Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Smelling of roses



“I like that perfume you can smell when you come up the stairs,” Mr SDS announced as he came up to bed the other night, like it was nothing out of the ordinary.

What perfume?”

“Can't you smell it? It's often there, just on the corner, near the wall...”

I hopped out of bed in my powder blue thermal socks, tiptoed halfway down the stairs, pressed my nose up against the wall like a kid at a toyshop window, and sniffed. I didn't get anything at first but then, gradually, a sweet, floral scent permeated my nostrils. I breathed in deeply to inhale the atmosphere, my nose now high in the air, like one of the Bisto kids: ah!  I tried to track its fragrance to some obvious source... the candle on the shelf perhaps? No, it's not a scented one. Or my recently washed jumper on the back of the chair? No.... no. Like a sniffer dog I followed my nose down the staircase and around the room, but it had already faded. I honestly couldn't say where it came from, nor where it went; how mysterious.

~

I sometimes wonder about the people who lived in this little cottage in the past. Farm workers, weavers, servants, the poorest of villagers with a surplus of children and a shortage of sanitation, TB instead of TV. Our own memories and experiences will mingle ethereally with those of its previous hosts, those who would have witnessed the end of Regency Britain, read the news of Queen Victoria's coronation and expiration, whose sons would have fought in two World Wars, whose daughters would have listened to a new young band called the Beatles. With two hundred years' worth of former inhabitants it seems more than likely that folk may not only have uttered their first words within these walls, but also their last.   The idea that our home, humble and shabby as it is, might be haunted is not one that has ever unduly worried me; you could say I'm a spectral agnostic. However, the moment we stepped over the threshold to view it for the first time we felt as if the house itself was somehow greeting us with warmth and openness. It just had a welcoming ambience, benign and gentle (in spite of an apricot bathroom suite). Maybe the smell as we entered that day was also part of its allure, tempting us to whisper to each other, like naughty schoolchildren, "I want it!" (in spite of an apricot bathroom suite) when the estate agent was out of earshot.  It was sweet and lightly spicy, reminiscent of freshly baked biscuits. It was the soft scent of vanilla from an Air Wick plug-in.

Yesterday evening I was sitting in front of my computer at my tiny workstation under the stairs, as I am now, and I noticed the floral smell again.  A faint but pleasant aroma, hard to pinpoint, it came and went a few times, as if floating past me.  There is no plug-in now.  Maybe whatever is at the root of it is also responsible for the lights flickering sometimes for no apparent reason and a sound like someone pouring water into a jug close by that I heard in the middle of the night just once, not long after we first moved in? Or is that just dodgy wiring and Mr SDS' stomach gurgling? Well, I don't know. But if we have a friendly, fragrant presence that saves us from buying Febreze, then I'll stay in good spirits.

14 comments:

  1. The sweet Lenore hath "gone before"? As in the fabric softener ;o) At least it's a nice smell. Having cats, I sometimes find a rather unpleasant ammonia smell trailing mysteriously round the house and have to wait a few days before the lovingly concealed "gift" reveals itself as the aroma of departed rodent grows more pungent... joy!

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    1. Eww, the smell of dead rodent is unfortunately one I'm familiar with too - from a couple of occasions when one has obviously met its demise in the roofspace or behind a wall.... followed by a small plague of flies.. not nice!

      At least the ghost of sweet Lenore now has '4 x longer freshness' ;-)

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  2. This is interesting. We too live in a very old little house. I often wonder about who has lived, loved, laughed, cried and died within these walls over the centuries. For the first few weeks after moving in there seemed to be all kinds of creaks, bumps and thuds going on around us, keeping us awake at night, but they either stopped or we got used to them. Perhaps the house was initially irritated by our presence, but settled down when it realised that we were friendly souls.

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    1. Ah that's interesting too, The Swede - and I'm glad the noises have either stopped or have just become familiar, you don't need to be kept awake at night! The cottage joining ours on one side was completely renovated a few years ago and there were some odd, unexplained noises and goings-on shortly afterwards when the house was empty, but that too seemed to settle down in time. It does make you wonder!

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  3. You need the team from 'Insidious'
    Smells! splash it on I say!

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    1. Ooh, I haven't seen it Old Pa - but now I'm too scared to check it out! ;-)

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  4. I'm useless since my sense of taste and smell is limited frankly often I'm saying "can you smell that?" - "What?" They ask - I try some rubbish description of something just out of reach - one of them holds up a new candle or pot pourri and say "Surely you can't mean this - it's stinking the place out and you can only just smell it with 3 ft away!"

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    1. You might be at an advantage there sometimes ;-)
      I think it's funny how different smells seem to different people. There are plenty of perfumes out there that I just can't stand and would never be able to wear, I get headaches and sniffles etc just being in the same room as someone with them on - but they obviously aren't affected at all...

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  5. I went to one of the " Silent Night" tours of the Dennis Severs house in Spitalfields last night and it encapsulated all those feelings of someone having just deserted the space that you get through living in an old house, I think you would love it

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    1. Wow, I just looked it up and it sounds very special - I think you're right: I think I would love it! You just want to imagine how it must have felt for those previous inhabitants (especially the first ones!) to look out the same windows and walk on the same floors, don't you? I'll have to try and visit it myself some day - thank you.

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  6. A ghost...even one with bad intentions, is better than fabreeze.

    Up north we lived in an older house. It was built by a yankee officer, right after the war (wonder where how the money to make such a monstrosity)...it had a big wrap around stone porch, big Victorian slab.

    No ghosts but, considering the state of life in that town it's no wonder the dead don't hang around.

    I love the historical markers in the post...especially since your home's first century covers a period that I'm familiar enough with. I immediately started making my own list of events...:)

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    1. I met someone once who used Febreeze instead of having a bath and using deodorant. Hmm.

      Well I don't know about this whole ghost business and of course I haven't smelled it once since writing this post, but I'll keep an open mind!

      History - real history, social history - is fascinating isn't it? I just wish it had been taught better at school. I never related any of the information that was thrown at me in class to actual people, and as a result I hated the lessons and failed miserably in the exams. I wish it had been given some human context...



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  7. Did you ever see The Stone Tape program (BBC, 1972)? It starred Jane Asher in an old stone structure that had recorded previous occupants like a magnetic tape... they were finding a way to replay the information when things went a bit too far!

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    1. No, I've never seen it - but it sounds very of the time, nicely imaginative and right up my street! I'll have to investigate it - thank you.

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