We used to bottle a strange mixture of crushed rose petals and water from the hosepipe. When I focus, I can almost smell it now. I’m not sure why we made it, or whether it really smelled of anything much other than in the moments when our tiny figures pinched the petals together.
And I remember lavender. Really strongly. In dusty wardrobes and unused bedrooms that we went into on special afternoons when we were in the care of our grandmother and she entertained us with the treasures of her past.
The first time I remember having perfume of my own would have been something like Charlie or Tweed, a gift from my grandmother’s bridesmaid; a woman we called aunt but wasn’t our aunt at all. Whatever it was, it was the height of fashion at the time but to me it smelled strange and musky and not at all like the flowers that I’d smelled in other, less trendy, perfumes.
I remember wrinkling my nose and realising then that I had a long way to go before I was ready for the real mysteries of adult womanhood.
We had a craze, for a while, on a range of peach scented sprays and soaps sold by Marks and Spencer. I’ve no idea where that fashion came from, or why we hooked onto it. It was something that took hold in the sports hall changing rooms and became our first real beauty craze. It smelled of a wonderful freshness. And nothing at all like peaches.
Somewhere in our teens, we became terribly serious about this sort of thing and discovered the Body Shop and their White Musk perfume. Unlike anything else we’d encountered before but quickly to become and absolute essential.
When I think of White Musk now, I’m reminded of school discos and the preparation that all seemed so critical. But then almost everything we did was starting to feel critical to us as we giggled our way through our early teens, so desperately wanting to carve out our individuality whilst being so terribly keen to conform.
There was something all the more exciting in that we didn’t have a Body Shop in our town and so half terms and longer holidays would always involve a trip to somewhere bigger and a thrill in returning home with a new haul of smells and new fashions.
Those trips are the times where I remember our first tastes of independence; arranging a little group to take a day out together. I don’t think I’ve ever been more fascinated by that sort of thing than I was at that time.
As I became older, I started going to department store beauty counters and paying money I would never spend now on perfumes that I guessed were right for a more grown-up independent young woman.
For a few years, I alternated; Cerruti in the spring and summer, and then Giorgio through the autumn and into winter. One full of flowers, the other heady and strong – too strong, I realise now. They became part of my seasonal routine, like moving my wardrobe around and buying a new pair of strong shoes.
And now, being much older, I’ve begun to drift. I don’t buy expensive perfume any more. I use supermarket sprays or whatever Avon have on special.
And very occasionally a trip to the Body Shop and a little bottle of White Musk to give me a burst of what it smelled like to be youthful and full of the hope of being fifteen.
What perfumes would you choose to tell your stories? Which are those that you turn back to when you want to remember your happiest times?