16 October, 2006

Smell? Smell?

It's something of a dust-covered cliche to talk of how a particular scent can evoke a particular memory, and one that can hail from as little as a week or as much as a decade ago.

Nevertheless I found myself being so profoundly affected by the whiff of something today I couldn't help but feel compelled to record both it and a few other similarly nostalgia-inducing odours to which I find myself susceptible:

- Hash browns: these make me think of my sixth form canteen, specifically the combination of vegetable spring rolls, hash browns and baked beans, which back then I thought was the nicest meal in the whole world.

- Tar: this reminds me of one hot summer in the mid-1980s when the council dumped a load of asphalt in our road with the expectation that residents would take it upon themselves to repair all the potholes themselves.

- Curry: I used to smell this on a particular stiff winter breeze when walking to school in the early 90s, a route which took me across a university campus and very close to some halls of residence kitchens. The combination of the spicy odour and the freezing temperature was perfect.

- Damp: I'll always associate this with February 2001 when my roof started leaking while I was away for the weekend and I returned to find my living room soaking. It had been snowing as well, and the place stank of dirty water. While it took relatively little time to dry up and clear away the damage, the smell persisted for weeks.

- Cut grass: school playing fields on a hot summer morning

- Permanent markers: school classrooms on a hot summer afternoon

- Funny cigarettes: not that I encounter the smell much these days, but when I do - walking down the street, usually - it always reminds me of the time I lived directly above a group of unfettered drug-sozzled layabouts in Liverpool who did nothing with their lives except sleep until early afternoon then smoke until the early hours. They hung around for about 18 months or so before suddenly disappearing, leaving behind a flat entirely empty of furniture except for one filthy sofa, plus strange daubings on the wall including a giant spiff and - inevitably - a naked woman.

- Chips: this never fails to make me feel hungry, even when I've just eaten. And this was the smell that caught me off guard today. Just after I'd eaten my lunch.


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