It is believed that smell is a major factor in triggering memories. I recall an episode of MASH where a soldier ended up in a state of shock when a smell took him back to the moment when his comrades were killed in an earlier conflict, a memory he had understandably repressed.
Earlier this morning, I was washing up, and as I sloshed the water down the sink, the unpleasant smell of stale Mexican enchilada sauce, diluted in detergent and mixed with all sorts of milky badness, only sparked in me the happy memory of the enjoyable meal of last night. A far more unusual example is to follow though.
On Tuesday evening, Lisa and I went to the Camden Roundhouse to see Reverend and the Makers. It was an awesome gig, great support, great crowd, and the main attraction did not disappoint. We were in the seated area of the balcony, and not long after we found our allocated seats, two chaps came and sat next to us. They were both rather drunk and boisterous, but absolutely fine – in fact – bizarrely, they had been allocated the seats on either side of Lisa and me, so we moved up and they sat together. Just before the second support act finished, one of them went to the bar. The other one started up a conversation with me, the usual male stuff of football – he’s a Newcastle fan, poor thing. He had to shout in my ear, so I could understand him, as the Geordie accent and a very loud three piece rock band don’t make for easy listening for me. This also meant he got very close, and I could smell him. His breath. His general odour. Much to my amazement – I loved it.
He was a smoker. Now since the smoking ban, instead of getting cancer by sitting next to people smoking in venues, we now just have to deal with people wandering our and smoking in the open, before coming back with all the evidence of having been out for a fag: a cold blast of air from the door, a wet coat and the stale smell of second hand cigarettes. Happily, when this chap was talking to me, I quickly realised why I was enjoying the smell (not realising might have put me in a very strange situation of homoerotic lust. The association of cigarette breath at such close quarters, was one I’d only ever previously had with my days of going out on the pull. The young girls of Cardiff and Bristol were often smokers, and I was never in a position to be picky enough to say – “no – I’m not snogging you because you are a bit whiffy”, so I quickly became used to the “kiss my ashtray” effect of being intimate with smokers. I even smoked myself (very occasionally, and only to look cool you understand) so I could hardly complain. There is a wonderful sense of realism involved in actually tasting another person, the intimacy of being so up close and personal, that I can be in such a position, far outweighed any unpleasantness of taste and smell.
Being shouted to by my drunken Geordie friend – took me straight back to all the smokers I ever got off with. Hanna, Emily, Monique, Rachel, and one or two more – all unique in their own way, and all well and truly in my past. I’m married now – and very happily so, to a non smoker. I’ll never again experience the feeling of moving in for the first kiss – hoping I’ve read the signs right, that she’s as interested as I think she is, and experiencing the subtle variations in everyone’s lips, teeth and tongue. It is certainly something I miss – but of course I’d miss far more if I decided to go back to such ways! Our memories make us who we are – and from unlikely sources do they make us remember them.