To eulogize the dead past

I don’t know what possessed me after my shower this morning, but I went to the bathroom cupboard and squeezed a spray of Tweed perfume onto my wrists and the nape of my neck. From a bottle that has stood half empty these past several years. 

A yearning to go back in time perhaps to the days when I wore Tweed often. An old-fashioned scent and harder to come by than ever before, hidden among the cheap perfume casts offs at Priceline. 

Probably only crazy old folks like me still wear Tweed along with the likes of Charlie and Opium, those scents from the seventies and eighties, that I once loved.

 They remind me of my younger days. The Tweed as far back as my childhood. 

I remember an advertisement from Women’s Weekly or some such, where a Cary Grant look alike walks past an unknown woman, hair pulled back tight in a black bun from her white forehead, and her shoulders covered in a cream coloured trench coat. 

Each walks past the other in opposite directions, and he, with a smile on his face, turns back to speak to her.

She turns back to listen, 

‘Aren’t you wearing Tweed? The speech bubble above the man’s head reads. And she responds with an enigmatic smile.

When I was a child this struck me as the most romantic recognition ever. Man meets woman across a waft of perfume.

These days I see it as plain old creepy. The patriarchy at work.

How times change? Even so, my desire to wear Tweed prevailed throughout my thirties and forties and even into my fifties. 

My signature scent.  If anything, I liked to be consistent. 

More recently, I’ve met a woman who travels under the weight of a different perfume. You can smell her coming towards you. In an understated way. And her car reeks of patchouli, lavender, a mix of mint and rose. 

She uses natural oils, she tells me, mixed fresh from individual essences every morning, and excludes anything commercial or manufactured. 

We went on a writing retreat together and spent time exploring the products available at Dindi Naturals in a place called Yarck. 

Why not smell of the natural earth if you must smell of anything at all, beyond your own natural perfume, of human body, preferably washed recently enough? 

So, I pushed my Tweed to the back of the cupboard till this morning when an ear worm in my head, worked its way into my consciousness during the shower.

Gilbert O’Sullivan, ‘Alone again, naturally’ pitched me back to the days when a man sang of his grief and suicidality, after being jilted at the altar. 

The thought left me longing for the good old days when things seemed simpler.

Don’t get me wrong. The idea of a such a time is a fantasy only. The good old days were every bit as complicated as today, only they can seem simpler with the benefit of hindsight, and our tendency to eulogize the dead past. 

If I knew then what I know now, I’d do it differently. Avoid the same mistakes. 

And I might never have taken to wearing Tweed, if I can blame Tweed for anything.

As a then non-smoker, I might not have been seduced at the sight of my husband, before he was my husband, smoking Gitane cigarettes and thinking to myself at the ripe old age of twenty-three that it looked cool. 

It took until my first pregnancy to give up and even though I still dream of smoking cigarettes and once held onto the idea that if a Gilbert O’Sullivan moment hit me, I could always take up smoking again.

I have not smoked these past 37 years and I doubt I will ever take it up again. 

But unlike some reformed smokers who can’t abide the fact there are those who continue this habit, I enjoy a vicarious whiff of smoke whenever I walk past a smoker. 

The memory of how it felt when I inhaled that long draft into my lungs and the adrenalin pull of pleasure it gave me with its false sense of clarity.

Even as, at the time I also believed I was turning my pink lungs into a red bloody black akin to my father’s lungs, the way they were when he died after several decades of smoking three packets a day, Craven A filter tipped. That was, until emphysema stopped him in his tracks. 

They say you can shed the effects of smoking from your body if you give up soon enough, but the memories hang in there. 

Now when I pass a smoker and catch a whiff, I breathe it in like a secret I must not let out.

My longing to return.

My mind thrills to the synchronicity of the good, bad and downright smelly, in these links  between a whiff of Tweed and that Cary Grant moment of misogyny with cigarette smoke and blackened lungs. 

And Gilbert O’Sullivan is still alive it seems, and despite being ditched at the altar in his song. It looks like he’s happily enough married with at least two daughters, or so Google tells me from a Japanese you tube clip of yesteryear. 

The song is fictional, too. Though better to believe it’s true.  

It feeds our empathic response. Mostly.  

And I’m still wearing tweed, still dreaming of smoking cigarettes and caring less and less about the after effects of my smell. 

4 thoughts on “To eulogize the dead past”

  1. for me eau sauvage and then issey misaki. i wonder if i can still buy either. i use my partner’s surplus bottles now.

    i too love the smell of smoke. they must be naughty and interesting and i have never kissed a smoker who had bad breath, just a nice smoky flavour.

    how good to live in the time of elegantly holding a sobranie between your fingers.

    how old was your father when he died?

  2. My father died when he was 65, Andrew. Not good innings by todays standards but given his life style, childhood and war trauma along with all those cigarettes, it’s no surprise. It’s funny that some of us continue to enjoy that which we know is not good for us. still i prefer a little decadence to the straitlaced life. Thanks, Andrew.

  3. “Nostalgia—sounds like an ailment, a sickness of the soul perhaps.” I wrote that about half a life ago, half a life-so-far that is, not that I hadn’t started to look back with longing to the sixties and seventies even then. I’ve mixed feeling about the past. I think what I miss is feeling present in the present, relishing the nowness of life. Not that that had always been the case. As a child I spent a fair amount of time looking forward to an imaginary future where I’d be free of all the things that burdened me on a daily basis not realising the freedom I longed for would bring its own burdens and that’s what growing up entailed, a swapping of burdens.

    I remember Tweed. I have a clear-ish memory of picking up a bottle in Arnotts in Irvine. Not sure who I was looking to buy it for or even if I wound up purchasing it but I do remember even then feeling a certain nostalgia for the perfume; it apparently dates back to the mid-twenties. I don’t recall my mother ever wearing perfume nor did my father buy aftershave. I have a vague recollection of splashing on Hai Karate when I first started shaving but I was never fond of the smell…of any of them; they’re all so pungent. My second wife wore Aromatics Elixir which Clinique’s site describes as an “[i]ntriguing non-conformist fragrance.” Strain as I might I can’t remember the odour. Nor can I remember what the Aramis she bought for me was like.

    I was never a smoker though. Oh, I bought cigarettes, cigars and I even had a pipe for a time but I was never a smoker. For starters I never inhaled. I never realised you were supposed to! I mean, why would you? I did what I saw others do or at least what I thought they were doing and enjoyed feeling rebellious because that was really the only reason to do it because, like drinking, it was horrible. I think I might’ve enjoyed vaping when I was young—have you SEEN all the flavours there’re out there?—but I’ve no interest now. Nothing to rebel against.

    1. Nothing to rebel against, Jim? Lucky you. To me there are so many things. I can still conjure up the smell of Aramis, one that my husband sometimes wears. And therefore evocative for me. For he rst nostalgia is a sensation that I sometimes enjoy but don’t dwell in for too long. Thanks, Jim.

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