The first smell that says spring has come?
The smell of fuel from a boat’s engine as you walk the harbour wall?
The smell of new mown grass from a lawn receiving its first cut in the lengthening days?
The faint scent of pale blossom after a cold winter?
No, none of those.
The first confirmation that the suspicion of spring is confirmed is the smell of Jeyes Fluid as I am sent out to brush the yard. The pungent aroma of the black liquid fills the nose and makes the eyes water; it is unrivalled in removing the greenness of winter dampness. The sound of BBC Radio 5 brings news from Villa Park, but the commentary is no more than a background noise to a sequence of memories.
Has Jeyes Fluid been around so long?
It evokes images 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.
Applying the stiff bristled yard brush to moss that had grown in cracks between the cobbles, I wondered how many people would have thought similar thoughts if they had been sent out to brush the yard with a bucket of water and a tin of the thick dark liquid. Are associations between smell and memory different for every person, or are there certain links that are unbreakable?
Our school teacher would have frowned and shaken her head. She would have pointed to bits of the yard that could have been brushed a bit better; but that’s nothing new, there are lots of things I could do a bit better.