Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Childhood memories - smells

This is the fourth in a five-part occasional series focused on my memories of childhood – more specifically what each of my senses recalls from more than 60 years ago when I was around five years old. I’ve excluded the highly personal (such as the smell of my mother’s cologne) and concentrated on smells that might strike a chord with readers.

1. November 5th and the evenings around Guy Fawkes Night smelled of bonfires and spent fireworks. We lived in a flat. On some occasions we went to a park to let off our fireworks but once my mother slunk into the street to ignite rockets as we watched from a second storey window. A couple of times we were smoked out by experimenting with indoor fireworks.

2. A round red tin of Gibb’s Dentifrice served as the family’s toothpaste. It had a distinctive taste but most I remember the smell as you unwrapped the cellophane from a new circle of the solid paste. The same tin served the whole family; you wet your toothbrush and rubbed its across the pink dentifrice. The block soon stuck to the tin and was eventually worn away. The unhygienic nature of the process never occurred to us.

3. Coal was delivered by coalmen and their horse drawn cart. It was dumped in coal cellars – the dust had its own particular smell.

4. Lavender was everywhere. The flowers of the plant were to be found in sachets to keep clothes and laundry smelling fresh. It was also present in toiletries. But I most remember the smell of lavender furniture polish. It came in large tins containing the waxy, mauve polish.

5. I was never destined for the high life. The smell of polished leather and wood the one time I was driven in a luxury car prompted instant feelings of nausea.

6. Bath salt cubes bought regularly for my mother as birthday and Christmas presents had a strong flowery fragrance even without being unwrapped.

7. I don’t think I ever had head lice but I do remember my mother washing my hair in a vinegar solution leaving my head with a strange smell.

8. Nothing since has been quite as disgusting as the smell of rancid milk from the sack in which milk bottle tops were saved at my primary school. Milk was distributed free in those days. In an early example of recycling, the discarded aluminium bottle tops were rinsed clean and placed in the foul-smelling sack by children who had been appointed milk monitors.

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