I've been thinking a lot recently about smells and more specifically about the power of smell to recall long-forgotten people and places from the distant past. We've probably all had the experience when we've been going about our daily lives when suddenly a scent will stop us in our tracks and we feel that we are once again in our grandmother's kitchen or walking through the school doors for the very first time. Smell can transport you back to the moment in a way that no other sense can and churn up old emotions that have long been buried. It's the best time machine I know.

I find it refreshing that in this digital age of instant access to everything you can't easily capture, store, transmit or manufacture smell. It's organic and real and takes you by surprise. It encourages you to live in the moment, because if you miss it, it's gone. Even taste can be recreated from a recipe, but with smell there is no recipe book. It's ephemeral, like trying to remember a dream 10 mins after waking up.

I think the sense of smell is very neglected. It's very hard to find a book, other than a children's scratch-and-sniff book, about smell. A few years ago, I did read "The Scent of Desire: Discovering Our Enigmatic Sense of Smell" by Rachel Herz. Whilst it was quite an irritating book in many ways, it was at least thought-provoking. One of the things I hadn't appreciated before is that losing your sense of smell can have a devastating effect on your life. Smell gives you such a powerful emotional connection to the world that its loss can lead to severe depression.

Imagine my delight when I discovered Scratch+Sniff whose mission is to 'raise our enjoyment of the very underappreciated sense of smell'. They run themed, fragrance-filled events (alas all in London as far as I can see).

I have recently been enjoying the Life in Scents podcast which is all about smell. (They also have a website and I particularly like the 'endangered smells' page). Their iTunes description reads:

Life in Scents is a podcast about smell. It’s an interview show where each time, our guest talks about the scents that have meant something to them through their life, whether everyday smells, fine fragrances or peculiar pecadillos. Bonfires, arm pits, swimming pools, Shalimar, the subway or a club at 3 am, if it’s got an odour, it’s got a story.

So in the spirit of the podcast, let me end by sharing some of my favourite smells from childhood:
  • Coal tar soap (Gran)
  • Diesel trains (Gran)
  • Typewriter ribbon
  • Banda machines (remember them? The teacher would return with a stack of purplish papers and all the kids would sniff them until they went dizzy.)
  • Dad's pipe
  • Mum's honeysuckle perfume stick
  • Sweaty, rubbery roller discos
  • The leather briefcase I had for school
  • Scratch and sniff books (My favourite one was about some bears going on a picnic and my favourite smell was an onion for some reason!)
  • Rain and cold
  • Stale smoke on buses
  • Warm London Underground air mixed with Crunchies
  • The smell of books
  • Smelly pencils
  • Damp canvas and grass

What are your favourite smells and what memories do they evoke?