Friday, 5 October 2012

Smells Like Teen Angst

Science boffins have spent years trying to work out why the most evocative of all the senses is smell. And if you’re looking for an answer here you’ve come to the wrong place. But I was reminded of just how strongly scent and memories are linked yesterday when I was meandering down the washing powder aisle of Tesco, behind an old man who was wearing beige slacks and a Marks and Spencer sports jacket, and was suddenly overwhelmed by passion and feelings of hormonal angst. Not because I have a thing for old men in M&S jackets, or washing powder for that matter, but because the elderly gent (and source of my racing heart) was wearing the aftershave of a boy I went out with as a teenager. On reflection, that either says that the boyfriend had a questionable taste in aftershave, or that the old dude had a young spirit. Judging by the slacks, I suspect it’s the former of the two. However, I was positively consumed by how strongly all those feelings of pubescent angst, desperate insecurity and awkward fumbly snogging sessions came back to me in a split second. It was almost like I was right back there, and it’s not often that I truly remember things so clearly. It’s easy to remember how things looked, sounded or tasted, but very difficult to remember feelings as time passes and memories get diluted by time.

Smell has a wonderful, almost magical capacity to transport us to another time and place. The smell of stale alcohol always takes me back to working in a bar, the smell wasn’t just in the bar but it would permeate my skin and follow me home. And whenever I smell that smell I am reminded not just of where I was and who with, but of how I felt; happy, excited and part of something really cool, then arriving home, swaying slightly, eating a massive boccadillo and trying to sleep when it was broad daylight.

Smells can invoke joy and comfort, or can jar you back to a time and place you would rather forget. There have been many studies done on how childhood memories are anchored in smell and even in my limited experience I can understand why. Thankfully, most of my smell memories are pleasant ones. Mum (who now lives at my Nana D’s house) gave Son One a sleeping bag, and even after washing it, it still smells of her house, to the extent that Son One said “I love my sleeping bag, it smells like Nana”. It’s Max Factor make up and old school lemon bathroom cleaner, the smell of my Nana D and now my mum, is a very comforting one and when I smell it, I drink it in and revel in its soothing effect. Mum’s perfume (Alliage) always reminds me of the excitement of staying up late with my grandparents because she would save it “for best” and only wear it when she was going out with my dad. And the smell of Dad just home from work; fags, day old polycotton shirts, those old blazers (that looked like they were made out of Shreddies and had leather elbow patches) and car interior reminds me of feeling small and safe in his arms.

But of all the most wonderful, most comforting and beautiful smells there is, there is one that completely overtakes all others. And that is the sweet, damp smell of my sleeping sons. They say boys smell (and they would be right), boys are gross but, to me, my boys smell delicious (even though they are gross). And I hope that that smell stays with me forever.

Looking at a picture can remind you of a place you’ve been before, hearing a song you’ve listened to with someone, touching or tasting something, all have the power to invoke memories. But scent somehow has an almost apocalyptic strength, eradicating everything you are doing at that moment and taking your entire being back to where it was when you first experienced it.

Slowing to a stop behind the elderly gent pondering the distinctions between Persil and Ariel (you can ponder all you like Sir, you will never work it out), the initial feelings of passion began to subside and were replaced by the bone crushing heartache caused by the original object of my desire. And with that I narrowly avoided asking the old dude his name so I could rush home and write it on my pencil case.

A totally unrelated note…
Happy birthday to Son One, six today! Love you little man xxxx

No comments:

Post a Comment