Tuesday, 22 February 2011

All the perfumes of Araby

I remarked to a friend this morning that a mutual friend smelled delicious.  This was not to imply that I fancied him lightly grilled , but just that the way he cologned, after-shaved or whatever appealed to my nose.

Later in the day another friend called at the house with a newsletter for me and commented on the wonderful fragrance of a shrub in the garden.  It turned out not to be in my garden at all, but next door, though the perfume was so strong it seemed closer.

This led me to think about the way scents stick in our memories so that over an - often quite long period of time - we associate an event with a particular perfume.

As a small child I spent 6 months with my paternal grandparents in Penarth in South Wales, and for me one of the most memorable things about that period was the smell of the air.  A mixture of sea, local stone and the smoke from the little local railway, known as the halt.  So strong was this heady brew that if I had been led blindfold to the area I would have instantly known where I was.

Then our house in Birmingham covered in honeysuckle had the most overpowering perfume imaginable.
My  parents were both keen gardeners and the roses were an ever-present presence along with lilac sweetpeas and wallflowers. 

As a child I had a very keen sense of smell and even 30 or 40 years later could identify particular roses by their unique perfumes.

Of course, not all smells are associated with happy memories and just as a vase of lilac can evoke instant memories of 'home', so certain other flowers have sad or even traumatic connotations.  I love freesias above all other flowers, both for their delicate fragile beauty, lovely colours and exquisite scent, but they have a very sad connection for me and admiration is always tinged with melancholy.

The smell of freshly cut grass, freshly baked bread, and above all, for me, freshly brewed coffee add enormously to life's pleasures. 

It may not be my best feature but, I am very glad to have my nose and my sense of smell.

I sound like Pollyanna don't I?


  1. Oh, I think scent is the most primal memory-maker/wakerupper. When I was a child, my father owned a sawmill. To this day, if I come up behind a truck hauling pine logs (which is easy to do here in the American South), I am immediately transported back to that time and place and memories flood me, sometimes things I haven't thought of in forty years or more.

    I also love the smell of rain on streets in the summer....

  2. Oh Ray, firstly I must apologize I didn't realize you had a blog!! I have turned to your profile page a few times BUT never thought to click web link :) However, situation is now rectified and I am now a 'follower'..
    I first really became aware of 'smell' and their link to 'memories' when I was on duty at the family viewing area after 7/7. One of the instructions we were given was not to wear perfum or smelly deodorant whilst escorting families to view their loves ones. This being, as you well know, because memories are associated with smell..
    I'm sorry that the smell of freesias brings back different memories for you than it does for me - as the flowers on my Bible, which I held on my wedding day were white freesias.
    Take care, Judyx

  3. Penny, yes I know what you mean about freshly sawn wood, a wonderful aroma, the rain on streets doesn't have the same effect on me, but we all, thank goodness, have widely differing tastes.

    Judy, new followers always welcome. I do understand about the 7/7 thing. Other people's sensitivities should of course be a prime concern.
    The freesias thing is very difficult for me, but despite the traumatic connection they are still my favourite flower. It is just that they produce tears as well as smiles.
    Wonderful invention noses don't you think?