School toilets and other smells

There is a new toilet block being built at school, a state of the art place. It will never smell like the toilets at our primary school in High Ham smelt in the 1960s. They smelt of Jeyes Fluid.

Jeyes Fluid always evokes images of High Ham Church of England Voluntary Controlled Primary School with its two classrooms divided by a corridor leading to the cloakroom. Infants to the right, juniors to the left; was there knowledge worth learning that was unknown to our teachers?

The school had a definite set of smells to go with each season: the conkers from horse chestnut trees on the village green in September; the glue with which we stuck crepe paper to toilet roll tubes to make “candles” in the week before the Christmas holidays each December; the coke carried in scuttles from the bunker to feed the pot-bellied stoves in the cold days that marked winter fifty years ago; the school milk from third of a pint bottles that had been left near the stove to warm; the scents from the school playing field as the county council tractor and mower cut stripes across the football pitch when the spring days returned; the chlorine in the water of the swimming pool with its blue plastic sides which was put up at the beginning of each summer term; the perspiration from kids in the Langport area junior sports, held each summer at Huish Episcopi, kids anxious not to let down our little school in competition against places hugely bigger than our own.  But amongst all the smells, none compares with the Jeyes Fluid.

Jeyes Fluid brings memories of cleanliness and memories of discipline.  It went with the toilets and the cloakroom, where you were not to be without permission. It was the smell of the school after everyone had gone home at the end of the day and the cleaning began; it was the scent you caught when arriving for a new day.  If it is possible for smell to have moral value, then Jeyes Fluid was the smell of virtuosity; it was the smell of hard work and strict instructions.

Are associations between smell and memory different for every person, or are there certain links that are unbreakable? Is there a generation for whom Jeyes Fluid will always be the smell of education? Are there still primary schools where it would be possible to step back fifty years? No school toilets today could have such a power.

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