Sometimes a childhood memory comes flashing in and you wonder why. Then the cause becomes apparent, a familiar and unmistakable smell pervading your surroundings and, this time, not immediately associated with the distant event.

With the smell of chopped parsley, I recall standing in the kitchen, aged maybe four or five, nose against the edge of the pine table. My mother is furiously chopping mountains of parsley from the kitchen garden which she is going to mix with stale bread and milk. This mash is going to be fed to the newly hatched ducklings that my parents are raising in the yard to supplement our WW2 meat rations.

What fascinates me is the speed of her action, dangerously rocking the half moon chopper to and fro. I remember grabbing the table edge, fingers atop and wriggling them very gingerly toward the chopping board until I spook myself and pull away swiftly in horror. My mother glances at me with her lovely velvet eyes, a quick smile on her face.

I remember vividly the time when I distracted her while she was filling jars of freshly made strawberry jam. The contents of the ladle spilled onto the back of her hand and she screamed. She wore a big bandage for an eternity and I am still feeling some form of guilt, 60 years on, whenever I get the smell of hot strawberry jam. Funnily enough, she doesn’t bear the scars nor does she remember the event.

Summer Jasmine

Summer Jasmine

A great variety of smells remind me of my grandparents’ home on the island of Oléron where I spent so much of my happy childhood. I can spot the scent of summer jasmine anywhere for my grandmother grew a big bush in her courtyard. My father disallowed birthday celebrations and when my big day used to come, in August, my grandmother would fill all her vases in the house with jasmine. Nothing was said but it made me feel very special and I loved my gran for her defiance! I now grow jasmine in my Dorset garden and the late afternoon scent on the patio brings me back to many decades ago.

The island was riddled with termites and my gran used to place Nescafé tin lids under each leg of her beautifully waxed furniture. She used to fill those lids with paraffin to prevent the insects from attacking the wood. As I grew older, I recall being trusted with a pipette, filling all the lids in the house. To this day, I can’t catch the smell of paraffin without recalling the beautiful smooth feel of highly polished wood.

The pungent smell of mothballs takes me back to the endless hours I spent rummaging in my gran’s trunks where she kept the old clothes she had so lovingly made through my mother’s childhood and adolescence. Of course nowadays, anti-moths products are tamer on the nose and it is rare to spot the unmistakable aroma of naphthalene.



When you are estranged from your country of birth, it is quite amazing to realise how many smells suddenly welcome you that you hadn’t really missed while you were away. As soon as I landed back in France after being away for a year or so, the smell of French cigarettes would recall memories of my family of smokers, Pastis brought memories of my years in the South of France, hot French bread reminded me of breakfast with my grandparents……I couldn’t wait to get to my destination!


Gauloises Cigarettes

However, with restrictions on smoking, entering France is less strikingly characteristic. I remember when, a few years ago, walking in Blandford, I suddenly was overcome by thoughts of France and realised I could smell a Gauloise being smoked. I turned the corner, I was confronted by Mr Onion-man and his bicycle laden with his overpriced strings of onions. As I got nearer, the smell changed somewhat and the magic was rather spoilt.

Now that I feel my home is in England, as I come back from a time away from it, I look forward to smells of this country such as freshly cut grass or bacon being cooked, but I think that because I didn’t experience such smells while I was very young, I don’t necessarily associate them with distant or deeply meaningful memories.



June 22, 2011 Childhood memories
Thumbnail image for Knitting

Tweet During WWII, it was so difficult to find wool that knitters had to be quite inventive, both in finding a source of it and also in using every scrap available. Mother, with three toddlers, always had a garment on the go. She used to hunt around for old discarded pullovers or cardigans and laboriously […]

Read the full article →

Yellow Flag Iris – Iris Pseudacorus

June 3, 2011 Nature
Thumbnail image for Yellow Flag Iris – Iris Pseudacorus

Tweet According to legend, the first person to wear the iris as a heraldic device was Clovis, who became king of the Franks in the late 5th century. He drove the Romans out of northern Gaul, converted to Christianity, and changed the three toads on his banner for three yellow irises. Six centuries later, the […]

Read the full article →

Grandmère’s Eyes

May 19, 2011 Childhood memories
Thumbnail image for Grandmère’s Eyes

Tweet Five foot tall and shrinking, size eight, white hair borne in a tired loose chignon, my grandmother was the ruler on her patch. As far back as I can remember, Grandmère ran her household with a rod of steel. She didn’t shout, she didn’t threaten, she only had to look at you and you […]

Read the full article →

The Cuckoo Clock

May 12, 2011 My family
Thumbnail image for The Cuckoo Clock

Tweet Grandpère had been injured twice at Verdun, in the last months of WWI. As soon as he was fit again, he was posted with his regiment in Alsace where he then came to the end of his military career. He was looking forward to going back to his native island of Oléron with Grandmère […]

Read the full article →

May 1st in France

May 1, 2011 Nature
Thumbnail image for May 1st in France

Tweet King Charles IX of France received  a sprig of Lily of the Valley (muguet in French) on May 1st 1561 as a good luck offering. Charmed by the looks and the scent of the plant, he decided to give a sprig of it to all the ladies in his court, every year, on May […]

Read the full article →

Colorado Beetle

April 7, 2011 Childhood memories
Thumbnail image for Colorado Beetle

Tweet I was 6 years old, WWII had ended. My mother, my three younger brothers and I were still living in the school house of a small village in Normandy. My father had just returned from captivity in the concentration camp of Buchenwald, very poorly indeed. For the first few weeks of his traumatic return, […]

Read the full article →

Bleuette – my mother’s china doll

March 31, 2011 Childhood memories
Thumbnail image for Bleuette – my mother’s china doll

Tweet WWII was over and family units were gradually reconstituted, men folk missing or back from the war in an appalling state, women exhausted by the burden of running family and work together in great hardship. Now was the time for my parents to lick their wounds and face a new life. As soon as […]

Read the full article →

Grand-père’s garden

March 17, 2011 Childhood memories
Thumbnail image for Grand-père’s garden

Tweet During the 1930s and 1940s, my grand-parents were living in a big rambling house in Boyardville, on the island of Oléron. This is where I was born and where I spent many holidays after the war years. I even spent a whole year there while doctors and surgeons were trying to put my parents […]

Read the full article →


March 9, 2011 Childhood memories
Thumbnail image for Grand-mère

Tweet My grandparents lived on a small island off the coast of France, not far from La Rochelle. Both of them had many brothers and sisters, and we had numerous cousins, most of whom we never recognised when we came for our regular Summer holidays. Two months of bliss, those holidays were! In those days, […]

Read the full article →