They say that there is nothing like smell to transport you back down the time tunnel.
Certainly there is a certain tinny, vegetable smell that has always instantly put me, aged five, back in the dinner hall at Christ Church School in Armley, Leeds.
I know exactly what it was – Russian salad. Bits of diced vegetables, coated in a salad cream substance, and put in a tin. My, how I hated it. Fear and loathing came to me as fully-fledged emotions the first time I encountered Russian salad.
Smell is powerful and has the ability to pull instant memories out of our brains. At least I hope so. When my gran lay dying I rushed off to Boots and bought a bottle of Blue Grass perfume, thanking all the gods that Elizabeth Arden were still making it.
I sprayed her room with it, saturated every surface with it, because it is what she wore in her prime and I hoped, really really hoped, that it might cut right through her dementia and her semi-consciousness and transport her, somewhere in her head, back to when she was a vibrant woman who never stepped out of the door without her face on, her hair done and a cloud of Blue Grass surrounding her.
But the trouble with smells is that their ability to transport covers the good and the bad. They take you back, but it’s not always a happy place. A scent can be a dangerous thing.
I’ll tell you what’s a safer time travel option – taste and, specifically, sweets.
Sweets have the same ability to take us back down the time tunnel – but always to a happy place. All of us can define our young lives by sweets. As a child of the 60s, I believe I was weaned on them.
Some of my earliest, happiest memories are of my four-year-old self walking to the shop, and asking Mavis for a quarter of Mint Imperials.
How I loved their pebble-like smoothness, their breathtaking mintiness. Mavis’s hand would move to the Mint Imperial jar the minute she saw me.
My other gran, the one who wasn’t glamorous, had a yen for Invalid Butter Toffee. Whenever she sent me to the shop – because running to the shop featured large in the life of every child of the 60s – it was for a bag of this brittle, buttery confection, which she would keep screwed up down the side of her chair.
After a while I went off minty things and discovered the penny tray. Give me a Refresher chew, a Black Jack, a Fruit Salad, a Parma Violet and I’m right back there in my happy place, poring over the choice at the sweet shop on Bramley town street.
And there were all manner of boiled sweets – pineapple cubes, Kop Kops, rhubarb and custard. And Spangles, which reached their height with the Old English flavours, in my opinion.
But boiled sweets belong to junior school days.
By the time I was a teenager I had discovered the dark world of chocolate except I only liked the milk variety. Bourneville Dark Chocolate was my mother’s sweet of choice, and I couldn’t stand it.
Instead, I went through every bar from Milky Way to Mars Bar to Marathon . Once I had a summer job creating Christmas selection boxes where it was possible to buy big boxes of rejected snack bars at a discount price.
It was at that time that I discovered chocolate has the ability to make a person gain weight rather quickly, if consumed for breakfast, dinner and tea, as meals were known in the days before “lunch” was on the menu.
I favoured the Topic, and it remained my favourite until I discovered Dime Bars, and built up a two-a-day habit, paid for by a Saturday job at Woolworths.
Some of these sweets still exist, but lots of them have disappeared . I can live with the loss – except for the Spangles Old English - that still hurts.
They have been replaced by newer stuff. Apparently our expectations for sweets, as with so much else, become greater by the year and manufacturers are now having to take sweets to the next level.
The current trend is for sweets that give you added value – things that fizz and pop on the tongue, things that go from face-scrunching sour to sweet.
I’m ready for the next generation. I’m on board, ready to fizz, pop and face-scrunch as required.
When the end comes for me though just surround me with the aroma of Spangles – Old English flavour.