It’s a combination of sunshine and furniture polish, a rich warm sort of smell. Even now some (mumble mumble) years since I left, one whiff of that polish and in a heartbeat I’m eighteen again, sat in the school chapel for my final school speech day as the light glows through the windows and bounces off the parquet floor and wooden chairs polished to a sheen by the wriggling of hundreds of restless teenagers. It’s one of my strongest smell-place associations, probably because the polish was industrial strength, but there are others; it’s something I think we all have to some degree or another, a clever quirk of memory.
And it seems that memories aren’t just tied to smells either, but also to toys. Until recently the girls hadn’t quite got to the stage of playing with the toys that I remember from my childhood; they’re still just that little bit on the young side for the two giant boxes of Lego sat at Grandpa’s house and I don’t think the paper dolls will have survived the passage of time. They have H’s childhood Brio but I didn’t have Brio myself so it doesn’t have the same sentimental attachment as it does for H.
But then Kitty turned four, and thanks to one of her lovely aunts, she acquired her very first Sylvanian Families.
A whole family of kangaroos, some babies on a swing, and a very sweet fish and chip van complete with teeny tiny fish and chips, ketchup bottles and even some mushy peas.
She loves play acting with them; setting out the table and chairs, deciding who’s going to be in charge of the van, and having everyone queue up and ask for their fish and chip supper.
And it brings back so many happy memories of my own. I never had Sylvanian families myself (I know, seriously deprived childhood, it’s a miracle I haven’t needed therapy) but a couple of my friends had seriously enviable collections; vast arrays of animals and little outfits and houses and all the accessories you could possibly want.
Our little sisters were friends too and I remember long afternoons at their house setting out the houses, making up their family stories, and then taking them all on adventures.
And now I get to do it all over again with my lovely daughter, letting her imagination take the lead, and trying to stop her baby sister, who is naturally intrigued by what she calls “sister’s families”, from running off with all the most important parts!
Is that the big secret about parenting; that it’s the perfect excuse to remember your own childhood and try to pull the very best bits forward for the next generation?