Posted in Personal life, Writing

Whimsy: The Scents and Sense of Summer

My column for the July/August issue of the Tetbury Advertiser is a whimsical post inspired by the classic scent of an English summer

Cover of July/August issue of the Tetbury Advertiser
Click on the image to read the whole of the magazine online for free

At the start of the heatwave, I throw open my study window and am almost knocked over by the heady scent of honeysuckle immediately filling the room. On the first floor of my cottage, my study is at the same height as the vast drift of the stuff that has engulfed the old apple tree outside my back door.

Daily at my desk, I assess the passing of the seasons more by the state of the branches of tress than by shrubs and flowers at ground level. This is probably the closest I will ever get to having a tree house, which I hear is the latest trendy addition to the domestic garden, outranking in the cool stakes the previous must-have shed office, or shedquarters, as my friends call theirs.

Stealthy Stalker

There’s something magical about the scent of honeysuckle. The fragrance is so thick and heady that I’m almost surprised I can’t see it as it sneaks up and takes possession of me, holding me captive before I’ve even noticed that it’s about to pounce. But the associations are all positive, and I’m sure it lowers my blood pressure, makes me calmer, more reflective, and more content with my lot.

Straight to Sidcup

This perfume takes me straight back to my suburban childhood home, where we had a vast hedge of it scrambling over the wall by the back door. That’s why I planted this one in a similar spot in my present country garden. Next on my list is to establish a rose garden. I may be some time.

Subtler Scent

Roses have a similar effect on me to honeysuckle, although their assault is more subtle, and you have to meet it halfway. Having grown up in a suburb where nearly every garden featured traditional roses, I still cannot pass a rose in full bloom without the impulse to bury my face in its petals and inhale.

Sense of Swimming

A recent trip to the world-famous walled rose garden at Mottisfont, where the old warm bricks entrap and intensify the scent of thousands of roses, made me feel like I was swimming through perfume. No matter how glamorous or alluring the advertisements for modern designer perfumes, surely no chemical manufacturer will ever develop a product with such magical and transformative powers. I’m a naturally calm and optimistic soul, but such experiences always send me a few notches up the laid-back scale, to the nearly horizontal.

Scents for Sense

Living in a chaotic political age, when sometimes the whole world seems in turmoil, I can only draw hope from the knowledge that the grounds of both the White House and 10 Downing Street include a rose garden. I can only hope that this summer our leaders spend more time in such grounding and redemptive places, emerging stronger, saner, and more sensitive for the experience. There, I told you I was an optimist.

photo of honeysuckle in blook
Wishing you a perfectly fragranced summer


Cover of Best Murder in Show
The first in the series is set in high summer – a great holiday read!

PS If you love traditional English gardens as much as I do, you might like to know that one recent reviewer of my village mystery novel Best Murder in Show said “The book is worth the read just for Young’s description of gardens and hedgerows!” You can imagine how happy that made me!

Buy online here or quote ISBN 978-1911223139 to order from your local bookshop. 

Posted in Family

The Scent of a Mummy

(A post about the women in my family – grandmothers, mothers, daughters,  perfume, Proustian moments and the power of memory)

English: rose bunch, Rosa sp. cultivars, flowe...
Every one an English rose (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my study, tapping away on my computer, I suddenly become aware that my nine-year-old daughter Laura has sidled in quietly and is standing behind my right shoulder.

I sit at my desk with my back to the door – terrible feng shui, I know, but this is the only position that allows me a view of the garden while I’m working.

Just as I’m about to tell her tersely that she’s meant to be in the bathroom cleaning her teeth before bed, she presses her face in against the curve of my neck and breathes in deeply.

“I love the smell of you, Mummy,” she says sweetly. “I’m so glad you’re my mummy.”

Teethcleaning quickly slips down my agenda, and everything else stops while we have a cuddle and a chat. I’m feeling an utter heel for having so nearly dismissed her before she had a chance to speak.

Eventually, after she’s trotted off contendedly to bed, I begin to wonder exactly what smell she is referring to. I don’t wear perfume every day, but I do use an ever-changing mix of scented handcream, talcum powder and moisturiser. When I do wear perfume, my choice is a haphazard choice from the eclectic collection of ancient scents on my dressing table. Some came to me as gifts, others I acquired from jumble sales. I’ve only just finished off the Penhaligon Rose that my friend Elizabeth gave me when Laura was born. I wear make-up most days, so the distinctive smell of foundation must contribute to my personal aura. I’m conscious that this is not sounding very alluring.

Photo of Oil of Ulay before it was rebranded OlayMy own mother channels face powder, lipstick and Oil of Ulay. Yes, I KNOW it’s sold as Oil of Olay these days. It was homogenised for the sake of pan-European branding, around the same time that the Marathon bar segued into Snickers. (I bet the organisers of 26+ mile races still haven’t forgiven them.) But it will always be Oil of Ulay to me, because my first memory of it dates back to the time when instead of the many modern variants, there was only one kind: a pale pink “beauty fluid” that came in a clear glass bottle with a black label and top. And its perfume was Essence of Mummy.

A bottle of Just Musk Perfume from the early 1980s
A lingering scent

Unlike my mother and me, my grandmothers both had a regular perfume habit. My grey-haired, tweed and hand-knit clad Grandma, born in 1900, favoured Yardley’s Freesia. This was pumped out of a ridged glass bottle with a yellow lid. Mam, my maternal grandmother, was younger and more glamorous. She had black hair, (I was about 12 before I realised the colour came out of a bottle), and pale, arched, slender eyebrows in the style of a 1930s film-star. She preferred the heady scent of Just Musk, hidden inside a mysterious opaque black glass bottle.

Both perfumes were once popular mass-produced products, and for many years I’d occasionally catch a waft of one in a crowd and forget my grandmothers had died. They’ve both been gone for over 30 years now, but the slightest breath of either scent still summons up a sense of their presence. I still have an old, empty bottle of Mam’s perfume in the top drawer of my dressing table. I occasionally fetch it out, take off the top for just a moment, careful to ration what little of its contents remain, and take the tiniest sniff. It is an ethereal comfort blanket; it serves as a notional hug.

My daughter will not be able to do that with my perfume.

peachesTonight, my work at my desk finished, I creep in to check on her. She is fast asleep in her elevated cabin bed, her peachy-skinned cheek just at the level of my face. Before I realise what I’m doing, I’m leaning over her pillow to breathe in her scent. Clean, cosy, contented,  sleeping child. It’s the best perfume in the world. If I could only bottle it to keep for ever.

If you enjoyed this post, you might like this post comparing the different lots of the four generations of women in our family: Laura’s Ambition or this bit of nostalgia: Don’t Leave Her Hanging on the Telephone