The smell of virtue comes from a tin

On Good Friday, we visited family graves placing flowers.

Some of the stones and surround were in need of a clean. Dirt and lichens had obscured the names of the departed, so last Tuesday one of my sisters and I returned with soft brushes and Jeyes Fluid diluted in water.

The fluid was efficacious in revealing inscriptions I didn’t even realize were present on the stones. For the first time I saw the name of Stanley John Crossman, a grand uncle who died before I was born.

Jeyes Fluid will always be evocative of High Ham 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 set of smells to go with each season: the conkers from horse chestnut trees on the village green; the glue with which we stuck crepe paper to toilet roll tubes to make ‘candles’ at Christmas time; the coke carried in scuttles from the bunker to feed the pot-bellied stoves in the winter; the school milk from third of a pint bottles that had been left to warm; the scents from the school playing field as the county council tractor and mower cut stripes across the football pitch; the chlorine in the water of the swimming pool with blue plastic sides; the perspiration from kids in the area sports, 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?

One splash of the liquid and I can step back fifty years to the summer of 1972, my last term in primary school.

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2 Responses to The smell of virtue comes from a tin

  1. DiscoveredJoys says:

    When I was a lad my mother would walk me by the gas works if I had a cough or cold. The smell of creosote and coal tar is fiercely nostalgic, but now not available after town gas was replaced by natural gas.

    You can still get a whiff in some older smaller Wilkinson’s, but they are the ones that are being closed by the accountants.

    • Ian says:

      I used to love Wright’s Coal Tar Soap.

      I once had a summer job painting chicken houses with creosote. I spilled so much on myself I reckoned I would be weatherproofed for years to come.

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