"let your boat of life be light, packed with only
what you need - a homely home and simple pleasures, someone to love and someone to love you,
enough to eat and enough to wear
and a little more than enough to drink:
for thirst is a dangerous thing"

Thursday, 23 June 2011

smells and memories

a while back dalene and i were taking a walk together on a cold and crisp night.  on getting back to her front gate we both took a deep breath and sniffed and at the same time said "it smells like johannesburg".  when dalene was about 7 my mom, dalene and i moved to johannesburg for a couple of months because our doctor had told my mom that dalene would not be able to survive another wet cape town winter.  the previous year she had had such bad bronchitis and pneumonia that my mom had taken her off to a farm in the karoo called "melton wold" for a couple of months.
melton wold
 wonderful place near victoria west

the next winter started and dalene was no better so a move with me this time, to johannesburg, where we could both attend school took place.  my mom had family there and we moved into a boarding house of sorts close by to where they lived.  neither of us had been exposed to the icy, dry, cold of a johannesburg winter and every house had fires or anthracite heaters burning.  to this day the smell of coal or anthracite burning in cape town always brings back those memories of a school term spent in johannesburg to both of us.  this was not a particularly happy smell but it does evoke lots of memories.

the "smell" of johannesburg in the late '60's

a happier smell for me is the smell of old spice.  why don't men wear that aftershave anymore?  it reminds me so much of my grandfather.  when i was young i used to sit on the toilet (closed) and watch my grandfather shave.  it was a fascinating ritual.  he had this tub of soap in a cup and a bristle brush.  he would make so much lather and always give me a dollop on the nose or cheek.  years and years later when he used to babysit gareth for me 2 mornings a week gareth was also shown his ritual (not sure why he always shaved at odd times).  anyway gareth was very honoured to be given his old red bristle bush.  for years it was in our bathroom at parry road and even moved to albion road with us (wonder where it is now?).

my one grandmother "granny carlson" wore elizabeth arden's blue grass.  i was walking through woolworths the other day and saw it on the shelves and could not resist a spray.  still definitely my "granny carlson smell" and brings back memories of her neat flat in kenilworth and tidy cupboards (she kept her shoes in the boxes and her jerseys in zipper bags). but sorry granny carlson i headed back to the office and had to wash it off my wrist.  there are not many perfumes that i can wear because as soon as they hang around my nose for too long, i start feeling sick.  no offence (that is just me).

my other granny "granny housego" was the homely one.  i don't think she bothered much with blue grass and tidy cupboards.  her home was filled with those ducks that fly up the stippled walls, like these:-

(amazing what you can google).  i think this was her set.  i remember that the one in the middle always looked frightened. she had lots of glass ball-and-claw display cabinets but when you visited her you spent time in the kitchen around her formica table.  

around this table she would tell you stories while she cooked or washed up.  she made up the best stories about fairies who drank dewdrops and used your teardrops to cook their rice, also about forests and houses inside old trees (and she would do her best to make dalene, my 2 girl cousins and i cry).  she did it so well though, she got us all to the point that the tears were filling our eyes and then she made everything alright with a couple of happy words.  her kitchen was always full of people, lots of steam and good smells.  the smell that reminds me of her is the smell of vanilla custard (she made it the proper way) and which she served in a jug just like this one:-

after "granny housego" (house-E-go) died my aunt asked me to come around and take anything i wanted.  at the time there were only a couple of photographs that i wanted (who in their right mind would want those ducks and cracked old jug).  now sitting here looking at those ducks and the jug i wish that i could have them in my kitchen (yes, the ducks too).  i also wish that i one day i will have my grandchildren around the kitchen table while i cooked and told them stories to make them cry.


  1. Oh - sweet man, ja, all those retro things are huge!!! Will look out for some old ducks for you...xx

  2. I am also taken down memory lane most often via smells. I remember my first trip to South Africa and meeting Stephen's family for the firts time at Skukuza Airport whenever I use the shampoo I used on that trip!

  3. SCM must be staci!!! hi, how are you? thought that you would be back in the skukuza area with the family? hopefully a visit to cape town soon?