Next the smell and the taste of biscuits. Biscuits in a big jar, from a variety pack; but they've all been put in there together so the tastes have mingled. Chocolate digestives are tinged with strawberry pink wafers, and custard creams infused with the tang of gingernut. No matter, they're creamy and crumbly and more interesting than Rich Tea, even if a little stale. Their softness, that accidental melange of flavours... it's comfortable. It's sugary-tea and paper-bag-of-sherbet-lemons and a Hot Wheels set and black-and-white-telly, home-from-school comfortable.
It's 1972 and I have a (surprise) kitten for Christmas! She's delivered on Christmas Eve, in a big box. I open the lid and reach in to find the sweetest, lightest – feather-light! - fluffiest ball of sleepy kitten softness, all huge ears and round eyes that look just a little too far apart. Cleo, I call her. Middle name Olga (after Olympic heroine of the year, Olga Korbut). She's white with black splodges; three big black spots in a line on her tummy look like buttons of coal on a snowman. When she licks my cheek I feel the unexpected raspiness of her tongue and get a faint whiff of pilchard Kitekat. If this nine-year-old child could see into the future she might be surprised to know that Cleo would be with her for the next 19 years.
Then I think of Nanny and Granddad coming to stay, a memory which conjures up more tastes and smells: the floral scent of Nanny's face powder, like talc, and the taste of Granddad's diabetic chocolate (oddly, a treat, just because it was different.) Nanny drinks Guinness and sleeps in the afternoons, Granddad wears a huge gold and black signet ring on one of his fingers, his hands have big yellow knuckles and, sadly, a few too many scabs, from woodworking wounds which don't heal as fast as they should. (I don't like to see the scabs.) He makes pictures from flat wood pieces, like one of a house all formed from geometric shapes in different shades of brown. With a steep roof and a large chimney, it's set against a background of chequerboard fields.
This is my Christmas past, locked somewhere in the late sixties and early seventies, a mash-up of moments experienced through senses. It wasn't actually snowing when that car went past yesterday morning as I lay in bed... although they say it may do tomorrow. I can't wait for the muffled sound of the tyres on the road when it does.
Cleo (cats dig vinyl)