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Madeleine Moments - Involuntary Autobiographical Memories

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    Madeleine Moments - Involuntary Autobiographical Memories

    Balderdasha posted about this yesterday and, as it's a subject I've been meaning to start a thread about for a while now, that was the nudge I needed.

    Shall we restrict ourselves to smells and tastes. I'm sure that we all have a huge number of examples, so ruling out visual and aural triggers and the like might help stop the thread from wandering too much. But, hey, it's up to you.

    There really are too many to list. Summer holidays as a child, with the smell of petrol at filling stations, tar at roadworks and the campsite washroom smells, both the soap and the shit. School dinners - the shredded cheddar on the salads, jam and butterscotch tarts. The food at home that I barely or never eat these days - cold cuts of roast lamp with tomato ketchup and a Dairylea cheese triangle, saveloys, chicken fritters, proper deep-fried chips, pots of Ski yoghurt filled with sugar. The cleaning fluid in the hospital where I almost died from peritonitis in my teens. The chalk, desk-wood and stationary smells of school. Bowling alley polish. The cooking smells of a Mediterranean holiday evening.

    Far too many.

    And my favourite. Do you know, I'm really not sure what it was exactly. It was the smell created when my grandma cooked us breakfast over an open fire in her little cottage. I think it was usually buttery toast and poached eggs mixed in with the smell of the coal fire and it's not a smell that I've encountered since, but should I do so I'll instantly be transported back to a small village in North Wales in the late-1960s.

    #2
    The smell of aeroplane fuel takes me back to the days when airports weren't so successfully sealed off and the whole building smelled of the stuff as you walked through, with the British airports dingily illuminated yellow signs. The trigger is confused, because the smell seems to take me back to Gatwick and leaving for somewhere sunny, yet when I think of those dingy yellow signs for arrivals or Terminal 3, it's a cold rainy day at Heathrow, almost certainly in winter.

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      #3
      God, those signs

      It must have been something about how they worked within the all over gray palette, which echoed the weather

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        #4
        Not just me, then? Their palette screamed sadness, depression, drizzle and underinvestment.

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          #5
          This is the post that NS was referring to:

          I heated up a tin of minestrone soup for myself for lunch today and suddenly had one of those "Madeleine" moments where a certain flavour or smell transports you to a different period of your life.

          When I was 11, I started at a new school in a town an hour's bus ride away and my mum retrained as a teacher to help fund my school fees. But for the first year, while my mum was doing her PGCE there would be no-one available to collect me from the bus stop at the end of the day. At the time, we had a cleaning lady who I will call Pamela. She lived not very far from the bus stop so my mum arranged with her that I would walk to her house in the evening and have dinner with her until my mum could come and collect me. Pamela had had a hard life. She'd been in care for most of her childhood and turfed out as soon as she turned 16, as was standard at the time. Despite this, she'd done well and ended up working as a police receptionist where she met her future husband, a policeman. They had two daughters and a nice terraced house and all seemed to be going well until the husband was caught using confiscated credit cards to run up huge bills for phone sex lines. Pamela was humiliated, chucked him out and couldn't face going back to work at the police station, which is why she'd taken up cleaning instead. There were further dramas with the ex-husband. At one point he kidnapped the kids and threatened to trap them in a garage and burn it down. The kids were rescued and a restraining order was put in place. At the time I started going to Pamela's for dinner, the family were very hard up with every penny going on mortgage payments. Pamela was rake thin and lived off cigarettes, tea and biscuits. I never saw her eat anything else. But dinner for me and her daughters was always a tin of vegetable or minestrone soup, or baked beans or spaghetti hoops on toast. My mum paid Pamela a fiver to look after me each evening I think. As Pamela's daughters were younger than me, we also had an arrangement where I would babysit them for a whole Saturday for five pounds while Pamela worked all day. The daughters were very bright and I spent lots of time helping them with their homework. We continued to be friends long after Pamela stopped being our cleaning lady (she got a better paying job in a hotel).

          Because of Pamela's background, she had it in her head that her sole responsibility was to get the girls safely to age 16, and then the responsibility for earning would switch to them. No-one realised for a while, but she was taking out ever increasingly large payday loans to fund them. She did succeed in getting the girls to 18 actually, and both of them got places in university, but by that point she had had to sell the house and still had debts of over 40,000 pounds. She hoped that my mum would clear her debts for her when my mum inherited some money from her father when he died, and the fact that my mum wouldn't meant that they fell out as friends.

          I know vaguely how one of the daughters is doing now because I found her blog. I wonder about the other one.

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            #6
            Most of mine have disappeared — along with my sense of smell unfortunately. Many revolved around the smell of cigarettes. The aunt leaning over you who was redolent with scent of cheap face powder and Senior Service. The local football match where the air was perfumed by Woodbines, urine from the corrugated iron sheet that served as a pissoir, and Brylcream. My Grandfather's freestanding ashtray, imbued with the ashen-grey scent of half a century's worth of Kensitas. Then there was Winter in Sheffield, coal smoke, wet wool and gabardine and a hundred other brands of cigarette.

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              #7
              Not sure why but yesterday I had a vivid memory of a West African snack that was kind of like a fried mixed spice bite-size biscuit. When I was 15 or so our family was invited to a wedding where one of the couple was from Nigeria (I think) and there was a load of African food prepared alongside a traditional English buffet. My brother and I discovered these biscuits which we remembered from when we lived in Africa. The family members who cooked them laughed themselves silly at these two white boys wolfing down the food that none of the other white folks would go near. (Which was fine by us!)

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                #8
                My mom's family has a cabin up on a lake on the Sierras that they bought in the 1920s. Shortly thereafter the Forest Service took over the land, so development was frozen, so there's only 16 cabins on the far side of the lake where ours is. Last year I drove up on a Friday evening after work and since it was too dark to take our boat across, I hiked out on the lake trail. Within a quarter-mile of being out on the trail, I was overwhelmed with the herb-y smell that you get from the pines and various brushes and grasses of the Sierras that I'd smelled every summer since I was an infant. My headlamp started to die about halfway through and it was no big deal as it turned out I knew where every individual rock and root was in the trail by memory. A very odd feeling.

                On a crasser note, one of my first girlfriends wore a particular scent that is apparently still in use, as every so often I'll catch a whiff of it and become instantly physically aroused.

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                  #9
                  I'm intrigued by the shared strong memories of dingy yellow signs in UK airports. I've got no memory of them, but then I don't have a good memory for that sort of thing generally and I haven't flown a huge amount compared to others on here I suspect. My first ever flight wasn't until I was 18 years old, in January 1982 (Gatwick to Moscow Sheremeyevo),

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                    #10
                    Mention of pine reminds me that the smell of pine needles, particularly hot pine needles on a warm day, takes me back to family summer holidays in southern France. There are probably a couple conflated, but there's definitely one down in Les Landes, south of Bordeaux, south of Archachon. I was in my early to mid teens. We'd drink whatever shitty wine my parents decided was great because it was cheap. There were girls on the beach who appeared stunning and unattainable. The walk back to the car from the beach through those pine forests in the enervating heat of southern France in August is always there when I smell warm pine forest.

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                      #11
                      Originally posted by Amor de Cosmos View Post
                      Many revolved around the smell of cigarettes.
                      Walking down the side of the White Horse on my way to junior school, the smell of stale beer and cigarettes that would come from the vents in the side of the pub.

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                        #12
                        The pub my "Taid" (grandad) uaed to run: Senior Service, Craven A, Mackesons, sweat in general.

                        My mother's fags and endless cups of coffee while she worked at home.

                        The smell of freshly-cut grass on the playing fields of my old junior school in Swindon.

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                          #13
                          I wouldn't eat roast lamp either.

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                            #14
                            Patrick Thistle Chin chin?

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                              #15
                              Originally posted by Levin View Post
                              Patrick Thistle Chin chin?
                              Yes, I think so!

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                                #16
                                At The Stoop, the access to the West Stand is via a concrete path in front of the stand, next to the pitch. Halfway up is the tunnel to the changing rooms. Every time I walked past there the smell of Deep Heat was emanating. It combined with the smell of wet grass and mud from the field to pitch me back to my playing days.

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                                  #17
                                  Freshly cut grass at school and the smell of whitewash when they painted lanes for summer athletics (I fancied myself as a long-distance runner).
                                  Desk lids that still came up, releasing pencil-shavings and applecore scents, mixed with the resin or wood polish they'd stopped applying years ago.
                                  The toilets never smelt too bad to me- overdosed with disinfectant and those 'cakes' in the urinals.
                                  Dinners: gravy and custard. Not together though I'd probably have eaten it.

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                                    #18
                                    Eggchaser reminded me (I shall call him Madeleine): when I was about 11 I got into the changing room at Boroughbriggs with an autograph book ( I can still see the shape and the colour of the pages, but lost it before childhood ended) and the stench of embrocation was intense. I particularly wanted the signature of a young longhaired Elgin City star who ran around like Peter Marinello, though I now forget his name.

                                    Someone at my Dad's section had something to do with Rothes FC which was how I got in. In my head it's the same man who swapped salmon, trout and rabbits for my Dad's knocked off RAF safety equipment but that may not be true.

                                    Edit- that takes me to the rabbit hanging on the washing line so they could skin it...And then many hours later my dad biting down on a pellet. Also whole fish wrapped in newspapers - we were much more of a fish fingers or crispy cod balls kind of family
                                    Last edited by Felicity, I guess so; 03-12-2020, 08:09.

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                                      #19
                                      Ms Felicity instantly says- the vile smell of the boys' toilets at Bignold school when we had to get the shinty sticks from the cupboard.
                                      (Bignold is in Norwich but don't ask me why they played shinty)

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                                        #20
                                        Unwashed schoolkids' uniforms and then later ( when I had to board for 6 months, the school would've punished toiletries I reckon) the uniform smell of Brut 33 in the 5th and 6th year dormitories. I even know what it smells like burning as Stewart Sells lit a brut aerosol and torched my Gladbach poster

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                                          #21
                                          Ah...stink bombs let off in French and other classes in secondary school. Once I owned up and received the strap on my fingers. Christ, it stang.

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                                            #22
                                            My Mum was a hairdresser, and used to get roped into doong all sorts of errands for her customers. They'd tell her tales of woe, and she'd offer to help, and that included dropping people off and picking them up from the airport, and I'd usually go with her. The smell of coffee at Manchester Airport was something - it was from the time when Britain didn't have decent coffee, and I've no idea what caused it (I expect a mixture of crap blends left to sit in coffee brewer on a hotplate) but the incredibly strong yet acrid smell takes me straight back.

                                            Burning or melting plastic reminds me of my first job as a toilet roll packer, where we had to use an iron to seal the plastic bags they were shipped in.

                                            The smell coming from the venting of laundrette tumble dryers will always take me back to sitting in the University laundrette, having a smoke next to those vents waiting for my clothes to dry.

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                                              #23
                                              Coal smoke on a cold day always reminds me of the hilltop council estate where my grandparents lived

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                                                #24
                                                The smell of timber always reminds me of my first job in a builders supplier.

                                                Fresh cut grass in the summer reminds me of pre season training., usually endless laps of the pitch.

                                                Wintergreen embrocation reminds me of my first football team, St Gerards. Someone left a tube of it open on the bottom of the kit bag and everything stank of it.

                                                Lavender scented perfume always reminds me of an ex girlfriend. It was her favourite scent.

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                                                  #25
                                                  Positives: Crumpets toasted over our fire rather than grilled. The smell of vinegar in the chip shop. Pie and peas by the seaside with the smell of the peas mingling with the sea air.

                                                  Negatives: Dogshit on the soles of my shoes.* Trying to use grass to wipe it off. The smell of fresh grass against the shit.

                                                  The smell of concrete is always me falling off a wall aged 6 and feeling the concrete against my face.

                                                  I can still taste the crap cola we drank as kids because Coke was too expensive. I think my Diet Coke addiction was formed when we could finally afford the proper stuff.

                                                  *Paul Simon earworm

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