On a recent family break to the Scottish coast, I overheard a lady taking a deep breath before smiling and saying to her teenage children, “I love that smell”.
There was such feeling in those four words. It was a beautifully clear day. A gentle breeze wafting the aroma of the sea into her nostrils. No doubt evoking memories of childhood holidays, paddling in the sea, ice cream dripping down the sides of a cone, seagulls screaming overhead… of life without pressures, mortgages, deadlines, targets.
She was right, of course. That smell of the sea takes some beating. I almost felt her stresses melting away as she inhaled that evocative scent. I imagined her the day before working in a stuffy office in a city, or perhaps on the Tube. I guarantee she will never have uttered those words in those environments, despite being places in which many of us aspire to spend as much time as possible throughout our adult lives.
It got me thinking about smells and our senses generally. Although I love spending time outside and always feel better for it, I’m as guilty as the next person for taking it all in subconsciously. I might briefly notice a powerful smell, a nice view, or the sound of birdsong but all too often let it float on by without really appreciating it.
That lady’s comment about the smell of the sea channelled all my focus to what I could smell. Describing it becomes more difficult. ‘Cold’, ‘briny’, ‘fresh’, ‘clean’ are all words that spring to mind. That backdrop suddenly gave way to the smell of chips frying at a nearby cafe: ‘greasy’, ‘warm’, ‘tasty’. Then the fragrant perfume of some flowers in a highly-decorated window box: errr, ‘floral’, ‘fruity’, ‘natural’, ‘not stale’. It’s hard this, but you know it when you smell it!
Stressed-out students cramming for exams at this time of year are often told to use scent while revising to help them remember key facts. I always dismissed the idea of dousing my shirt in lavender oil to help recall vital information but, thinking about it now, it makes a lot of sense. I love the smell of farms and of damp mornings. Of forests and of roaring fires in cosy pubs. Thinking of these takes me back to the countryside instantly. A personal teleportation device in my head.
So, next time you are out for a walk, take a moment to sharpen your sense of smell. Close your eyes and breathe in deeply through your nose, noting what you experience and how it makes you feel. By channelling this focus into one sense, it becomes more vivid and that intensity creates an impression in your long term memory. You can then use these experiences to take you back to the mountains whenever life becomes stressful.
Although we all enjoy different things, try not to let that waft of hot air from an approaching train on the Tube become too familiar. Stay above ground, get out of the city and refresh your scent bank with odours of our fantastic countryside!