Evocative Smells

I haven’t given myself the easiest topic this time! How on earth am I going to convey smells to my readers?

This has come about following a recent conversation I had with a friend. We were talking about Ponds face creams. It turns out that we both had grandmothers who used to use Ponds. Suddenly we were recalling the size and shape of the pots, the colour of the lids and the distinctive smell which we found we could conjure up in our minds and which would forever remind us of our grandmothers.

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Nivea was the cream of choice in our family. Mum always had a tin in the house and in winter she would rub it into our cheeks and hands before we walked to school to stop the cold air drying our skin out. In summer it was rubbed into skin which had burned in the sun – back in the 50s, people didn’t know how much damage the sun can cause. Some households favoured Astral over Nivea. Both creams are still widely available here and both have distinctive smells which can transport people right back to their childhoods.

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Milky bedtime drinks were an important part of life in the 1950s. In those post-war years, when food rationing had only just finished, they were looked on as cheap, filling and nutritious. Cocoa and drinking chocolate were popular and are still enjoyed by many children. The two non-chocolate drinks which had their own distinctive smells were Horlicks and Ovaltine. If I were to smell either of those again I would instantly be under twelve, wearing flannelette pyjamas and sitting in front of a coal fire.

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Perfumes are big business nowadays. There is a bewildering selection available, new ones are being released every year and if you’re a celebrity the chances are that you have one with your name on it. Back in my childhood, the main perfumes or ‘scents’ as we called them were floral in name and nature. There were others available, which were the more expensive ones, and some are still around today – L’Aimant, L’Air du Temps, White Fire etc. But the average mum, grandma, teenage girl used a floral one. If I were to smell Devon Violets now I would be back in my mum’s bedroom reaching up onto her dressing table to sniff her scents and creams. Lavender water and Lily of the Valley were also very popular.

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Back in the 1950s, deodorants were not widely used. I remember my mum using one called Odor-O-No but many people still relied on strong-smelling soaps and talcum powder. The soaps I remember with memory-evoking smells were Wright’s Coal Tar Soap, Lifebuoy, Imperial Leather and Pears. Imperial Leather and Pears are still sold but nowadays you have look hard to find the section of the supermarket selling bars of soap as squirty soap and shower gels have taken over.

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Tinned soups are still around, they are definitely not a thing of the past, but if I were to heat up a tin of Heinz Cream of Tomato soup now I would be straight back in my childhood. Tinned foods were in their infancy in the 1950s and as there were so few labour-saving devices around and very few fridges and freezers, tinned soups must have been a delight for the average ‘housewife’ – as they were called then!

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As before, I would like to say that images used are freely available on the Internet via Google Images. If anyone objects to my use of an image please contact me and I will remove it.

 

 

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Perfume – or Scent as we called it then.

First of all, I want to say that I love perfume so the research for this post has been very enjoyable. I feel undressed without a hint of perfume about me, however subtle. I have been known to ask perfect strangers what perfume they’re wearing when I smell one I like on them.

Secondly, my friend Sue suggested this topic to me. Unfortunately, Sue is anosmic so has no sense of smell whatsoever, although she is able to remember the smells she used to like before losing the ability to smell them.

Here are a few quotes about perfume:

A woman’s perfume tells more about her than her handwriting. — Christian Dior

Perfume is the key to our memories. — The Perfume Garden

What do I wear to bed? Why, Chanel No. 5 of course. — Marilyn Monroe

Long after one has forgotten what a woman wore, the memory of her perfume lingers. — Christian Dior.

So, getting back to the 1950s and 60s. When I was a child we knew it as scent, not perfume or fragrance. It usually came in tiny bottles and was dabbed out direct from the bottle onto the skin. Always behind the ears and on the inside of the wrists. From being very young I was always intrigued by perfumes. Top of the range perfumes were around at that time – Chanel, Dior, Estee Lauder and Guerlain, for example. But none of the mums and aunts I knew in the 50s wore any of those. I’m sure they weren’t sold in your average small town Boots or chemist’s shop. So this is my own memory of perfume in the 50s, not a definitive history.

Many perfumes were simply flower perfumes. Probably one of the first I ever owned was a little bottle of Devon Violets bought in Devon with holiday spending money. Then there was Apple Blossom, English Lavender, Lily of the Valley (Muguet des Bois if you were feeling posh!) and various rose perfumes.

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There was also something known just as eau de cologne. I believe the one known as ‘the original eau de cologne’ is the famous 4711 which I didn’t come across until the 1970s. The non-specific eau de cologne I remember was splashed around by ladies in hot weather, dotted onto cotton hankies and dabbed on the temples if one had a headache.

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For going out, (which my mum and dad didn’t do very often!) my mum’s ‘best’ perfume was White Fire. If I smelled that now it would take me right back to my mum getting ready in a pretty 50s full-skirted dance dress, a stole and dabbing scent from her tiny bottle of White Fire. I have looked it up and it was made by Grossmith. They still make perfume and at some point there was talk of White Fire being re-released but as far as I can see it hasn’t been.

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The other ‘best’ perfume I remember my mum having in the 1950s was Evening in Paris which sounded so glamorous to me!

As children, we loved making perfume in the summer. We would gather up rose petals, crush them in water with a little salt then decant the resulting ‘perfume’ into old aspirin bottles or whatever we could find that was available. This was given as presents to our mum, our grandmothers and various other relatives – and was probably vile!

Moving on the men’s fragrances now and the one which springs straight to mind is Old Spice. Looking up the history of aftershave when researching for this post, I learned that aftershave began as an antiseptic to prevent nicks and cuts becoming infected, progressed to include skin calming ingredients to ease the sting of freshly shaved skin, then was enhanced by the use of perfume. Old Spice was launched in 1937 – as a women’s fragrance. Old Spice for Men arrived the following year.

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However, this blog is based on personal recollection and it seems to me that when TVs and TV advertising entered our homes men were suddenly exposed to ads for Old Spice aftershave featuring impossibly hunky men and rugged sailing ships. I know that in our house it was only after seeing the ads that we started buying our dad aftershave for birthdays or Christmas. I can also remember us thinking we were extremely modern when we bought our dad some pre-electric shave lotion when he acquired his first electric razor.

I will probably write a Part 2 at some point and talk about some of the new fragrances which came out in the 1960s.