My scent of the days is 4160 Tuesday’s Rhubarb & Custard.
It smells like…………rhubarb and custard. But not only the classic British pudding, which I love and sometimes viscerally miss – especially rhubarb crumble and custard, a classic ending to a Sunday dinner when you are so full you just want to collapse onto the sofa and listen to the birds sing from the garden,
but also, and for me just as delicious (this morning, after randomly reaching out for this perfume from my futon, I found myself badly craving confectionery – there has just been far too much healthy home made cooking going on recently) the boiled sweets you get in a crumpled white paper bag filled with sugar coated hard boiled loveliness that were always my favourite when you got them after school at the sweet shop in the newsagents at Dovehouse Lane.
Oh my god I used to love these. Lemon bonbons too. And I quite liked Kola Kubes, even if there was something rather odd about them (that I kept coming back to). Chocolate limes somehow repelled me, the way the clashing liquid chocolate interior melted into the crunchiness of the coloured citrus in a way that I knew wasn’t right, and dad was always all alone with his blackcurrant liquorice, barley sugars, and striped humbugs, which only he liked.
I loved the tartness and milkiness of Rhubarb and Custards. The contrast between the acidic fruit taste (my grandmother Ivy always bought me hard boiled sour cherry sweets as well which I loved equally : I would eat a whole packet in one go until the roof of my red mouth actually hurt) – and the vanilla custard flavouring, packed around it dusted with smashed tiny icicles of confectioner’s sugar.
One spray of Sarah McCartney’s tender childhood gourmand brought all of this rushing back this morning. This very likeable and easygoing scent convincingly captures both the dessert, with real fruit, and the sweets, though as the composition tilts into a simple warm vanilla, the acerbic tang of the rhubarb gradually fades (if never completely), leaving you with a sweet, nuzzly array. Today I find all this enormously comforting.
It is strange when you think back to those times when your world was so much smaller. And yet looming equally huge. A small being, growing up, with terrors and excitements, the immensity of sensation and uncovered feelings; the delights of simple pleasures; the fastening on to what you knew you definitely liked; the things that defined you.
And things like a bag of sweets – in America you would say candy I think – were so exciting. You would daydream at the back of the classroom just thinking about the moment the bell would go and you could get out of school; take the 893 bus, your goal only your Rhubarb & Custard, or the Double Decker or Milky Way or Refreshers chews (my goodness I loved those as well; chewy fizzly things with a great dollop of sherbet in the centre that made your mouth pop – I would arrive home alive and effervescent dying to watch TV and put off my homework as long as humanly possible). I would walk down Dovehouse Lane, linger, past Gwen’s house if we were walking home together; sometimes dawdle via Helen’s down Bourton Road, and then after a while after a mug of tea at hers go round the corner and down the road past Owen’s, then Julianne’s, then turn round the corner again and eventually get home to number 51: all with the pleasantly tired afterfeeling from school and the lingering sugar taste of whatever confectionery I had just been eating and savouring immensely (as though, at that moment, your world was nothing more than the ever disappearing sweets at the bottom of the paper bag; sugared sheddings adorning the inside as you pudged down your finger to access the sorry last one; eat every crystal.)…… It is amazing for me to remember all these memories again, today; as adults we eat and enjoy so many things ( I can still go into a slightly religious trance eating chocolate), but it is not quite the same – that time when your entire world was perfectly concentrated in one, adrenalizing, single sugar rush.
D reminded me also this morning of this, which I had somehow forgotten in the brainless sands of time. Roobarb & Custard was also the name of a TV programme, a cartoon that was shown five minutes every night just before the news.
Watching the intro music just now
just plunged me down a rabbit hole of deep remembrance, the zoingy moog squelch of the buzzsawing main theme: wow: I can see myself as a five year old – or was it older? – sat goggle eyed in front of the screen on the carpet in front of the fireplace when it was on, ravenous for dinner; the travails of a green dog and a pink cat, and a narrator posher than I remember – the name of the cartoon obviously referencing the old fashioned traditional dessert that some people dreaded having to eat after their main meal on Sunday but which I basically loved (my mum grew a lot of rhubarb down the garden as a lot of people do, along with runner beans and sweet peas : how I loved those flowers’ delicate, refined scent); and the smell of the gorgeously sour magenta and green stems bubbling up with sugar as they were boiled in a saucepan, filling up the whole house, is a memory I have very vividly but also want to experience in person again this summer. I love rhubarb – as does D – and it is something that you can only buy on import here in Japan as a gourmet item in louche supermarkets; tiny stalks wrapped up in cellophane for petite experiments with foreign ingredients in expensive restaurants (although some farmers’ markets have started selling it in certain places). Still, it is not a well known fruit – so it is possible that perfumes like Hermès’ Rhubarbe Ecarlate, a chic approximating of the fruit in a stringent grapefruity atmosphere of Parisian cologne that I think is quite nice might be appreciated for its smell but not ring any particular rhubarbian bells in those Japanese perfumer wearers who may try it. Aedes De Venustas’ austere take on rhubarb similarly has a velveteen, woody deep gravitas that I also quite like but it does not quite fit my personal, more down to earth associations with the fruit. Comme Des Garçons Sherbet Rhubarb is much better in that regard – I like its upbeatness. On a whim I recently, in Italy, bought L’Erbolario’s Rabarbaro for Duncan : a rhubarb-centred fresh summer cologne that smells like a more purpled and fruit tinged Kenzo Pour Homme, but which will most definitely be best enjoyed when the weather gets much hotter. For today, if we are talking rhubarb (and we most definitely are), then 4160’s Rhubarb and Custard gets the pink and yellow Sports Day rosette.
Going back to rhubarb and custard (sorry, I have nothing else to do today), the fruit ladled in with the English tinned version of crème anglaise – almost all households that I knew of made their custard from a powdered packet, or else you had cans of Ambrosia, which I loved and would sometimes steal a can of and eat cold with a spoon from the direct source upstairs in my bedroom; also their delectable cold rice pudding: heaven! —— musing on this hot, regular pudding this morning it also brought back memories of personal domestic irritations and niggling bȇtes noires. We all have them: I read yesterday that since the quarantine has been lifted in Hubei province and other places, the law courts have been flooded with files for divorce from couples finding that they simply couldn’t tolerate living with each other all day in cramped spaces with nothing to do but stare into their computer screens trying to avoid each other and won’t take it a single minute longer ; the suffocation of warm, heated interiors and net curtains peeping outside for other signs of life; the smell of the grill; the annoying little foibles of other people that drive us crazy even when we don’t know why; those that make you grit your teeth or shout out loud to just stop it; family flare ups over pittances that can turn into full scale domestic armageddons.
One of mine was definitely the un-kosher mixing of the rhubarb crumble and custard together. I can’t remember which people in my family, as we sat gathered round, committed this grave tabletime sin – I know I tried it a couple of times myself and then couldn’t eat it; I think others did it voluptuously just to spite me but it made me sick. And still does. In one whirl of the spoon my world is ruined. I like to keep these things separate. To enjoy as mutual complements. I can’t stand it when Duncan stirs his cappuccino too much either – the tinny spoon continuously tapping the side of the cup really puts my teeth on edge, as does any scraping on earthenware or stoneware pots and dishes ( I die internally); or when he folds foods into each other on the plate (no!!!!: leave the maple syrup where it is, and don’t mix it actually into the porridge, like this morning; I can’t bear it. Please leave the honey actually in the centre of the yoghurt where I placed it à la Grecque (blending it just turns it into cat food). You spoon the yoghurt and then take on a little bit of honey. Don’t dazzle; dip your headlights. Obviously, I know that it is his right to do whatever the hell he wants to with his breakfast, or dinner, or lunch, but I am just saying – I know you have similar pet hates, and I am dying to hear them. This can be hilarious: I remember Helen actively wanted to kill people who ate with their mouths open. Or had long, greasy hair (a loathing I have inherited from her directly and have to keep in check when I come into contact with such people in public on the bus)). We all have things that grate on us when we are all cooped up inside together: asking Duncan if there were any such things that drove him crazy about me this morning he replied with an unhesitating yes: never throwing things away (‘ you’re a hoarder!’); squeezing the toothpaste from the middle – why do you do it? ; oh my god, not putting the lids or caps back on anything grrrrrrr it’s so annoying ; never putting your clothes away, leaving oils and gungy fragrance crap on lightbulbs, god I hate that; ugh, stained bedsheets from essential oils you drip all over the place; is it really necessary to have so many pots of rooibos tea crowded round the bed? I know he also detests all my perfumed experiments, the scented sticks stuck in random places, the goo, the mess; the vaseline; the very worst being once when I stupidly heated a vat of frankincense crystals up in the oven in our old house, turning the smell environment into a vast, catholic mass – that I loved – it smelled amazing – the problem being that every future dish from that oven then tasted of charred olibanum; bread and butter pudding a la frankincense; frankincensed chicken; (I learned my lesson with that one); me aside, he also can’t stand it when old Japanese men pick their teeth grossly with toothpicks or make strange gurgling noises with their throats (or spit out snot into the street or even on moving escalators ); I can’t stand it when office ladies here won’t drink directly from their own plastic water bottles, but tip it – slowly, slowly, daintily, up gradually towards their mouths until a polite little drop tips gently onto their tongue: at that moment I always feel like rushing towards them with a hose pipe and hydrating them forcefully, but of course I know that it is precisely up to them. I know that.
Duncan told me also surprisingly that his mum Daphne can’t stand the toilet seat being left up; it must be closed (you could have told me! All these years, Daphne………….I am sorry and will never do it again). His dad shares my deep, deep hatred of tea and coffee that isn’t hot enough ( Duncan, this morning’s tea was really substandard. I was so miserable drinking that tepid crap, in which you hadn’t left the tea bag in long enough, and put too much milk in to boot – you know you are supposed to heat the entire tea cup with boiling water beforehand; I was miserable as I sipped at the failed Earl Grey just after I had woken up); both Rod and I, and my mum too, must have our coffee piping hot or it makes us heave (my sister Deborah, conversely, really, really hates it, and flies through the roof if any scalding drink comes near her cat-like tongue); my brother Greg and I when children used to challenge each other to make the perfect marmalade sandwich, in which a Mother’s Pride white loaf would be commandeered to create the idealised proportions of butter and bitter orange marmalade, spread to the edges and cut just so; (oh my god, I have just remembered – the rage of butter when it has been refrigerated too much and cuts holes in the bread in the morning and you immediately lose the will to live; No No No keep it at room temperature in a nice white ceramic dish, please – – – – I beseech you.
The list could surely go on and on. We all have our foibles and pet hates and things that truly irritate the hell out of us at times – when we have the luxury to do so. It can’t be helped. We are only human. Last night, on the brilliant recommendation of Michael, we watched an amazing, very beautiful documentary called The Joneses, about a family of what I suppose you might call misfits, in a trailer house in Jackson, Mississippi, a close – if quite argumentative – family with a lot of problems, illnesses physical and mental, serious financial issues and even big challenges in terms of identity and hidden secrets: there were some really crippling scenes, and the levels of emotional honesty and the dignity they consistently upheld were heartrending, yet very uplifting. We finished it, together on the bed with the cat, feeling purified, tranquil, and grateful. It brought home what is important. People we cherish. Being stuck at home, bored out of our brains, on Saturday and Sunday rainy afternoons as kids. Tedious, tedious, football matches playing on Match Of The Day. The exhortations upstairs to bring down your cups and to tidy your room. And then the wondrous, delicious, smell of the Sunday roast downstairs………. wafting into the living room from the kitchen.