I’ve heard our sense of smell is the biggest trigger of memory. When we smell something familar it can instantly take us back to a certain time or place in our lives.

I am a creature of habit, I will use the same ‘beauty’ products for ages. The smell of two products brings back instant memories of best and worst times in my life. They are both shower gels that I went through phases of using.

One shower gel is a purple one I’m not even sure what smell its supposed to be. I was using this relentlessly when my husband had his cardiac arrest. When he was in a coma I took it to the hospital for the nurses to wash him with to remind him of home. Comas are an enigma so I was hoping it would somehow help. I played him his favourite music around the clock too. He probably just woke up to tell me to turn the frigging thing off. So anyhoo that was an emotionally difficult time in my life and whenever I smell that bodywash it reminds me of that time spent in the intensive care ward, hoping and even praying for him to wake up, and wake up ok. Even my husband can’t use it anymore.

The other body wash is a zestly lime one, it reminds me of a tough time in a hospital also but tough for a different reason, the birth of my son. It was hard at the time but I love that little scallywag so much that whenever I smell the zestly lime it reminds me how lucky I am to have such a smart, loving, little boy in my life. Every time I smell it I breathe it in like it’s life itself.

Smell and memory has such an amazing connection. What smell in your life takes you back? 

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  1. cabrogal says:

    Funny stuff, memory. There’s the narrative kind made of sounds and scenes that we’re always editing to try to make our stories coherent. Then there’s the episodic stuff built of taste and touch and smell and emotions. They don’t tell truth or lies. They’re more direct than that.

    Maybe food is the most common one for me. The way drinking ale makes me crave my grandmother’s chicken roasts. Or how the smell of roast chicken makes me thirsty for one of my grandfather’s home-brewed ales.

    Smell binds to bad memories too. Blood can do that, but it’s so frequently encountered it tends to lose its specificity pretty fast. It took me longer to get over petrol fumes following a car accident.

    Even smells linked to ambiguous memories can be overpowering. That whiff of perfume or conditioner that suddenly reminds you of a former partner …

  2. doubtpuppet says:

    Napalm in the morning. It smells of … victory.
    Just kidding.
    I have long been fascinated by olfactory memory and my strong bond with it. Some examples:

    Tarmac from the roads/paths they were laying on the unfinished new estate we lived in when I was born.
    Morris Minor Leather seats(which I haven’t smelt in ~40 years but can smell in my head clear as day.
    Cigar smoke from my dad up late writing speeches or working.
    The hairspray on my first girlfriend’s hair the first night I slept with her.
    The wax they used to clean the church hall floor when I went to play group aged 2.
    The all pervading smelted metal smell from a foundry when I walked to work 20 years ago.
    The smell of the ground coffee beans in the food hall of the department store I used to visit with my mum when I was little.
    The smell of certain Tube stations in London 16 years ago.
    The aviation fuel from watching aeroplanes with my dad at Heathrow when I was a kid.
    The strange smell of my sweat when I was sweating profusely for days on end when I had glandular fever 30 years ago.
    The new carpet smell in the student accommodation I lived in in France 24 years ago.
    The smell of the photographic chemicals in the photo studio we had to go visit from school when I was 14. Boris Becker won Wimbledon that year.
    The wet fur on my favourite cat who used to lick himself on my bed when I was 8 or 9.
    The strange (burning)rubbery smell of the Paris metro when I visited there as a child in the 70s.
    The rich lemony smell of the mystery plants next to a restaurant in Skala Kefalonia.

    Sorry that list is already too big, but I could go on and on and on! If only I could remember imagery so vividly. Well the good imagery anyway.

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