29 April 2009


Walking down to "The Banner" for three well-earned mid-week pints, I noticed sweet smells from several different blossoms mingled in our springtime air. Perhaps it was the late April temperature or that light rain shower earlier this evening but it seemed to me that something had enhanced the aromas emanating from fading blossoms now hanging limply on leafy branches.

They say that we associate memories with particular smells. I can't say that that is true for me though there is a particular smell of polish and varnish mixed with the kind of wood shavings that Mr Assert the caretaker would chuck over small puddles of vomit that takes me right back to primary school days which in turn reminds me of Miss Readhead's perfume - roses and talcum powder - an old-fashioned/old lady smell from long ago.
Though some of my senses are not as sharp as they were when I was younger, my sense of smell remains acute and there are some smells that I simply adore. Above all others, my favourite smell has to be that slightly metallic odour that hangs in the air following rain after a dry spell. And I love the smell of hot tar when road gangs are repairing or resurfacing roads. What does it speak of? Liquorice? Trinidad?

Foul smells include the revolting odour of cigarette smoke that clings lavatorially to smokers' hair and clothing. Then there's the stale smell you find in charity shops, intensified in old people's homes. Dog daisies and dead chickens. Neglected public conveniences. Canine faeces on your shoe.

I love the smell of new books and glossy magazines and football programmes. Push your nose against the pages and sniff. And of course there are cooking smells - the grilling of bacon, roast chicken sizzling in the oven, bubbling Lamb Madras, Christmas mince pies and honey-sweet Victoria sponges. Gorgeous.

A snuffed out candle. Cordite on bonfire night after the rockets have flown. New cars and newly mown grass. The pinkness of babies' new skin. Petroleum. "Vosene" shampoo. "Tabac" aftershave and fresh lemon juice. Onions in a pan and freshly chopped garlic. Freshly dug soil - the smell of the earth.

The sense of smell is perhaps less easy to articulate than the other senses but it is nonetheless precious, helping us to define and relish the lives we are leading. Where would be in an odourless world? We'd be lost, quite lost.


  1. Ahh - - I'm all evocativeised now, thank you. I have an excellent sense of smell and am always amazed when I can smell things that other people can't, especially food that's beginning to go off or, more pleasantly, distant flowers. My mother has totally lost her sense of smell and it really annoys her, especially since she spends much of her time gardening.

  2. Generally the smell of early morning through the window is pretty special.

    Old records in sleeves. Nostalgia to a past age.

    The best smells are certainly the ones that just drift past you and remind you of something though.

    Wet dog- both foul and comforting.

    All the chemically enhanced smells that are probably not good for you- laundry and petrol springs to mind.

  3. A very nice essay, Mr. YP. My brain's synapses are now all perked up for the day, or charged, or whatever it is that they do.

    I have never seen the phrase "clings lavatorially" before, but it is a good one.

    One can never, ever, forget the smell encountered when passing a turkey farm.

  4. something to do with ions that rain smell I believe

    all damp smells are quite nice: musty second hand books shops, the sea, wet soil, fresh coffee, the wallpaper in my house

  5. The smell of chlorine takes me back to the many laps of the swimming pool I traversed during my childhood. I also remember the smell when I nearly drained the water from the pool into the lake at Red Raider when I was backwashing. Dug was not impressed.

  6. Wonderful post - my first instinct was to rush into my studio and paint it all. Thanks, handsome.


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