SCRATCH ‘N’ SNIFF
I just remembered some writing advice that was useful this morning when I came to describe the school drama studio in my new book. Apologies for forgetting who told me, but they said you should try to appeal to all five senses in your writing and that the most neglected of these was probably the sense of smell.
Smells can be incredible evocative. I was in a shop the other day when I overheard a blind girl saying, ‘this is Waterstone’s isn’t it Granddad? Each shop has its own special smell.’ It’s the same with tube stations. Leicester Square and Embankment are only a few hundred yards apart, and yet they smell completely different. (Leicester square is more donuty with a hint of garlic and something not quite nice!)
Have you ever noticed how a certain smell can conjure up powerful memories? Someone wearing the same perfume as an ex-girlfriend or your first primary school teacher can transport you back across the decades. Whenever I do a school visit, the heady combination of floor polish and perspiration is enough to make me shiver.
So, with a little help from my family, I have compiled a list of my top six evocative aromas:
- It has to be a baby’s hair. What could be more redolent of the thrilling days of early parenthood? The other end I suppose, but I’m just about to have lunch.
- My Nan’s sideboard. Polished to death with a hint of lavender.
- The changing rooms in Preston Park Brighton before a football match. Mud, sweat and that horrible white stuff we used to rub on our legs.
- Clare says: roast chestnuts on a cold evening in Covent Garden.
- Petrol fumes on a garage forecourt. It’s 1980. Me and Benj have just left university. McEnroe is playing in the US open (it’s a blue court) on a small telly above the cashier.
- The smell of the sea. It always reminds me of home.
Here’s the bit from the book by the way: The drama studio smelt different from anywhere else in the school. A combination of hot lights on dusty black curtains, a painty tang from the scenery store and the constant reminder of Miss Carver’s perfume, which haunted the place like a pungent poltergeist. (It’s bound to get cut now!)
What are your most evocative smells?
Gratuitous picture of me with a baby (Jon)