It’s amazing how a smell can transport you anywhere. Catch a whiff of a sunscreen bottle and suddenly you are on a beach, dipping your toes in the sand whilst gently being warmed by the sun’s rays. Opening a jar of warm mixed spice when baking can make you feel instantly festive, all that’s missing is a glass of mulled wine and a large mince pie. Catching a breath of a stranger’s perfume can immediately make you think of a friend who wears the same scent. These smells are comforting, relaxing, and can help us to escape from our daily lives for a few minutes. A smell can be a gateway to a memory, taking us back to a time in our childhood or letting us be with a lost loved one for a few precious moments. If we could bottle these aromas, they would make the best scented candles ever.
The burnt, toasty incense of a freshly blown out wick will always take me back to childhood celebrations that, of course, had to have a big birthday cake as the centrepiece. Every child would get to have a go at making the flames disappear, often meaning the cake would be covered in allsorts by the time everyone had two or three tries (no wonder the grown-ups never indulged in a piece!).
If I ever came home from university on a Friday night we would have a curry. Always made from scratch, my mum would often toast the spices before grinding them down and adding to the pan. The wafting exotic scent was a far cry from the bland, beige cuisine I was dining on back in halls. I would often eat too much, having to slouch on the sofa, whilst rubbing my bloated belly, to relieve the discomfort.
The scent of freshly cut grass takes me back to summer picnics, which were often enjoyed in the grounds of a stately home that was near to where I grew up. We would feast on fresh cucumber sandwiches and sticky-sweet orange ice-lollies that would always melt before you got your first lick. The smell of wet grass reminds me of cold, drizzly Saturday afternoons watching the football. At half time we’d eat warm butter pies, that had soggy pastry and a molten filling which burned the back of your throat as you stuffed it into your mouth. The man who sat next to me always had sweets, they were sugar scented toffees whose crinkling wrappers would often distract during a tense moment in the play.
My Granddad always used to have Murray mints in his hallway. They were kept in an ornately decorated little tin and their strong fragrance would greet you as soon as you opened the door. If I open a packet today, and get a nose-full of that fresh, sharp incense, I am suddenly back in that corridor, playfully skidding on the shiny floor with my brothers.
The meaty waft of Hot Pot is a comforting reminder of every family celebration I can remember. Christenings, wedding anniversaries and big birthdays would always be catered for by my Nana, who would make big trays of the traditional Lancastrian main course. The potatoes had always gone a little soggy by the time it came to serving, but no one seemed to mind. The lifting of the tinfoil blankets, that were keeping the bakes warm, was always met with great greediness, as people pushed their way to the front of the buffet line to make sure that they got a corner piece. Enough would be made for everyone to tuck into seconds (and even thirds), and they did so with great gusto, meaning that only a few stray onions were left by the end.
It is really amazing how these simple everyday scents can hold the key to such powerful memories. A smell can help us relive a special time that, in the real world, we could never go back to. A smell can make a magical moment live on, for just a little bit longer.