~ Posted by Georgia Grimond, April 15th 2013
Smell is often thought to be the most transporting of our five senses. So when we asked six writers to choose the best smell, where did they take us? Robin Robertson, a poet, returned to the Scotland of his youth. On the damp east coast, it was the subtlety of the persistent rain he thought best—"A washing away, a cleanness, and yet another chance to start again." Some 30% of readers agreed in our online poll. Edward Carr’s ode to baking bread had 22% salivating in anticipation of a warm doorstep smothered in butter. The novelist Rose Tremain, eager not to be defeated by a smell’s transience, was inspired to be a writer as a school girl by the smell of new-mown hay. Her memories persuaded 8% of voters.
The wild rose, wrote Ann Wroe, may be elusive but its delicate scent is worth the hunt and is "richly capable of tripping up the heart". It tickled the noses of 6% of readers. Bacon wallowing "in a blackened frying pan, curling up with delight, spitting with glee" was Philip Pullman’s choice, and 5% felt the same. Another 4% were with Ian Jack who, now without a sense of smell, clearly remembered the aroma of an Indian railway platform 30 years ago: "coal smoke, engine oil, sweet milky tea, cooking fires made from dried cowpats: if only I could smell that combination again."
Readers had their own favourite whiffs and pongs. Plenty came from the kitchen, including freshly brewed coffee, squeezed orange juice, a roast and a fine red wine. For others, the great outdoors inspired deep inhalations, particularly a salty sea breeze or pinewood after the rain. Petrolheads chose burnt castor oil, warm tyres, new cars and gasoline as their best smells. Lovers, mothers, babies and horses all made the list, but who can argue with one reader who named puppy breath as the best smell? Surely no one can turn their nose up at that, can they?
Georgia Grimond is letters editor of Intelligent Life.