femme and Chanel when I was young – until I discovered Floris Rose Geranium and Fresh Mowed Hay which I haven’t thought about for years and that I shall seek out now.
Of course nostalgia plays a large part in scents, the most evocative sense of all. Gauloise cigarettes take me straight back – don’t stop at go – to Finches in the Fulham road and to coffee bars in Soho, to intense discussions of artsky fartsky subjects that I only had a scantly knowledge of. Old Holborn tobacco has me back in the years of the Anti Nazi League and long coach rides to protest. The smell of an Ulster fry has me back in my kitchen drooling and hocks and cabbage effect me the same way and then back to my mum’s cakes and that feels like full circle. And I haven’t even touched on the scent of people – probably the most underestimated facet of attraction and repellence – we are, after all animals.