Sunday, 8 December 2013

A Friend of the family

It’s funny peculiar what memories can be cast up by a smell. I don’t often get a whiff of paraffin these days but when I do I’m straight back to my great-aunt’s house and the little paraffin heaters she liked to have all over the house and which the family was convinced would one day set the place on fire. Thankfully that didn’t happen.

Does anyone use smelling salts now? Great-Aunt had a bottle lying around which I, aged about eight, made the mistake of putting very close to my nose. Ouch. It wasn’t a mistake I made again.

The old house was damp, now a rare occurrence in the days of central heating and damp courses, but that unmistakable musty smell again evokes our visits.

There were good smells too – Scotch broth on the cooker, scones in the oven. Sweeties: a bag of peppermints, ‘bachelors’ buttons’ she called them, and packets of butterscotch for us children. In the once-beautiful garden, overgrown since Great-Uncle died, fragrant roses, peppery lupins and honeysuckle intertwined, and there was a catnip plant by the front door.

We didn’t live nearby but visited every three months or so. So there were always at least twelve copies of The People’s Friend for me to catch up on, which I did crouched over a pile of them on the sitting-room floor. I didn’t read the grown-up stories though, just the children’s pages with The Adventures of Will and Wag (time has not moved on for them – the lads are still having fun) and competitions – once I won a manicure set for being able to name seven different kinds of dog.

Great-Aunt had been a reader of The PF for many years. As a girl herself my mother had spent a lot of time with her aunt and joined her in avidly following the serials. Once, when an afternoon tea-party was in progress, the company including the minister’s wife, Great-Aunt was apparently mortified when Mum, who’d taken delivery of the magazine from the paper boy, burst in to announce a dramatic plot development.

I so wish that both of them could have known that I had a serial in The PF and am writing another; that this week I am delighted to have an article in the 7500th issue (about a visit to Orchard House in Massachusetts where Louisa M Alcott wrote Little Women); and that the week after next my twelfth story for the magazine will be published, a Christmas tale set in the 1960s called A Little Give and Take.

Perhaps, in the great scented garden in the sky, my mother and great-aunt will read it. Whether they will think it worth interrupting a tea-party over is another matter.


  1. What a lovely evocative post, Kate - I'm sure both would be very proud of your stories for the People's Friend.

  2. These are all wonderful memories, Kate. The smell of furniture polish always takes me back to my grandmothers house. I find sounds evocative too... like the ticking of a grandfather clock.

  3. Lovely, Kate!

  4. Thank you, all. Wendy, I'll think about sounds now!