Smells can be so evocative – I’m sure I read somewhere or other that the parts of the memory that recall smells are about the most easily stimulated. The smell of tobacco that a parent smoked (a pipe tobacco in my case) or fresh flowers, or fragrant incense – they can all take us back instantly to a distant time and place, and leave the conscious mind fighting to understand why such a strong emotional response may have taken place.
I was taken aback today by just a smell-experience moment. The prosaic business of changing the handles on the doors of the cloakroom and cupboard in the rectory had finally reached the top of the ‘to-do’ list. The whole area has been very damp, so everything was in quite a sorry state. The handles were well and truly rusted on to the metal parts of the doors. So I cut them off, to let me put the new ones on.
The smell of the hot Bakelite as I sawed through the shafts of the door handles was an acrid, pungent smell, which transported me back thirty years or so – to when I was a keen young air cadet, eager to explore the exciting world of aviation, history, tradition and light blue uniforms. Climbing into the cockpits of Spitfires, or Vulcans, or Ansons. or Hunters or even Chipmunks – the propeller and jet planes of the 40s and 50s – one was engulfed in a world of battered leather seats, glove-polished control columns, white on black Smiths dials, inviting looking levels wrapped around each other to drive motors or raise wheels, black and yellow striped handles to eject or bale out, Perspex canopies with a view of the sky but none of the ground in front of you – and most of all, a smell of hot, electric Bakelite. The slightly rancid, ozone smell of that wonder material, the stuff of choice for everything before thermoplastics were developed, has remained lodged in a little corner of my brain.
The emotion of the memories? One of excitement, adventure, trepidation at the unknown. Now I live in a world where I have been a member of the RAF, and that is long, long past (twenty-one years, in a few weeks’ time) – and I have been many other things which are also past. But I loved that little thrill that was brought back, by the simple fluke of removing some ancient, rubbished relics of rectors past!