Tuesday, 20 October 2009

I relive a Northern childhood

The very best thing about this time of year - well joint best with opaque black tights - is the smell. I love the smell of autumn, it makes my chest fizzle with a peculiarly pleasurable melancholy. As a York girl, though, it's never quite the same without the alternating scents of After Eights and sugar beet. York is home both to Rowntrees chocolate factory (now Nestlé, but still home to such confectionery superstars as the Aero, the KitKat and the After Eight) and to a sugar refining plant that only operates in winter. Depending on the direction of the wind, and what was brewing at Rowntrees that day, you would get a cocktail of sweetly acrid beets and chocolate.

Actually, just typing that I'm overcome with nostalgia for the smell of York on a cold autumn day - leaf mulch, chip fat, sugar beet, molten After Eight, exhaust fumes and the constant chilly basenote note of damp grass and mud. I'm right back there in my tiny nylon pleated games skirt, running the gauntlet of all the tuogh eggs (sic, Molesworth) and their taunts of "jolly hockey sticks" as we trudge up to the playing fields, sneaking off when Miss Hooley's back is turned to buy Toffee Crisps and Vice Versas from the corner shop. Or I'm sitting on the low stone wall outside St John's College eating Walkers Roast Chicken Crisps, my heart sinking at the thought of another encounter with Mrs Rothwell, the demonic piano teacher, when I haven't even cut my nails, let alone practised.

While we're getting a bit Proustian about beef dripping and trans fats, I should mention I found out that my own madeleine is Lyons - now McVities - Ginger Cake this weekend. One slice, not dipped in tilleul, that would be gross, but eaten with a large mug of Yorkshire Tea, and I was instantly back in the Bearded One's rural torture chamber in the Yorkshire Dales, savouring my hour of peace with a pony book before being dragged on yet another long march across a springy tufted bog full of rotting sheep carcasses. Ah, the exquisite pain/pleasure of times and things lost, remembered. Ha! Hardly. Mainly it made me glad to be an adult, no longer liable to be subjected to "the ascent of Pen y Ghent from Horton in Ribblesdale" in driving rain with only a Mars Bar and a Peter Storm cagoule between me and hypothermia. In fairness, I should say that this vision comes with a very distinct memory of the Bearded One actually bringing me breakfast in bed, so it wasn't all child abuse. And there was always the possibility of a trip to Leyburn auction house to buy mangy stuffed livestock, or of finding a rabbit slowed to catchability by myxomatosis that I could pet. Until it died. Oh, yes, happy times.

Brussels has the leaf mulch and the mist/petrol dampness and it even has a pretty solid smell of chip fat, mingling with the waffles. But you can't ask for scraps (small pieces of extra crispy batter from the back of the warming cabinet, for the non-initiates, served in a small paper bag for 10p, best eaten sprinkled liberally over your chips) from the wall eyed bosomy giant at the chippie on Lord Mayor's Walk who insists on calling you 'Lucy'. Ah, a Yorkshire childhood. Now pass me me flat cap and me whippet, I'm off down the mine. In clogs.

Touching childhood scenes (or smells) in the comments, please.

43 comments:

Iheartfashion said...

I can't wait to purchase your memoir.

Chris said...

i was having just this recollection as i wandered around brockwell park the other day. sadly tho, the sugar-beet factory is no more and the chocolate is reduced to to a fraction of its former salivatriness.

thankfully i went to school in tadcaster so am still able to sample one of my childhood smells on my rare forays north. that of lovely nourishing beer.

(http://www.bbc.co.uk/northyorkshire/content/articles/2007/02/12/british_sugar_factory_closure_feature.shtml)

ou sont les odeurs d'antan?

Jaywalker said...

Chris - Noooo! No more sugar beet? I feel cheated. Ou indeed.

Chris said...

it is indeed most sad. however, i think the pleasure of badly spraining your ankle whilst attempting to traverse any distance of that savage, tufty moor grass is still available all year round. my only consolation for such tortures was that it was the only time i could persuade my mother to buy me kendal mint cake, on the grounds that without it we might die. the theory was never put to the test thankfully.

Anne said...

Sugarbeets! Now you've made me nostalgic for North Dakota in autumn. Or about any time really. Instead of an accompanying chocolate factory though, we had a potato processing plant. The result was that, upon moving to Quebec, I didn't even notice the wafting aroma of the paper mills until a local pointed it out to me.
Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

(WV is asinic, which sounds very like Rasputin's nostalgia for his village well.)

SUEB0B said...

We lived out in the country, about 15 miles from a town of 200 souls and about 35 minutes from Santa Barbara, which is a lovely place - back then, probably about 35,000 people, so it had real shopping.

My mom would dress up to go to town. She put a shamrock-shaped pin on her lapel when she needed extra luck hitting green lights. I would have a little ruffled dress, tiny white socks and patent-leather shoes.

We drove up the coast through the warm wind and went to a dress store that was run by an extravagantly gay man and his glorious large black poodle, Pierre.

After, we would go to a coffee shop for tuna on dry white toast and little salads like ladies who lunch. I have not been so civilized since.

Z said...

Childhood smells are more to me than tastes or sounds, because they're subtler and more transporting. Mine - the main one, anyway - is the scent of malting barley, from the maltings that used to be down the road - closed many years and turned, a couple of decades ago, into riverside apartments.

Fortunately, a lot of brewing goes on in these parts so there are still maltings, although the one a mile away, next to the famous Chicken Roundabout (google if you doubt me) burned down some while back and is, inevitably, being turned into flats instead. Still, I can get that distinctive toasty smell in the air when I'm lucky and know that the sprouted barley is roasting.

dragondays said...

I thought they took canaries down the mines, not whippets ... WV coalsti, I kid you not!

MargotLeadbetter said...

I grew up in the country where we got up to all sorts of wholesome pursuits like conkering, tatie picking (halfterm hols = tatie picking week), and scooping out turnips with dessert spoons to make Hallowe'en lanterns.

But the special autumn smell of the nearest town (Carlisle) was of roasting coffee beans at John Watts, a delicious malty, beery smell from Theakstons Brewery, and the chocolate biscuits baking at Carrs (now McVities). Gorgeous.

The Jules said...

Ah, I remember all the childhood pass-times in the halcyon days of my childhood on the estate. All the classics were there; scrumping for car radios, fishing for condoms in the canal and doing some good old fashioned tramp-tipping.

Course, we never had nostalgia in the good old days.

Chantal said...

The sea - I grew up next to the Firth of Tay. The smell of a wet beach is my nostalgic smell; that and the smell of roast chicken from the kitchen on a Sunday evening while me and my Nana watched Last of the Summer Wine sat on the sofa upstairs.

I am surprised at how teary that recollection has made me; I am getting soft in my old age.

Chantal said...

@MargotLeadbetter - whereabouts are you from if you don't mind me asking? We got two weeks off in October ostensibly to pick potatoes, where I'm from these are known as the Tattie Holidays (with dropped ts)!

I'm from Angus btw.

Margaret said...

I grew up on Long Island, but not right on the water, so the smell of the air on a rainy summer night with it's whiff of the ocean reminds me of childhood. Also, the way Manhattan smells--NOT the smell of pee and unwashed bum--but the smell of concrete and tar and subway seemed exotic and beautiful to a suburban kid. There's a weird, stale, exciting smell that wafts up from subway entrances, at night especially, that I still find intoxicating when I haven't smelled it in a while. The first time I smelled it again after living in Texas for a year, I almost cried. Strangely, it took me back to childhood, even though I've been smelling it regularly as an adult.

mountainear said...

Autumn will forever bring back horrific memories of hockey, played for extra spice in fog and ankle deep in mud. Also vile divided skirt and aertex costume.

Close second memory would be Bird's factory in Banbury which belched out the smell of instant coffee when custard would have been preferable.

Soda and Candy said...

Beautiful!

This story, for some reason, reminded me of a photo my dad took of me as a young'un. I have taken my glasses off, and am holding a big bunch of flowers. The look on my face is "Please take the photo, I'm bored, Daddy."

His wife made him keep this photo in his shed because to her it looks like "We are on the way to Mummy's funeral."

M. said...

Ah, childhood, the time for sneaking into war-torn third world countries on Red Cross planes, hanging on for dear life (there were no seatbelts. Or seat backs, for that matter). We hurtled through the dark streets on cyclos, smelling of jasmine flowers and the citronella oil we'd rubbed on our limbs to keep the mosquitoes away.

Childhood was one long string of outlandish, dangerous "holidays" - ice fishing in -30 celsius in Canada, stranded on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific with nothing but flea-ridden monkeys and finger-eating clams to keep us company, or lost in a Finnish swamp, our blood slowly sucked out by the hundreds and thousands of mosquitoes sent by the devil himself...

fourstar said...

In yet another of our weird coincidences, my parents now live in that very Leyburn. Their neighbour? The head auctioneer at Leyburn Auction House.

Jaywalker said...

Fourstar - what, John Tennant, head weasel? The coincidences, they iz ridiculuz.

fourstar said...

I shall go and ask, right this minute. However, they are currently in Croatia so the answer might be a) slow and b) wosnnyzcrnyjjk.

MargotLeadbetter said...

Chantal - I'm from a small village north of Carlisle (not quite Scotland but close). We lived on a farm and we really did have to pick taties in the holidays. Child labour was very much the thing there in the 70s when I was growing up.

kathycastro said...

Mmmmm, the smell of fog, vaguely damp and salty and a little bit like the very first drops of rain. My happiest days as a kid were waking up, peeking out the bedroom window and not being able to see the end of the street for the fog. It's my favorite weather to this day.

The other evocative smell for me is the smell of a conifer forest in the sun. The combination of cedar, spruce, fir and pine, mixed with dirt and woodsmoke and whatever else is around, is the smell of my childhood summers. Somehow, I think it's the cleanest smell on earth. Love.

fountain pen sue said...

Being dragged out of bed at stupid o'clock to dig lugs with dad, the smell of the sandy slobs still makes me retch, but usually there was a lovely seabass for supper, if we didn't freeze to death on the rocks while Dad fished and we threw stones at each other. Also, gathering wood for the fire for the winter; my brothers would slope off somewhere and I would be volunteered to hold the giant logs steady while Dad sawed through them with the chainsaw. I was always scared shitless the chain would break and I would end up with half a face but I was even more scared of the scrabbly little wood lice. I still am, the little fuckers.

tigerbaps said...

My dad owned a chippy and we lived above the shop until I was 18. So for me, the world smelled of fish and chips, together with the tarry rankness of the Capstan Full Strength untipped fags my dad chain smoked. Sunday mornings were a mix of Vim,furniture polish and choking fag reek, to the strains of the James Last "Last the Whole Night Through" box set. Ordered, but undoubtedly never paid for, from the Readers Digest. Ah sweet memories.

karen said...

My only contribution is the smell of the abattoir down the road from my school when I was 12 and the wind was blowing our way. And then we went on a excursion so we could see up close exactly where the smell came from, and know that it was really the mingled smells of fear and shit and death and blood. Nothing quite like a country upbringing!

Anonymous said...

In Australia, it's summer which is the defining season, and I think the scent which most evokes my childhood is the scent of rain on hot, dry ground when a summer thunderstorm rolls in - the smell of dust and wet grass and the acrid tang of oil traces washed off the roads. Standing out there feeling those first big fat raindrops plopping on the dirt, then bolting for cover as the deluge begins.

Sigh.....

Jenny

WrathofDawn said...

Nearly dead rabbits? LUXURY!!

Why when I were a child, we had to make due with dead hamster on a string. If we were LUCKY.

There's something about fall that brings out the old nostalgia, isn't there.

Not a problem in our winters, though. Too busy dancing about trying to avoid hypothermia.

annie said...

I grew up in NYC.

my dad used to go to a very glam barber about 15 subway stops from where we lived, and to get me out from under my mother's feet when she was pregnant with my brother, he would take me with him in my favorite and extremely uncomfortable dress, and I would spin up and down, up and down in the chair adjoining his until I was dizzy and staggering which tended to happen just about when the barber was finished with him, and then we would leave. and if I agreed to walk all the way to 23rd street, when we changed trains at 42nd, he would buy me a sack of hot roasted mixed nuts, which smell, overlaid even faintly with subway, really does make me feel like I am wearing a mondrian patterned dress and have only narrowly avoided vomiting all over any number of ravishingly scented, very glossy men in the west village.

and then almonds. the bakery next to the doll hospital sold almond cookies. and in between the bakery and the doll hospital was a vacant storefront, set back from the sidewalk, where people used to shoot up and so there was always litter of baggies and works and strange rubber straps. every week, I had a doll or a teddy bear or some sort of trinket that needed doll hospitality, and so my mom would put our german shepherd on her leash and my brother in his stroller and away we'd go. and then after the doll hospital, which smelled delightfully of glue and wood shavings and very clean old people, was the bakery, into which my mom went for almond cookies, while I held the leash of the straining dog and the handle of the stroller chock full of grisling baby boy, surrounded by abandoned syringes and bottle caps. all of which recollection smells like almond cookies to me. needless to say, I don't often make them.

and lastly, there was a bookstore in the village my uncle used to take me to, I think because it was close to his favorite head shop. but the children's section was downstairs, and had a fireplace, and in the winter it smelled like books overlaid with woodsmoke and patchouli and carnation and pine - all the warm smells - and the guys who owned it would read anything at all aloud if you asked, even if they knew full well that you could read it yourself (and if it's e. nesbit, pretty much you know it by heart already) and just wanted very much to hear them do the voices. that bookstore is long gone. I went to the funeral for one of the owners in 1989, and his partner moved to spain, and I don't know anyone who knows what became of him. When I go to a bookstore that's not a chain, I expect it to smell like that, and when they don't, it's a small disappointment. Elliot Bay in Seattle comes the closest, but I suspect that's scent of salespeople, rather than scent of place.

Juci said...

The smell of the piano's felt. Of the school gym locker room, freezing cold at 7 in the morning. And of the various forests of the Mátra hills where we went hiking in the weekends.

kathycastro said...

Oh, I forgot...

My family was really big on driving holidays, seriously major ones up to Canada and shit. 1,000 miles each way, three kids and two parents in a big old SUV, lots of room for everyone. So much room that the kids could all stretch out, and my oldest brother would invariably fall asleep in the way back. And once he'd fall asleep, the farting would start, really REALLY epic farting, world class farts. And it wouldn't stop for hundreds of miles, while middle brother and I, in the back seat, were practically vomiting from the sheer noxiousness of it. So, a really stinky fart? Yup. That's another smell of my childhood.

Farts, fog, forest, and eau de reefer wafting through the heater vents from oldest brother's bedroom next door. Oh, nostalgia.

Mickle in NZ said...

Ah - In the block next to Wellington Girls' College was the Lion Brewery, we were often smothered in hops and brewing scents. The brewery's cooling system also heated the outdoor pool that school overlooked. When shut over the winter the pool water went all sorts of weird colours - vibrant green, irredescent purple - what the hell was in the beer?

What is left of the brewery is now my supermarket, with totally boring colours, ......... and I can't stand beer

Rachel said...

The smell of other people's head grease mingled with dust, on the tartan 'super-tuff' corduroy fabric of train seats – coupled with the prickly stabbing of the strangely unfriendly surface. Maybe they didn't want you to get naked on it?

Anonymous said...

What a lovely post! I'm probably repeating umpteen other people, but you really do have a gift for capturing the essence.

I went to boarding school in Matlock. The two main things I remember are wind and hills. We were plump little girls (prep school) tied up like little parcels in our tunics with a house colour sash tied round our non existent waists, with the most amazing calf muscles from trudging up and down the hills. We had I think 3, maybe 4, different uniforms - school day (beret for winter, boater for summer), sunday (mass) winter and sunday summer. I vaguely remember a saturday outing one too. Oh yes, skirt and waistcoat, just dreadful. You could only find these monstrosities at Moss Bros, hidden in a musty back room somewhere and I used to throw huge tantrums at the tight collars at the start of every school year.
Every weekend we had to go on these walks (enforced marches) where we would look for the highest sodding peak we could find and climb it. There we were, a grumpy crocodile of girls in our outdoor shoes and berets (the wind, hello?) stomping through darley dale, along the derwent and through Bakewell and on and on and on, all the time grumbling and debating whether Sister Margaret had any hair under her habit (constant source of fascination). I remember so clearly her standing in the middle of a field with her hand out to the cows in a stop sign, ushering us along with her other arm. Such fresh, fresh air and ever changing green - gradually a metamorphosis would happen and we'd start enjoying ourselves (not that we'd ever admit it).
My eldest brother was in Belize at the time and used to send me long long letters about swimming with dolphins and turtles. I had no idea he was at war and was rather miffed that year when he forgot my birthday.
Winter holidays were in Germany and spent covering up the 'entry stricly forbidden' signs with snow and sledging down the quarry using mattress covers. As the littlest, one of my siblings would hang on to my legs to stop me flying off and than at the pertinent moment would yell 'JUMP' and we'd all fling ourselves off to avoid the fence. Then we'd nag our parents to take us to the place at the lake that sold paprika chicken and had alsations and hundreds (seemed so at the time) of tortoises.
And I'm rambling so I'll....stop.
Fran

Simon said...

Where I come from the extra crispy bits of chip fat were called "gribbles", for some unknown reason.

Rebecca said...

I went to St John's college and lived quite close to the Nestle factory, it always smelt of chunky KitKats/

Chantal said...

I LOVE this thread!

Margot, yes that is close enough to the motherland! :)

I never actually picked potatoes but we did regularly pick berries in the autumn - Tayside is famous for its raspberries, don'tcha know!

Btw, my WV is 'norse', I think it is trying to tell me something about my Scottish derailing...sorry!

justarabbit said...

My favorite smell is that of my grandmother's pantry. It was always filled with cakes, cookies and choccies. I didn't find out until I was older that the smell actually came from her homebrew kit. The plastic bucket was always in the pantry when she wasn't brewing a batch. I still laugh when I think that my favorite smell in the whole world is dried out lager.

magpie said...

The smell of my grandma's immaculate house in hampstead garden suburb occasionally haunts me - a mix of cleaning products and her perfume - that odd smell that glamorous older women seem to magically aqcuired that isn't really either of those things. I still have one of her jumpers tied up in a plastic bag and hidden underneath my clean bedlinen so that when i really miss her i can still smell her.
I have hankerchiefs from my othwer grandma that still smell faintly of elnett and chanel number 5 which is a smell i love because it rmeinds me of very happy days. And that old lipstick smell always reminds me of her too.

Mrs Jones said...

During the wife-swapping days of 1970s surburbia, my parents used to go to 'dinner dances'. My mother came from a Northern working class background but my father was rigidly middle class, from Sussex. He started his own business and they became relatively affluent. Consequently he played golf, joined the Lions Club, all that sort of thing. The dinner dances happened several times a year and I remember my mother getting dolled up, looking beautiful and wearing Estee Lauder's Youth Dew.

indigo16 said...

Ok, smells:
what about when Rowntree's were making Polo's and Terry's were making Chocolate Oranges, that was just devine.
The smell of Italian walking past Bibi's Friday night.
Sounds:
The man opposite Betty's calling Evn'POST
York City losing again
The cackel of women on a Friday night pub crawl
The peacocks in Museum Gardens.
Tastes:
Yorkshire curd tart
ANYTHING in Taylor's tea room!
I only lived there 2 years before moving to London (GillyGate) but although I don't like this time of year at all, York does a damn fine autumn.

Red Shoes said...

The smell of the heater kicking on for the first time of the season: burning dust and heat. God, I love/hate that smell.

Also, the smell of brand new school clothes, all store fresh and slightly chemical. To this day, waking up early on a cool morning and putting on a new top makes me feel like I'll next be walking to school through frost-crisp grass with my breath blowing clouds around my cheeks and the boys playing crack the whip in the yard.

Nimble said...

I remember sitting on the cold cement garage floor and watching my father carve jack o'lanterns. My brother and I would draw the face on with grease pencil and Dad would carve them out. I remember the chill and the smell of pumpkin and leaf dust. As a memory it's a bit suspect since we lived in at least four houses while I was growing up but I think it's from when I was 5 or 6.

Jaywalker said...

Oh, Indigo 16! Bibis! This was my ultimate treat - chicken kiev then ice cream with three different coloured sauces splattered over it. Mmm. I can taste the green sauce now. My dad would have a campari soda, cos he was cosmopolitan, and they would put a sparkler in your ice cream when it was your birthday.

Like Chantal I totally LOVED this thread. Brilliant memories.

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