“A piece of smoked cheese?”
I took the finger of cheese that was offered. It tasted of moments long ago.
Strong tastes went with childhood memories. Thickly coated toffee apples on wooden sticks, ginger snaps in paper bags, candy floss that left your face feeling sticky, bars of nougat that threatened to bind your teeth together: Long Sutton fair probably offered more by way of food than it did by way of funfair. The village green would have been filled to its capacity by dodgems, merry go round, swing boats and sideshows; the tastes confirmed that however small the fair might be, it was special to us.
In Lyme Regis, bags of cockles splashed with vinegar captured the saltiness of the Dorset coast. Bought from a van for a matter of pence, they went with walking the harbour wall and watching the solitary trawler unloading its day’s catch. There was always a breeze rattling the rigging of parked dinghies and always the sound of voices as people walked down the hill to the shore. Lyme Regis seems to have shrunk from the size it was in those distant years, but it has never lost its size in the memories of favourite places.
Battered sausages came from Tony’s Fish and Chip Shop in Somerton; there has never since been a sausage that could compete with those of forty years ago. Trips to Tony’s were a Friday evening thing; the whole weekend stretched ahead and the future was a place where anything might be possible. Fish and chips in our house must still come from Tony’s, my mother can taste if they are bought somewhere else. The smell as you unwrap the paper is enough to recover those Fridays past.
Golden Wonder Cheese and Onion crisps went with pints of real ale and laughter. They went with the buyer of the round returning from the bar and scattering bags among those seated around the table. The colour coding of the flavours allowed a grab for the green packet before it was gone. There was a hierarchy of taste: cheese and onion, salt and vinegar, ready salted. The passing years brought exotic variations, prawn cocktail, smokey bacon, roast chicken, but none ever had the capacity to recall the ease of student days when the world was a place without worry.
If smell is the sense that is most closely connected with memory, then taste runs it a close second.