I am two years old. I am looking up at my beloved grandmother (known as ‘Lally’), in her greenhouse. She takes my tiny hand and rubs it on a leaf of rose geranium, encouraging me to smell my fingers. I’m sure my eyes widened, and a smile broke out on my little face as I fell head over heels in love with smells, right there and then. Even now, when I squeeze a geranium leaf, the memory’s so vivid I can actually see the pattern on Lally’s dress. Ditto a whiff of tomato leaves, which she introduced me to on that same sniffing session – little knowing the path it would lead me down.
That greenhouse was a damp, cracked-paned, mossy space attached to the side of her kitchen, from which other glorious smells wafted almost constantly: a massive roast to feed 16 cousins, round-the-clock rock cakes (no sooner baked than eaten), crumble and vanilla-rich custard. I’m pretty sure I have my grandmother to thank for my love of aromas, though strangely I haven’t a clue what perfume she wore.
Later, my father – a globe-trotting journalist who liked to assuage any guilt at ‘abandoning’ his family by bringing home generous gifts from Duty Free – propelled me further down the path to becoming a perfumista, via gifts of Calèche, Calandre, Miss Dior, Dior Eau Fraîche and Chanel No.19: ridiculously sophisticated, for a 13-year-old, but the beginning of a wardrobe I’m still building today. I smell one of those, even now, and I can see my Dad smiling as he hands over his airport swag – always remembering to bring us a Toblerone, too.
And really, who needs a time machine, when you’ve scent in your life…?