(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson, of Glasgow – May 2021)
A look now at this week’s Smells of the Seventies Top Twelve.
Coming straight in at number 12, we have:
MILK MONITOR HANDS:
The primary school position of ‘milk monitor’ was one of honour. Only the trusted and well behaved were granted the privilege of carting the perpetually cold, heavy, milk bottle laden, metal crates around the numerous classrooms.
Being conferred this position of prestige effectively gave permission to skip class for a while each day. Result!
There was a downside though – there always is. When you returned to your classroom, milk round duties completed, and rested your weary head in your hands …..
Boak! Blech! Eeeuuuww!
The smell of sour milk is one that lingers. It would seep into the fabric of your clothing and you’d notice the kid in the next seat inching towards the edge of their desk. And retching.
Playtime couldn’t come fast enough and you’d rush to the toilets and wash your hands clean. But a state of freshness is only a state of utopia.
The combined scent of sour milk and carbolic soap is not the most attractive.
Jumping three places from last week’s number 14, is:
FRESHLY CUT GRASS:
Not only back in the day, but even now, this is the smell of freedom.
On hot summer days at primary school, we’d often be taken outside for lessons. No matter the subject, the grassy aroma would relax the mind and even a half hour discussion on Oliver Cromwell became bearable.
At secondary school, balmy summer breezes would waft the fragrant scent into the science labs through the opened fanlight windows. Accompanied by the muffled sound of a tractor pulling the grass cutter, it hinted towards the end of term.
It was a time of change: the football pitch was being shorn, soon to be lined as a six lane athletics track; national grade exams beckoned; summer holidays were around the corner.
The smell of freshly cut grass meant exciting times ahead.
Falling from a peak position of 8, this week’s number 10 is:
I still have no idea why these sweets were so popular. Perhaps because they were cheap?
From Swizzel, the makers of Fizzers (which were decent sweets) Parma violets were / are hard sweets based on some aniseed based confectionery in India which are used to freshen the mouth after a spicy meal.
The smell of violets may be a half decent base for perfume, or toilet cleaner, but surely not for human breath?
I mean, I love the smell of garlic, but I’m not so sure it should be used as a mouth-wash.
Making a bit splash this week we have a joint number 9:
CHARLIE / BRUT 33:
In 1973, Faberge launched their ‘33’ everyday cologne. In the same year, Revlon launched their ‘sharp flowery’ fragrance, ‘Charlie.’
I know both are now regarded with a little bit disdain; as ’cheap.’ And certainly the Brut 33 splash-on gave that impression, coming as it did in a plastic bottle no less.
However, for naïve young schoolkids, living on paper round and baby-sitting incomes, these fragrances met our budgets while making us feel sophisticated; classy.
I very much doubt there were any dates between school pupils that didn’t involve a dab or two of either these scents.
Henry Cooper / Barry Sheene and Shelley Hack can feel well pleased with their influence on the match-making process.
Coming from nowhere, at 8 with a bullet, we have:
No – not the little peaked efforts we sometimes wore to primary school – these caps.
Principally for using in toy guns, we would stamp on them to ignite the tiny dots of what we always believed to be gunpowder. However, I think I’m right in saying old fashioned gunpowder is not shock sensitive and has to be ignited. So it may be a mercury based compound that actually forms the black dot on the roll of paper. (Who says I didn’t pay attention in Chemistry class?)
Anyway – who gives a tu’upenny one for the science? We’d place lines of these on the inner ledge of our school desk and brusquely bring down the lid to create an almighty (as we heard it) bang.
The residual smell of spent gunpowder or whatever, and burnt paper was just tops! It was also exciting as we felt we were doing something just that wee bit naughty.
Making its annual assault on the charts and debuting this week at number 7, it’s, erm, comic annuals.
ANNUALS AT CHRISTMAS:
Every Christmas night, I’d head to bed with several new ‘annuals’ as reading material. Excited as I was to read the exploits of Alf Tupper (Tough of the Track) or Desperate Dan, my abiding memory of childhood Christmases, is the smell of these books.
I have to confess, that even at the age of sixty-two, I attract some weird looks from shoppers in Asda through the month of December, as with the books close to my face, I fan through the pages of the Beano / Dandy annuals.
With a ‘tree-mendous’ jump of fourteen places to number 6 this week, we have:
Back in the day before plastic was invented (well, almost) we always had real Christmas trees.
There is nothing in this world, I’m quite certain, can evoke such sense of sheer excitement in a young kid than the smell that permeates home when a real Christmas tree is placed in the corner of the living room.
Falling two places to number 5 after an amazing thirty-three weeks in the charts, is:
‘WET’ SCHOOL LUNCHES:
Every day, by playtime, (or was it ‘break’ when we were at secondary school?) you could tell what would be on the menu for lunch.
My heart would sink when I could detect the putrid odour of a ‘wet’ lunch. Invariably, these would be ‘wet’ days weather wise as well; days when the dining room windows would run rivers of condensation.
A ‘wet’ lunch could be expected when the stench of stewed cabbage would mingle with the cheap, Bisto substitute gravy used to smother the rather odious looking beef olives.
There would be no silver lining either, as in general, the Head of Kitchen would dictate it be better to get all the crap out in one go, and subject us to pink custard (Devil’s Spew) and prunes for desert.
Where there’s a Ying, there’s a Yang, and making a comeback at this week’s number 4, is:
‘DRY’ SCHOOL LUNCHES:
Ah! Now you’re talking. There was something so comforting when from the sanctuary of the bike shed opposite the kitchen, you could smell the roast of breadcrumbs on chicken or fish fingers, and chips deep fried in blocks of melted lard.
You could also bet your treasured Lynyrd Skynyrd album on there being rhubarb crumble and custard on offer for second course.
Matching Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ album for continuous weeks on the chart and remaining this week at number 3, comes:
DOG POO ON YOUR SHOE:
Maybe, as a society, we are better educated these days. Or maybe dogs are genetically just constipated now. But there’s thankfully not as much dog dirt lying in the streets these days.
There was nothing worse than the smell that followed you home when you’d stepped in a pile of poo hidden in a tuft of grass. I’m sure we’ve all been there.
Or worse, if you’d perfected a slide tackle while playing football, only to ….. well, you know. Yeuch!
Having it ingrained in the tread of you bike tyre was no fun either. More so if it were the front one. Think.
Going around and around in the chart is this week’s number 2, climbing again after a steady fall in recent times:
GOLDFISH BOWL / TADPOLE JAR:
How many of us pestered our parents for a goldfish when we were young? Or ‘won’ a sad little specimen in a poly bag when the carnival came to town?
Our parents, realising how lucky they were we’d not asked for a pony, or even a dog, jumped right on their good fortune and readily agreed … on the condition you looked after it.
“It’ll teach junior about life and death and responsibility” they stupidly thought.
Yeah – that went well … for all of about a week, until the magnitude off the task took its toll. What? Clean out its bowl as well as feed it? Every four days? Why is that water cloudy/ Where is Goldie? What are these wee stringy bits of stuff suspended mid bowl? What’s that Goddamned smell for crying out loud?!
The same, though worse, would happen with the tadpole jar.
You’d plead to be allowed to keep the frog spawn you’d shovelled into an outsize and cleaned out malt jar.
“It’ll teach junior about life and evolution and transformation and responsibility” your parents stupidly thought.
Wow! Did that jar severely honk! Worse still – when the spawn had released tadpoles, and the tadpoles grew wee legs, they had to be transferred into a basin of sorts. With rocks, and weeds and stuff.
After that, you couldn’t really change the water. So while the little frogs developed, the water became stagnant. And stank to high heaven.
And nobody would come play with you unless their name combined the words David and Attenborough.
We have new Number One this week … and it’s getting personal, not ‘arf! PERNOD & LEMONADE:
Summer 1976. I’d just left school and had a job lined up in Banking. It was time to celebrate – time to get away and let my hair down. (I did have some, back then.)
It had been decided I wasn’t clever enough at Maths and Physics to go to University, so this would be my ‘gap week.’ Off I headed for a caravan in St Andrews with several pals.
You know, I casually say, ‘several pals,’ because in truth, the week is a total haze and I can recall only my mates Derek, Graham and Kenny being there. Jack may also have been. But I honestly can’t remember much at all, which is quite scary.
(I do recall coming back from the pub one night and throwing bits of bread onto the roof of a neighbouring caravan so the occupants would be awakened the following morning by hungry seagulls pecking the crusts above them.)
The only other recollection I have is of a night on Pernod and lemonade. Or rather, I recollect the next morning! And afternoon! And evening! And the next morning again!
I don’t think I’ve ever been so ill.
To this day, I cannot stand the smell of Pernod. If somebody close by drinks it, I have to move away.
It’s Smells of the Seventies …
It’s Number One …
It’s Pernod & Lemonade.
Until next time. …