Last Remembrance Sunday Our Vicar talked about Peace. She told us about a class of school children who had been asked to write down what Peace might smell like. No one mentioned the now outmoded rose of that name, so popular in gardens of my youth; but one infant had volunteered a bouquet of flowers. Other suggestions included vanilla ice cream, fresh laundry, cinnamon and pop corn.
With Advent now upon us we might all play this little game. I didn’t thrill to any of the above suggestions. For me they are all redolent of comfort, nurture, relaxation and gratification of the senses. No harm in that. Perhaps that’s how most of us define Peace: precious moments of switching off, and a spot of more or less innocent self-indulgence. But clean linen and food scents don’t conjure Peace for me. Not Peace as opposed to war; or divine heavenly Peace; or internal emotional Peace. Bond No.9 perfumes used to make a fragrance called The Scent of Peace – probably they still do. The packaging was designed around a Picasso-style dove and I recall the fragrance as being rather of the crisp, cool aquatic type with a nip maybe of blackcurrant and tea. I thought it a bit numb and vague, actually.
Because, for me, Peace smells of nothing at all. It’s a freedom from all stimulation, including the sensory; a cessation of all the excitement of the perfume cabinet, the scent shop and the sample. It’s as Mrs Patrick Campbell said of marriage – the exchanging of “the hurly-burly of the chaise longue for the deep, deep peace of the double bed”. All passion spent. If I was pressurised to give a sensual attribute to Peace it would be tactile rather than olfactory. Possibly I’m still thinking of that eponymous rose, but I feel Peace would likely be similar to the touch of thick creamy velvet – smooth and having the coolness of petals. But, simultaneously, also healthily firm, well-sprung and grounded. Colour-wise, always in shades of white.
J.M. Barrie, like countless others, found a kind of Peace wreathed in the smoky silky brown arms of his Lady Nicotine. “A cigarette – well, it’s like a little friend” someone once said to me, rather tragically I thought. I am lately entranced by vapes, and more especially by vape shops. Suddenly these exotic boutiques seem to be everywhere: the only place to be. I haven’t yet indulged but I look on in wonder. I don’t quite understand vapes yet, and that’s the state of fascination I like best. A little bit of mystery preserved¤.
I must tell you of my vape epiphany. It was an absolute pig of a day – icy rain and it never got light. I was in Richmond, hobbling up a side street in the murk and sodden gloom. Like Alderman Ptolemy Tortoise, I had my salad lunch by me in a string bag. I wondered how our forefathers coped with the old choking London fogs. My father well remembered them from his student days in the late ’40’s; Piccadilly and St James’s cloaked in thick yellow-grey filth. I came by a little shop set rather back from the road. It was like a store in a dream: the Sheep’s shop in “Alice”, or Mrs Corry’s establishment in the “Mary Poppins” books. (D’you remember Mrs Corry? Too frightening for the movie, I guess, she has barley-sugar fingers which she snaps off for children to eat).
I peered through the window and saw only clouds of mist. The door flew open and two gentlemen emerged like Seraphim, absolutely enveloped in perfumed steam and sweet vapours. The grey day was suddenly psychedelic with colour and fragrance: it was a vision from the Arabian Nights; a folk memory of the Temple of Solomon. Warm odours of caramel, grapefruit, chocolate, cherry, strawberry, tobacco, vanilla, pineapple and peach filled the air and rolled up the hill towards those roads aptly named Paradise and Mount Ararat.
Magical! Absolutely. Because so unexpected, do you see? Peaceful? Not exactly, but a vision of another world. Those departing customers put me in mind of the four mythical houris who are said to be made respectively of amber, camphor, saffron and musk. And of course, at the risk of being accused of cultural appropriation, we shouldn’t forget the ancient Native American concept of Smoking the Pipe of Peace.
Peace to You All!
¤ like the very best sort of perfume. Or friendship.