Smell is hard to describe. When we mention a smell, we usually just use the name of the thing that is giving off that smell – lavender, coffee, banana, even, chip shop. Smell is brilliantly evocative. I smell coal tar soap and think of my father; sterilised milk, that is my Great Aunt Addie.
Smell can take us back in time and to another place. The smell of a place is usually a mixture of things. Brixham, a small Devon harbour town: it’s brine, and rotting seaweed, fresh fish and sweet candyfloss, chip shop fat and frying and vinegar, and the starchy smell of cheap Indian cotton dresses for sale along the sea front. My great grandmother’s house smelled of warm linoleum, wax polish, hot dust. There was the smell of toast in there somewhere and the sharp sweetness of Eau de Cologne.
Think of a place that you know well – indoors or outdoors. What does it smell of? You could make a list poem: the smell of home, Norwich market, Liverpool Street Station. Or you could start with the smells of a place and then write on from there. What does that place, those smells, mean to you?