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Smells Like Christmas

Posted: 20/12/2012 00:00

Isn't it incredible how evocative smells can be? This evening, I sparked up the hob to cook my tea and the smell of burning gas instantly took me back to Yorkshire in the Seventies and my nan and granddad's council bungalow - to the grill on a chill winter morning being lit to make thick, roughly-sliced white doorstop toast which we'd eat with lashings of deliciously savoury dripping saved from the Sunday roast.

As we're about to celebrate Christmas, it seems that olfactory pleasures are more important right now than at any time of year too, and it's been something I've been thinking about a lot of late. Just how much do we take our sense of smell for granted? We often pose ourselves Doomsday scenarios of which sense we'd rather lose if we had to - sight or hearing - but few of us ever wonder what not being able to smell would be like.

This month, I cannot begin to imagine how awful that would be. This time of year, I buy scented candles to burn in my living room which are rich with cinnamon and spiced apple. It's divine, and lighting one can literally can lift my spirits like nothing else - by taking me back to a warm, happy childhood redolent with all those smells.

Walking down Kilburn High Road near my flat the other day, I cheekily grasped a handful of needles from a cut Christmas tree being sold on the street, and couldn't stop rubbing them together to release the pine resin while sniffing like some mad glue addict all the way up the street to catch my train. I might as well have hugged myself as it evoked such wonderful memories of crisp winter walks in the countryside in the more innocent days before I became a Londonite.

Having a mulled wine with a friend in the local last week, and the hit of cloves went to my head more than the red stuff and I was transported back to a memory of my dad in the Eighties, hovering over a vat of ruby liquid in our old house while grinning like some mad scientist as he added more spices while it bubbled.

Breaking into the skin of a tangerine and blinking as the citrus oil accidentally hit my eye, and I was immediately thinking of my mum juggling them for my long-departed old dog in the Nineties - if she dropped one and he caught it, he loved to eat it, though she had to peel it for him first. (Kim was a golden retriever - they're all crackers, frankly).

A whiff of mysterious Arabian agarwood in a coffee shop, and I'm back visiting my late dad in Abu Dhabi and we're laughing as he introduces us to the old souk for the first time while haggling for gold as a Christmas present for mum.

Other times of year, I can smell freshly-laid asphalt and be taken back to heady hot summers of my youth and days spent at the local lido in Lincolnshire and how exciting and exotic it seemed to be with everyone cavorting in their swimsuits in the sun.

Even a vague hint of ammonia in some desperate pub toilet, and I can go back decades in a second to my back-breaking times in the stables, mucking out, but happy as I got to ride the horses later as a reward.

Maybe it's on my mind right now as Christmas is such a desperately nostalgic time of year - at least it is for me, because I miss departed loved ones so, so much and relish the memories. But I'm sure I'm not alone.

I might be a sentimental old fool, but for Christmas, please, if I get just one gift, leave me with all my senses, especially my sense of smell. Oh and if I get another one? My favourite perfume - the old fashioned-classic, Chanel No. 5.

 

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