Anyone who’s read this blog over the years will know that I regard my Alma Mater with deep and abiding hostility, and while I don’t hold it responsible for the screw-up I became (we are all ultimately responsible for ourselves) it certainly added its tuppence worth to a mess that took years of sorting.
But very few things are all bad. Having bible quotes at your mental fingertips is more useful than you might imagine, and I’ve yet to attend a funeral where I didn’t know the hymns. But perhaps best of all, we had gabardine cloaks instead of raincoats. They weren’t very efficient at keeping out the rain, but they were perfect as security blankets. They provided an unassailable excuse for hugging yourself (to keep the front edges closed), and once you put the hood up, you were – quite literally – cloaked in anonymity.
But the smell of wet gabardine can still catapult me into instant misery, as can the smell of cold damp dust – breakfast in the school dining room on a rainy day.
But there are good memories in smells as well, from other times and other places. Like this one.
I’ve never gone much on flowers –
the picked ones, I mean –
although I never said.
they sit there for a while smelling sweet
and then they die.
Birth and death, apologies and hospitals –
it’s all the same to them,
as if we need to know that everything is transitory:
joy, and hope, and even grief
fade like yesterday’s bouquet
til all that’s left is dry, sour-smelling stalk.
gardenias bloom, and you are there in my mind’s eye
shy with pride, the blossoms spilling from your hands
to wrap our child in the fragrance of future memory.