Everyone loves a list.
Here is my own riposte to all those endless ‘must do’s’ – 100 things to see/read/eat before you die – always so popular in the Bank Holiday Newspapers.
Yet so many of those recommended experiences are curiously passive, depressingly automatic: they involve buying a ticket, taking out a subscription, visiting some sort of restaurant, theatre or other place of entertainment. “You pays your money & you takes your choice”. A bit lifeless, maybe?
Smells are different. They are trickier to seek out; they take you by surprise at unexpected moments; they rocket you across time and space; they resist control or manipulation. With smell you must take your pleasures where you find them.
Most of the following scents are delicious; some are startling. A few are revolting but arresting. Only one I have not yet smelled…
Even as I write, reports are coming in from Australia that the Duchess of Cambridge ‘recoiled’ at the smell of a koala: the eucalyptus oil comes out through the koala’s pores, you see, intensified by its own natural odour. Smells never fail to amaze: if you let them.
Tell us what you think of this list.
Here we go:
Box… & phlox: pink & white phlox was introduced into Europe by the Empress Josephine – a hot white peppery scent; the smell of childhood.
A new bar of soap
A traditional eau de cologne
Orange peel & marmalade
Clean sheets – laid up in lavender or simply air dried.
Fresh cut spring grass
The silk lining of a fur coat
New books: hardback & limp edition smell quite different.
Chanel No 5 – it changes all the time like so many classics. Our wonderful Sarah McCartney, recently smelled the 1929 version: curiously like Lux soapflakes.
Jasmine – in a pot, in the garden or on the streets of Damascus.
The hills of home – that indefinable smell of your native air. I can smell Leicester coming a mile off.
Russian airports – once redolent of over-ripe apples, cigarettes & petrol. Have they changed ?
A glasshouse of ripening tomatoes
Sweet peas – which is lovelier? The colour or the perfume?
White sugar – a nasty smell. Used to make me feel quite sick as a child.
Hyacinths – though to some they smell of tom cats.
Scarlet geraniums – more properly called pelargoniums but you know the plant I mean.
Christmas and Easter – something indefinable in the air. Unmistakable, impossible to pin-point.
Shalimar by Guerlain- at least in its glory days. See Chanel No 5, above.
Icy iron – an iron railing with a hard January frost on it.
Horseradish – the hotter the better.
Lily of the valley
A convent chapel – inner cleanliness.
Prison – I have yet to smell this and trust I never shall; but the awful miasma is something that everyone who has been banged up infallibly mentions.
Ripe pineapples – warm fragrant golden sweetness.
Bluebells & wild garlic
Backstage – of any theatre.
Syringa on a June evening.
Snuffed candles – in the second they are extinguished; hot wax & burned wick.
Rosemary, lavender, thyme – the glory of the herb patch.
Fear - a sour, foxy reek.
Jonquils in a sunny beeswax-polished hallway.
Camomile – though not camomile tea.
Bacon, coffee; cigarettes at the moment of lighting: all notoriously smelling better than they taste.
A gardenia + a magnolia flower – often talked about; seldom experienced for real.
An iris bed in bloom: the flowers DO have a scent, an unforgettable smell.
Narcisse Noir de Caron
Guelder rose - that gorgeous vibernum shrub reminiscent of expensive vanilla & peach ice cream.
Broad bean flowers
Gorse – coconut frosted with sea salt in May sunshine.
Lemons - like the sweet peas, the colour and scent are mutually enhancing.
Fresh oysters on ice
Nail polish remover
Marlene’s hands, 1972 – covered in Youth Dew
Bonfires – in small doses
A well-soaked sherry trifle
New potatoes boiling with mint
“Iles Flottantes” – that exquisite delicacy first tasted at a French service station.
Steaming hen mash
Kaolin & morphia
Newly washed hair
Hot mince pies
The bitterness of poppies
Scalding hot tea
The inside of handbags
Myrtle – always a cutting in a royal bride’s bouquet.
Anything from LES SENTEURS….