Do you ever walk past a field of freshly cut grass, breathe in, and remember playing outside when you were a kid, on a lazy summer’s day?
Take in the scent of a roast and get taken back to weekends at home, when the smell of your mother’s home-cooked Sunday dinner filled the air?
No matter what the fragrance is, scents and memory are powerfully linked. Certain odours can serve as strong reminders of past experience – more so than other sensory cues, such as sights or sounds.
It’s likely this is to do with the way our brains process scents and memories. Smells are routed through the olfactory bulb, which is the region that analyses scents.
This part of the brain is closely connected to the amygdala and hippocampus – regions that handle memory and emotion. So it’s no wonder we link certain scents with particular memories from our past.
When I was growing up, my mother bought me the Britney Spears – Curious perfume every Christmas for a few years.
Britney Spears Curious Eau de Parfum – 100 ml, was £38.00, now £14.95
I’d save the scent for special occasions, when I needed a pick-me-up or some extra courage.
Whenever I sprayed the sweet, floral, vanilla-infused musk, I’d be taken back to Christmas Day, where I felt safe, warm, and happy.
Once I had those feelings back, I knew I could face the day.
As I got older, I started branching out. Mum sold perfumes, so I’d spend hours browsing through her catalogues, which had scented pages.
Even now, when I breathe in similar scents to the ones I took in, lying on the sofa in my pyjamas on a Saturday morning, I’m taken back to those relaxed, happy memories from my past.
There was one perfume I liked the most. I had rows of tester bottles lined up in my room, but the one that always got my attention was Far Away.
Far Away Eau De Parfum 50ml, £9.30
The soft, oriental scent released a burst of fruity top notes, fading out to milder peach and coconut notes as time went by.
I loved the subtle scent of violets, combined with jasmine and vanilla musk – whenever I breathed in, I felt I was being transported to another place entirely.
Although I experimented with other fragrances as the years went on, I always returned to the subtle, beautiful scent that made me feel comforted and at peace.
I have a range of scents that I draw on whenever I need them.
Whenever I’m having a rough time, or need a reminder that everything will be OK, I’ll spritz the perfume that I bought during a time I felt empowered, free and completely happy.
Scent memories in Scotland
I was sat in my room in Exeter, preparing for a trip to London, when I got an incoming call.
‘Hi Imogen, this is the BBC.’
‘Legit. We’re calling to ask if you’d like to come on a show we’re holding in Glasgow. We’ll cover the expenses.’
‘Is this a wind-up? Cause man, you have no idea the kind of calls and emails I get…’
‘It’s not, I promise – wait for the email with all the details. And one of our reps in Scotland will be in touch to arrange flights. Have a good day!’
A week later, I took my seat on the plane.
The two men in front of me were keen to get back home.
‘We’re just waiting for one more passenger to board,’ the air hostess informed us.
‘Come on, lass, just shut the door and let’s be on our way,’ one of them said.
We all laughed, because he’d said what we were all thinking. The flight was getting delayed, because we were waiting around.
Ten minutes later, they gave up and shut the door.
Once we were in the air, the men were on it with the vodka and tomato juice. I smiled at their energetic discussion as they downed concoctions I’d never dream of consuming, put my headphones on and watched the clouds drift by below us.
An hour later, we touched down in Glasgow.
The men scrambled off the plane. They beamed at me as I went past. “Welcome to Scotland, lassie!”
I headed to the venue, registered, got some food, and took a seat. Everyone was already in groups, and I didn’t want to randomly walk up to strangers to introduce myself. I heard an interesting debate behind me, and turned around.
I recognised one of the faces – it was one of my online friends, who I’d never met in person, as we lived too far apart. Suddenly we were face to face on the other side of the UK.
My new friend and I ended up getting on like a house on fire. I got introduced to the people he was with, and we went to get coffee. ‘Oh my god, I’m making a right mess,’ he said, brushing crumbs down his shirt (and making it worse).
An hour later, we were on set, being prepped. The show would go live in 15 minutes, and the host was nervous. She kept stumbling over her words, checking her reflection. Before too long, she headed out back, muttering about changing her shoes.
‘I should think so, too, they’re horrendous,’ I heard someone comment.
‘Hi! How are you, so good to see you,’ the entire studio heard her say in the back room.
‘You’ve left yer mic on!’ one of the cameramen called. Abrupt silence. A few people sniggered.
Five minutes before showtime, she was back out, fresh makeup applied, shiny heels on (‘Much better,’ the voice commented) and a smile on her face.
‘Alright, here we go,’ one of the crew said, counting her down.
And we were live.
After the show, as I walked through the city with everyone, I remembered looking up at the stars and smiling. I was in Scotland. I’d been on BBC One. I’d made new friends. For the first time in what seemed like forever, I felt happy.
Then I shivered.
‘It’s friggin’ cold, man.’
‘You’re not kidding,’ my friend said. ‘I’d forgotten how freezing the North is.’
After a few hours in the local Wetherspoons, we decided to head back to our respective hotels. My friend and I soon realised we were the only two in the group staying in our hotel, so we started heading back.
It was 1am by this point, and we had to be ready for the car to take us to the airport at 5am.
‘Is there really any point in sleeping?’ we both wondered.
We went to a 24-hour newsagents and stocked up on energy drinks. Then we started walking back.
Before too long, we got lost.
We booked an Uber from outside Glasgow Central. On our way back, my friend looked anxiously at his phone screen, tracking our progress. ‘I don’t know if we’re close,’ he said.
‘Mate. Maybe you should stop looking at your phone and look out the window instead.’
We were outside.
We spent the next few hours watching films and drinking caffeine. I took a bath at 4am and fell asleep in it for a bit.
Suddenly, it was time to go home.
Once we got to the airport, everyone else dashed off. My flight was slightly later, so I bought a coffee and waited it out.
As I sat in the departures lounge, I noticed there was a Victoria’s Secret store a few metres away. I’d never usually go into one, but I had time to kill.
I went in and browsed. The perfumes were all so luxurious. I spotted one called Pure Seduction. Hah – I was running on empty, bags under my eyes, hair a total mess – I felt anything but seductive.
I sprayed it into the air and took a slow, deep breath in. It was sweeter than any perfume I’d ever worn. It was intense. Powerful. I’d never usually dream of wearing something so provocative.
Five minutes later, I was walking out of the shop, clutching a bag.
3 hours later, I was back home. After a much deserved nap, I woke up and spotted the bag lying on the floor. I smiled, and opened it. The perfume rolled into my hand.
I opened it and sprayed. I breathed in.
All of the memories came flooding back, more vividly than I could have imagined.
Whenever I want a pick-me-up, I spray the perfume I bought on a whim in the departures lounge at Glasgow Airport. Just one spritz triggers powerful memories of a time I felt happy, empowered and confident.
It’s all I need to bring those feelings back.
Do certain scents trigger memories for you?
Yes – and I use them when I need a pick me up
Sometimes, but it doesn’t trigger anything too powerful
Yes, certain perfumes remind me of holidays I’ve been on
No, I hate perfume
No, I hate smelling things
This sounds completely bizarre