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.