Friday, 22 January 2010


I'm walking through Coles, tossing up whether to buy fusilli or penne while pulling warring kids, who are threatening to topple the trolley, apart. An elderly lady shuffles past and a waft Pears soap catches my nose. Wham! The inner-west supermarket vanishes and I'm suddenly five years old watching my Grandma brush her hair in her lilac bathroom. I can feel my fingers running across the rough tiles and the soft bath mat under my feet. Just as suddenly I'm back in aisle 3 again staring at the blue pasta boxes, but the memory of the bathroom is still pulsating in my mind.

Isn't it amazing how scents can transport you back to certain times and places? Events and trivial moments which have been banished to the far reaches of your mind can come rushing back in one small whiff.

I was recently chatting about this with some friends over dinner a week or so ago and since then I have had this happen a number of times. Washing my hands at work the Dettol soap sent me back to my brother's Vietnamese wedding. Ordering a roll in Chinatown took me back to my old job seven years earlier as soon as the smell of fish sauce hit my senses. Venturing into my aunt's bedroom the smell of musk oil sent me back to Christmas when I was about six.

Songs can often evoke similar memories, but never quite as strong or vivid as smells. Scents are like a time machine transporting you back years in a millisecond. Each and every time I smell Yardley's Honeysuckle soap, I'm suddenly 10 years old, lying in a hospital bed waiting to have my tonsils out. I can feel the stiff prickle of the new pink cotton nightgown my mum had bought me, I can see the little yellow stationery set my brother's girlfriend had given me sitting on the bedside table.

Do you have any scents that take you back to a time and a place?


  1. Oh yes, and scent memories are my favourite way to revisit old times. Certain hospital hand wash takes me back to my student nurse days, a particular deodorant when I had (and lost) my first child, vanilla bodywash for the second. Lavendar talc means holidays with my great aunt and rose pot pourri from my grandmother's spare room.

    I love when these scents catch me by surprise like it did for you and you are suddenly taken right back there.

  2. Absolutely. The smell of freshly mown grass always takes me back to Sunday afternoons in my childhood, when Dad would mow the lawn while us kids played and generally got in his way. Beautiful memories.

  3. Isn't it funny how we associate smells with certain memories? Estee Lauder's Youth Dew reminds me cuddles from my mum when I was little and the smell of Nutmeg reminds me of my Nan baking potato bake on special occasions. I love it!

  4. When I was younger and clearly more organised, I used to buy tiny bottles of different scents at the Body Shop before every holiday. Then I would wear it constantly on that holiday. I would put it away after that and everytime I wanted a reminder of the holiday, pull it out again...

    The scent of Body Shop 'Oceanus' made me think of a trip to Kakadu for about a decade i think,

  5. Scents are absolutely hard-wired to my memory. I remember trying a few different handcreams in a chemist one day, when I inadvertently tried my recently deceased Nan's brand. Wham! One minute, professional young woman on her lunch break, next minute, sobbing wreck hiding in the back room.

  6. Yes! Totally and completely. Certain scents do have that magical power of time travelling you back to moments, special or otherwise... Lavender, cuddly fabric softener makes me feel like I'm living back at home with my parents. Chanel no. 5 reminds me always of my Mum, Lou Lou has me dreaming of a high school crush and his big, brown "come-to-bed" eyes and the smell of fresh apricots takes me back to picking and eating apricots while sitting in the apricot tree in my nanna's backyard.

  7. Which city was this supermarket in? I love it how nice smells can do that, violets do it for me.

  8. Ooh I love hearing about all these memories!

    Edwina - what a fabulous idea!!
    Quix - scent memories are so potent and emotional, I think that's the key - they not only evoke memories but emotions about those memories.

  9. Too many scent memories to list! I love it when one gets you and you know the age it takes you back to but you have to think about the occasion.

  10. The smell of the fairground - candy floss, pluto pups, pretzels and cow dung! Always takes me back to our country show; exclude the poop smell add in petrol fumes and I'm at the Aquatic Carnival eyeing off the dodgem guys! Ah, the memories.

    Oh, and Revlon loose face powder, my Grandmother's scent. *sigh*


Thank you so much for your comments! I'm always thrilled to hear from you.

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