Although it feels more like flooded June! Its my birthday this month and for me June signals the start of Summer, a sense of nostalgia descends remembering childhood Summers.
When the crisp, sappy, fresh green zingy-ness of Spring has past, one hot day and a few sunrays is enough to herald the promise of a sultry, hazy warm Summer and the anticipation of sun tan lotion, hot concrete, ice cream, seasonal fruit, al-fresco living ..etc
Yes, I do get nostalgic at this time of year reflecting on simple childhood pleasures – laying in the grass, cloud-busting; having doll tea parties with my friends; reading Beano magazine (stolen from older brother). One can’t help but look back and be reminded of special times and people, places and family rituals .. being a kid was rather blissful, the promise of 6 week school holidays, lazy days, balmy evenings and unfettered freedom to climb trees, eat Gales honey on thickly sliced white bread (I was a one-stop picnic for bees!), oh and the luxury of being bored …
So here is a personal edited list of my childhood scent memories:
1. Elnett and Silvikrin Hairspray
I remember that my Nan would smell of hairspray, once the ritual of curlers (multi-coloured and size) and hairpins (you could pick locks with) were removed, the resulting coiffeur had to be preserved, aspic like, so she would spray profusely – either brand – so that it formed droplets on every hair strand and when dried looked rather like dew on a cobweb.
I was also the recipient of the occasional lacquer attack on my newly, bouffant-ed bunned/curled/manipulated hair whenever I had to go to a ‘special’ party. I invariably looked like a mini Barbara Cartland (without the psycho Barbie make-up) – a blessing there is no pictoral evidence but the memory is forever seared on my memory.
Occasionally I spray a mist of Elnett on my very short hair, just to honour Nan !
2. Heaven S(c)ent perfume
My nan would buy me a present of this, I was so enchanted at the time and to my little limbic system it is was fairy-cakes: sugar, vanilla and what I imagined Tinkerbell would smell like. Oh Heaven Scent, where art thou now?
(5 minutes later) … ooh, I found this link, there does seem to be a couple of versions. I rather think I got the ‘pretender’ Dana version and not the Helena Rubinstein ….
check out the nostalgic threads from lovers of ‘Heaven S(c)ent’.
3. Cachet – Prince Matchabelli
Another perfume, my Mum would wear this when she was all dressed up and going out. I would call it ‘Cashaay by Preence Match-i-ya-belly’, as I snuck in front of the mirror and sprayed myself (again 6 was a formative age for me!) and then I would mime to mum’s Shirley Bassey records whilst ‘playing’ in a pair of her strappy sandals (in my head, mum’s shoe collection was pretty close to Imelda Marcos proportions!)
It is only now as an adult, I realise this was probably a £6.00 bottle from the high street chemist – but ooh, I thought my mum smelt so glamorous, it signalled that transition from Mum to vamp. Also, when those molecules wafted downstairs, we knew it was babysitting time and that Nan would marshall us in front of the TV, with a placatory bag of crisps and chocolate – only after we had eaten all our dinner (of course).
Hallelujah for the internet and Amazon, found this ..
It’s described as a ‘sophisticated, forested, dry fragrance with flowery top notes of hyacinth, heliotrope, with hints of cinnamon, orris and jasmine. No wonder, as an adult I tend choose a lot of indolic, heady flowers, oriental and chypre perfumes – I was olfactorily manipulated at a young age!
4. Ambre solaire sun oil (SPF 2-4!!)
On hot, sunny days (yes, consistent, consecutive sunny days did exist!). I remember my mum and her 3 leggy, blonde cousins would sunbathe in our back garden. Coated, creosote-style in this scented, sticky, ungent, they would lay cooking, turning over at hourly intervals until thoroughly bronzed. That ‘amber/creamy/bottled sunshine + summer’ smell would waft up as I sat in the garden (in the shade with a large sunhat – eating the aforementioned honey + bread). The only downside to Ambre Solaire oil I observed from my shady aspect, was that it acted like fly-paper/or nectar and would trap any poor unsuspecting midge and other summer insects to your skin (a fragrant drowning would ensue) – by the end of a sunbathing session the family members would resemble a garibaldi biscuit!
I don’t think the Sun oil is sold anymore in very low SPF. The picture is from Amazon – I might be tempted to buy some just to uncap that lid once more, but I don’t want the ‘fly-trap’ aspect!
5. Nivea face cream
Didn’t everyone use this – still do? Again, my mum is the originator of many of my childhood scent memories! She would use pots and pots of Nivea, post-sunbathing, whipped-cream thick, zinc-white and fragrant to anoint her skin, I would occasionally plaster some on in a bid take part in these adult beauty rituals. The reflective ‘shiny-faced’ effect would be rather off-putting for a few hours!
I do love to get a little pot every now and then just to peel the foil back and dig out a dollop – soo satisfying and a good elbow cream.
What can I say! Rather unfairly, 37% of people voted this as their most hated smell in Gardeners’ World magazine poll. I used to love this – every summer the next door neighbour (I rather think he would have made a good extra from Coronation Street) would coat his garden fences (and indeed ANY wood surface) with creosote, its smokey, tarry aroma would prick my nostrils and remind me a little of camp-fires we would have in early Autumn. Although, the smell was only appreciated at a distance and with the right wind direction! I have not smelt creosote for many years, perhaps noone in London treats their fences anymore? Or is it due to lack of garden space/wooden fences. Who knows.
7. Strawberries and raspberries
Who doesn’t love the smell of summer berries? We used to pick these during June/July on a farm in Cambridge, nothing beats English strawberries, ripened under the sun and picked in season; the fragrant leaves and hay/straw notes of the soil mingled with that delectable, sun-ripe, succulence! The raspberries too – so delicate, that velvet-y, plush, sweet note belying the tart flavour. I perhaps think the smell was enhanced by the land, that dry, balmy sun-on-earth and the sappy, slightly acidic grasses and nettles growing nearby. <deep sigh>
After the summer berry-picking, our family – like true Eastenders – would trundle down to a Kent farm, from late August/early September to do the ‘hop-picking’ season, resulting in an extra 2 weeks of holiday for me! The hops (Humulus lupulus) had a distinct smell: green, herbal, woody and slightly funky, the tang pervading the air wherever we played (read ‘made a nuisance’ of ourselves); running wild, picking apples, blackberries and mushrooms; ghost hunting and tree climbing.
9. Campfire/bonfires – smoke
A couple of evenings a week, during the hop-picking season, all the families on the farm would set up campfires in front of the huts that each family lived in for the duration of the Hop-picking season. The smell of camp-fire and burning wood is so durable and resonant for me, even today the memory can be triggered by fireworks, bbq’s and Nov 5th celebrations. It was an adventure collecting dead wood and fallen branches and twigs from surrounding forests and woods. The fire would be lit, curling streams of scented smoke mingling with the night air: sweet, woody, smoky, earthy and elemental. We would all gather round in a circle and under a dark, clear, twilight sky with twinkling stars the story-telling would commence – usually a good, spooky, jump inducing ghost story. Sometimes while waiting to be scared witless, we would wrap cooking apples and potatoes in foil and bake them in the fire – they would have a whiff of fiery ember and gunsmoke as we dug them out and ate the creamy, hot flesh of either potato with butter and salt, or apple with a sprinkle of brown sugar !
To this day, I simply love campfire and bonfire smells, its comforting, evocative and elemental, I find Vetiver essential oil is my go-to oil, like ‘bottled campfire’, uncapping it transports me back in one vapour!
OMG, does this all sound a little ‘bucolic and Darling buds of May’ + give the impression I’m a character from a Mark Twain novel?
10. Yardley face powder and geranium lipstick
Finally, that mingling of powdery/orris-y, baby powder, creamy-sweetness, old roses and geranium all mixed together to create a cosmetic alchemy for lips and skin. My nan for ‘special occasions’ would have a crème/powder face compact and a waxy, virulent shade of coral push-up lipstick – a glorious scent-cloud with every inhale. My nan, she had a very fragrant face! They simply don’t have make-up like they used to. Although, Lancome lipsticks have that edible aroma …mmm.
Let’s hope the Sun makes scintillating and long visit soon. In the meantime, I would love to hear of your most potent childhood scent memories.