I passed a woman on the street today, nothing strange about that I hear you say, but what was unusual was that I couldn't stop sniffing the air because of her alluring scent.
We ended up standing next to each other at the traffic lights and all the time I was standing there, I could smell her hair and it was incredible, almost intoxicating, to the point where I found myself saying, 'excuse me, I hope you don't mind me asking but what did you wash your hair with, it smells incredible'.
She laughed, most likely thinking that I was crazy but I guess when she saw I wasn't going to move until I got an answer, she eventually told me that she didn't know what it was. She had been staying over at a friend's the night before and used one of her products.
I was gutted, I really wanted to know what the scent was. I did consider giving her my email and phone number but I could already see that she thought I was odd so I thought it would be best to leave it at that.
It did get me thinking about just how evocative scents can be; they can make us smile, they can make us gasp, they can make us sad – because they can remind us of somewhere or someone long gone. Scents can be so powerful, in fact, that they can even make us fall in love (something to do with pheromones and animal attraction apparently). I've always personally loved them.
I'm not just talking about the scents that come out of the very expensive bottles either, it can be the smell of anything.
My dear old mum
I was talking to my dear old mum on the phone the other day. It was her 73rd birthday and for some reason I suddenly was thinking about being in her bedroom as a child. I could recall an old scarf (it was canary yellow) that she used to tie around her hair when she had her hair in rollers and I could remember exactly what it smelled like – clean hair mixed with hairspray, a hint of perfume and pencil shavings (the smell of pencil shavings to a young boy is a smell which is very present in his everyday life, I'll have you know!)
Then I started to remember her perfume from when I was upset and she used to sit me down on her lap and gently rest my head against her chest and stroke my hair - a scene most of us are familiar with.
I remember that she would be talking away to one of her sisters and I would be able to hear the vibrations of her voice in my ear and it would soothe me to sleep. It was a calming and reassuring memory and it smelled of Lifebuoy Soap (because mum still did all her washing by hand back then), strong dark tea (because she drank it by the potful), and furniture polish (what can I say my mum loves cleaning).
I have great memories of seeing my mother at the top of the landing. I can even remember her smell as she used to brush past me to come into the hallway. It was a melange of sweet exotic bath oils, Youth Dew by Estee Lauder and lipstick.
Memories as a young boy
My dad was a master baker by trade and although he died when I was very young, 5 to be precise, I still recall his distinctive smell of Old Spice, Players No.6 cigarettes, fresh hot Apple Tart and Christmas cake mix (you know, like rich cake mix with fruit and spices in it).
I can even remember what the bottom of my wardrobe smelled like because this was the place that I went to as a child when I wanted to be alone. In a small council house with four crazy children, there weren't many places you could find a bit of alone time on a rainy afternoon.
Its scent was a mixture of thick paper card (I assume from the boxes of board games), plastic (from my Kerplunk set and Lego) and metal (from my brother's Meccano) with a hint of old wollen jackets thrown in.
What I started to realise though was that I could associate a scent with virtually any memory that I chose to conjure up. The inverse is absolutely true as well, perhaps even more so, in that a scent can in turn conjure up a memory or even a whole library of them.
This is why I have always loved smells and scents. I try to take a mental note of them when I smell engaging ones. In fact so enamoured with them am I, that I even embarrass myself at traffic lights to find out what they are!
But who amongst us can say that they have never been on a walk on a golden summer's day where the air is crisp, the heat can be seen vibrating in the distance and then the scent of jasmine or rose hits you as it comes wafting in from the hedgerows?
Or when we have been walking past a restaurant on holiday and smelled all the local delicacies gently sizzling away fresh from the boat that day, and thought to ourselves 'Mmm, that smells fantastic!'
You don't have to go abroad either. Just today I walked past some freshly cut grass and I was instantly reminded of my old school. It was a gated boarding school, set in acres of fields (I went as a local day boy having passed the exams and earned the right, not because we had money to splash around on schools).
The gates to the school were right on a busy main road which smelled of tarmac, petrol fumes and dust, but as soon as you turned past the school gates and started to walk down the avenue, you were immediately hit by the smell of fresh cut grass in the fields and you knew that spring was well under way and that summer would be here soon. It was always a happy sensation.
My scent diary
I have thought in the past about keeping a scent diary. This is like a record of amazing scents that I've smelled throughout my life; where I was, what I was smelling and what it made me think of.
Then I realised, I didn't need to write a scent diary; I already have one in my head, we all do. The question is, do you ever look back over your old scent diaries? Do you ever reminisce when you smell something that makes you stop for a second, or remember an event or occasion and then try and recall all the smells associated with it?
Maybe you should, I have been in such a great mood for the last couple of days because of these great memories that are continually flooding back.
So find yourself some quiet time, deep breath now, in through the nose… tell me what can you remember?