Scent. Smell. Bouquet.
One night, in my early teens, I woke and lay in bed wondering why I could smell smoke. I sat up in bed and wondered why no one else had woken up. My room was in a converted attic at the top of the house. I can remember going down the stairs to the first floor where my parents and brother and sister were still sleeping. The air was thick with the acrid stench of burning wood and plastics. But still I doubted myself, how could I be the only one smelling this, I must be dreaming. I knocked on my parents’ door, still uncertain. I knocked louder, my father answered and I opened the door just a bit to say “I think there’s a fire.” The speed with which my father shot out of bed, rushed downstairs (and stupidly) opened the kitchen door was astonishing. But it wasn’t until I saw the flames dancing up the wall and the clouds of orange smoke rolling over the ceiling that I realised that I should be grateful for a good sense of smell.
Scent is the most refined of senses. I love the fleeting nature of it. Most of the flowers in my garden are heavily scented. On some summer nights, if we are lucky, and the weather is just right the air is heavy with the sweetness of our fake jasmine. In the spring, I bend to take in the heady burst from the bouncing heads of narcissi. When we go on bluebell walks, I aim for sunny days when the delicate aroma wafts in the afternoon sun. And once in a blue moon, if we are lucky, we might find ourselves in a high alpine meadow on a sunny day when the sun’s heat encourages the tiny dark purple brunelle orchids to release the sweet, cloying smell of chocolate.
Unsurprisingly I love perfume but I am a loyal, unadventorous wearer. Like my mother I have always worn Chanel No 5 and Miss Dior. The Gianni Versace bottle at the front of my little collection is over forty years old, a present from my father. The black and frosted bottles on the left contain Paloma Picasso’s Passion. It is over a quarter of a century since I asked my husband-to-be to bring the larger bottle and silk socks on his first visit to me in the USA. There are a few gifts and holiday whims: a plastic bottle of perfume from Luxor, a personalised concoction mixed in front of me in Jerusalem. And pushing its way to the front, edging out Dior’s Hypnotic Poison – a late interloper – is the new bottle of Miss Dior I bought to celebrate signing with Hodder & Stoughton.