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smell, sense of

Smell-memories act instantaneously, and give the sensation of stepping into a room where you didn't even realise there was a door. They are beyond recall. Pass the same way a little later, and both room and door have disappeared as though they'd never been there.

Thinking on, many of the smells I find most evocative take me straight back to when I was very young; still getting to grips with language, perhaps, so less inclined to trap every experience in a net of words. In temporal rather than alphabetical order …

flowers (1)
Winter jasmine, mock orange, lilac, Japanese anemones – old-fashioned flowers from the long, rambling garden of the first house I remember. Tastes from these early days would include Provençal candied fruit and a now-disappeared kind of pop-corn where the outside was coloured; both these were occasional luxury presents from grandparents.
creosote and disinfectant
Characteristics of my aunt Ethel's house in Stubbington. Slighted by a possible suitor who went off to Australia and sent her no more lover-like present than a set of egg-cups, she set up her own business and prospered. The garage and the little garden hut were creosoted regularly, and Jeyes' Fluid kept the outside drains clean and clear. The house, named Gweek after a tiny, picturesque village in Cornwall, also had a characteristic sound: a perforated zinc door in the larder, which rattled ever so slightly in its roller-bearing runners.
wet paper
Primary school painting afternoons, Windsor & Newton water-colour tablets in plastic trays like baking-tins and huge sheets of butchers' paper. The type of paper is thus very important: newsprint or glossy magazine just don't have the same simplicity to them. The sensation to call back this time would be a bean-bag, provided the beans were real beans.
The Paris métro, with its curiously boxy cars, has a distinctive smell of slightly warm chalk I made my first acquaintance with many year ago. A family friend invited me and my next sister over for Easter one year, but hélas! took to her bed for some reason the day after we arrived – so after breakfast each morning we would be handed some grubby French bank-notes, given tips on what might be worth visiting and told when to be back for supper. A random introduction to this unlovable but interesting city.
flowers (2)
Wisteria covered two walls of Second Quad when I was at college, and its scent whisks me back there with total recall. If the nicer details of Anglo-Norman syntax or the nuances of Gower's Confessio Amantis had sunk in so easily and remained so memorable, who knows where I might be now? Be duly grateful, dear reader, for the string of chances that means you now have these pages to delight you.
Palmolive has unpleasant associations, reminding me of a miserable and confusing time few months at university: someone fell for me when I wasn't ready to be fallen for, and to add an extra prickle of discomfort – hard-baked currants under the rhino's skin – he wasn't someone I really wanted to be fallen for by anyway.
Zest is much better, reminding me of meeting Tony Wright at Ushaw and beginning to step away from confusion into valued friendship. Printer's ink is Ushaw, too, calm afternoons or evenings helping Steve West with the press.
Duck Oil
Has to be warm or it doesn't work; when it does, it brings up a full-colour picture of Simon's lovingly-maintained Kawasaki. Given its head on suitable roads it could do the ton, something I experienced as a pillion on a lonely straight in Lincolnshire: on the sort of roads I have always preferred, though, my highly manœuvrable 250 could leave its 550 struggling to keep up. How proud I felt, how trusted, when Simon casually handed me the keys to take my turn during a long journey north.
Deep-buried, this one, and it took me some thinking to work back. I was walking down pedestrianised Fargate one clear autumn afternoon, caught a faint whiff of smoke and automatically moved to one side to let a steam-lorry whisper past. But how could I have assimilated smell and silence? Slewed taxation and biaised regulations forced the steam-lorry off the streets well before my time, just as they saw off the tram when I was very young. Well, our neighbours the Maundrells at 173 Quemerford had a couple of traction-engines, and I can only assume that these must once have been joined by a lorry...
The Brussels metro is not one of my favourites, not least because its ill-advised introduction was only achieved by closing many tram-routes. It's over-engineered and a painfully Seventies shade of orange – but it's part of home all the same, and the almost sickly smell of warm Liège-style waffles instantly calls up a general image of metro station. Where there are no waffles on sale, the equally characteristic smell is slightly warmed plastic from the moving handrails of the escalators. Trams, of course, don't smell; they make do with a whole litany of noises.