Is the sense of smell not a wonderful thing? The pleasure of the scents of flowers, or freshly baked bread, or good coffee, or hay, or the sea, or spices, or the ecclesiastical combination of incense and beeswax candles, is indescribable. A smell can also evoke other times and places.
Seven or eight years ago, I had a lot to do with a lady who habitually wore a fabulously luxurious perfume. As she was the only person in the place where we met who wore it, I could always identify her before she spoke. A pleasure usually unavailable to blind people. On one occasion, however, she had about her a different fragrance, a heady combination of sun, heat and aromatic oils. I can’t adequately describe it, but it transported me about two-and-a-half thousand miles away, and ten years or so back, to a perfumery in Luxor, which my ex wife and I had visited.
To the lady’s surprise, I greeted her by name, as usual. She asked how I knew it was her, given the fact that she hadn’t used her normal perfume. “Simple,” said I, in the manner of a latter-day Sherlock Holmes. “You’ve just come back from a holiday in Egypt, and today, you smell of Egypt”.
Of course, there are also less pleasant smells. Neither the stinks of traffic fumes, nor cannabis smoke, nor decaying rubbish, nor sewage, nor Marmite thrill. They don’t thrill me, anyway. Neither do some things which are supposed, if not to smell nice, to stop things smelling nasty
I used to happily buy a particular air freshener which was designed to “neutralise” unpleasant odours. It did too. Then some misbegotten fool thought that it would be a good idea to undermine the product, and make it “mask” the aforementioned bad odours. This was to be achieved by adding to the chemical cocktail, vile things designed to give the impression that someone’s sitting room was actually a beautiful meadow, or a forest, or a bankrupt tart’s boudoir. After choking on this noxious vapour, one notices that the bad odours have returned, and are clashing alarmingly with the grass, or trees, or shabby-chic knocking shop, or whatever the hell it’s supposed to be. I’m not sure whether this formerly fabulous air freshener has become an industrial pollutant or an offensive weapon.
But the madness doesn’t stop there. Not only do we now have to put up with scented refuse sacks, but we are asked to throw our money down the drain and buy perfumed lavatory paper. Do the competing toilet roll tycoons and bog roll billionaires think we should become like dogs, and sniff each other’s rear ends? Will fashionistas sneer at those who buy the Wrong brand? “But darling, their anal bouquet is so terribly last season.”
I had a job to find unscented laundry detergent. I did eventually, and it’s such a relief not to feel the pre-sneeze tingle when getting dressed.
As well as the pernicious corporate obsession with fake fragrances, one must contend with the craziness of the individual. In an effort to smell clean, people use all sorts of soaps, shampoos, deodorants and so on. Fair enough. But they don’t think about whether or not these products compliment one another. They are, after all, usually scented. And they can clash. And then, there are those who will spend a king’s ransom on a bottle of perfume or aftershave, then wast it by overlaying it on cheap, nasty products. Surely the idea is to smell clean, or alluring, not confusing?
This overload is surely not good for us? During my previously mentioned tour of an Egyptian perfumery, a jar of coffee was passed around. The idea was that it would give our noses a break from all of the other smells. Would life be easier if we could have a similar break from time to time? If we could return to having those products which don’t need a perfume being unscented, we could enjoy other smells more. And who knows what benefits that might have?
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