It’s foggy again tonight, which put me in mind of something I wrote quite some time ago:
I was talking to my friend Andrew, nattering on as we do, reminiscing about when we were kids and how life has changed. We got onto smoking… I posted a picture recently of my friend Wendy and I when we were about twenty and we were both standing there with cigarettes in our hands, indoors, and no-one then would have thought anything of it. Gosh we must have smelled, our hair, our clothes, us! Even if you didn’t smoke, like Andrew, everywhere you went there would have been people who did. In shops, in homes, in cafés and restaurants… how repulsive to be eating with someone puffing away next to you… except we barely even thought about it because that’s the way it was. Going upstairs on a bus you would enter a blue fug of fag-smoke; going to the cinema cumulus clouds of smoke hung between you and the screen, going into a pub the walls were often stained brown with nicotine and they air would be thick with a fog of smoke.
And fog… that’s another thing! We live by the sea and we have sea mist sometimes where we can’t see halfway down our road, but we never get the thick impenetrable fogs there used to be. I remember as a child walking in fog; it had a particular smell, it deadened sound in a particular way, and it gave a feeling of excitement, mystery and a little shiver of fear that something nasty or dangerous might happen. When I moved to Manchester to study, fog was even worse, so thick it was almost tangible. I remember walking from my flat along the path, one hand on the wall because I could not see the edge of the pavement. Eventually a bus crept past, its yellow lights glowing dimly even though it was nine o’clock in the morning and it was going so slowly that I was able to jump on it.
Why were fogs so bad then, well, Andrew and I agreed it was because so many people had coal fires, and that was another thing. The smell of smoke from coal fires; we all must have smelt of it because we all had them in our houses. There was that special smell when a chimney caught fire because it hadn’t been swept… and the smell of soot, and the smell of soot lodged in a chimney when the fire wasn’t even burning, and the bacon-y smell of coal…
Smells which were so familiar but are utterly gone now… but a smell which takes me right back to my childhood and all those other smells, fireworks, the smell of fireworks!