The Smells of our Lives:

Life can be broken into different chapters: relationships, locations, careers, and then there are (those) smells. 

A recent study, showed that our brains integrate smell with information about space and time to form episodic memories. And we all know how a smell can whizz us back to a ‘there and then’ episode of our lives. 

Lately and I’m unsure why…maybe it’s an age/stage thing that Erickson (developmental psychologist) mentions but I fail to remember (normative for my age stage!) but lately, I find snippets from my past floating around my day to day life complete with the relevant characters and sometimes smells. Yes, if you really go there, all your senses are revisiting and you’re reliving. But yes, smells are like those fast acting panadols – they act quickly and are like key words we remember for exams: they trigger and retrieve the whole related emotional package that goes with that time. You are not left in those really annoying – nearly mindfully painful moments of trying to retrieve when you have a smell to go on. So, I guess it’s a case of ‘smell me about it’ and they do with ease. 

My first memory of smell was my mom’s Tweed perfume. And I can see it on her locker, the chocolate brown top capping off the feminine cut glass. I also remember the headaches after long journeys with mommy’s smell circulating around the car. And then there was Dad’s aftershave that had a blue ship on the bottle, I can see the shape, the funny silver top. With secondary school came all those various multi-coloured Impulse bottles with exotic names and claims. A new bottle promised so much. Noticing boys, brought with it girlie giggles of what lynx was he wearing. Africa was a popular one. On then to night clubs and if a boy had cool water he was up there with any pinned-up pop star. Yes, smells….

And then with college came a lot of part-time jobs. A number of boutiques shared me. Looking back I remember one lady who owned a very expensive lingerie shop popping into one boutique I worked in and said to Oliver, the owner, ‘I will take your girl next Saturday!’ I remember it well-‘don’t I get a say?’ never came into it back then: we were too polite for that. She was a nice woman who wore Poison. Back then I loved feminine smells like Anais Anais-the white ceramic bottle with pastel flowers. But then the Body Shop steam rolled into my mind and heart and I began smelling like a cross between a strawberry and a coconut and no animals were harmed. I do remember not being able to stick my own smell one night I was out in my favourite Galway City bar, The Blue Note, and I vividly remember the bar man asking me could I sit far away from the bar: I was giving him a headache. That put an end to coconut oil and white musk replaced it. 

And then along came a lady who imported in these ridiculously expensive all-in-ones velvet jumpsuits covered in sparkles. She also borrowed me for a few of her fashion shows. I remember her pouring so much scent on us before we landed on the catwalk, that our eyes watered. I clearly remember her telling us, how the ladies would remember her collection because of the smell. I certainly do. 

The smells of my current life are cat-nip, pet remedy and lavender. Yes, I wake up and I leave for the yard with kong cat-nip spray on my sleeve, mixed in with pet remedy as it helps the nervous cats when I approach them and my friend gifted me a lavender pillow spray that literally knocks me out at night time. 

But with those smelly snippets of past lives, comes the longing to remember again and smell again in real time. And so I bought my self a small bottle of Anais Anais which is like sitting down with my younger self again: getting ready to go out, go shopping, applying for jobs. When I go food shopping I look up at all those Impulse bottles like a carousel of my teenage times. 

The last two weeks have made me realise how little hope there is for animal welfare in general. Some people are untouchable and are so unaccountable. Some that could do better just won’t and there are those who instill fears in you to silence you and to put you back in your box. The truth is, nothing will change in our life time on the scale we would hope. Those that get rescued are like the star fish in that parable: we can’t save them all (and there are so many out there that will never know anything but suffering). But we can still save one. We all can save one. And what has this got to do with smells? I’m not sure myself. But if I am blessed to grow old(er) I will look back at this time and my smells will be the unique breath-taking smell of the rescued horses when you press your nose against their skin, the smell of pet rescue and cat-nip, fly spray, lavender and my Anais Anais: my last reminder of my time before this. With the help of these diverse smells, I will remember all these beautiful faces and heart beats: each and every one of them. I will remember me! x

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