Supermarkets know only too well how important our sense of smell is. You only have to walk through the entrance and be greeted by the smell of freshly cooked bread to know just how effective and powerful this sense is. Neuro-scientists have discovered how smell as well as sight and touch are the senses most connected to real memory recollection, and yet it is one of our most underused senses. Think about the toys in the average toy cupboard and activities in an average home and it’s clear that our visual and auditory senses receive a lot more stimulation than smell.

Over the Easter weekend I had a potent reminder of just how powerful smell is in shaping and accessing memories. With children peppered in angry mosquito bites and no calamine lotion in the house, my little boy and I set out for the local supermarket on Easter Sunday to buy some anti-itching medicine. Having picked one of the few days of the year when the supermarket wasn’t open we searched in vain in a local shop (the emergency chemist had yet to open) and stumbled across good old TCP – perfect for bites and stings. At home we unscrewed the lid of the cool glass bottle and the pungent smell of the past hit me full between the eyes.

The smell that I don’t believe I’ve experienced since school, propelled me back to my childhood and painful memories of scraped knees and sore throats. Only in that moment of smelling the strong and acrid bacon-like liquid, did I realise that the medicine that had made me sick from gargling and cry with anticipation when teased by my brothers, was in fact TCP. Proof enough for me of the power of the nose, although I must say give me the smell of toasted hot-cross buns and melted butter any day! My children too, had gathered round to eagerly smell the medicine – presuming perhaps that it would be some fruity sweet concoction – like most children’s medicine seems to be. Having forgotten myself the smell, I didn’t warn them to keep their distance and so they too reeled with surprise, forever forging the smell of TCP within their memories. So in 20 years time it may be a case of history repeating itself – although with bites soothed, this time the smell will hopefully make them smile!

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