Thursday, 22 November 2012

It Was Round and Pale Green

The bush is very smelly at the moment. At first I thought it might be because of the yellow flowers that are
blooming everywhere. But when I bent down and sniffed them, they gave off a sweet, faintly strawy fragrance.

There is also a lot of wattle in blossom but I knew it couldn't be that. Disappointingly - I wish it had the coconut-ice-like scent of flowering gorse - wattle is pretty much scentless.

And this is not a scent anyway; it's a stink in anyone's language. How to describe it, however, is - as always with smells - a problem. There are no words that act as the equivalent in the smell world to those that convey colour and shape in the visual world. There is 'nasty'. There is 'bitter'. There are 'acrid' and 'heavy' and 'sweet'. Apart from those though and a few other rather generalised vaguenesses, when trying to convey a smell through language, one is reduced to straight out comparisons with other smells that may be similar. Gorse smells like coconut ice. Sweaty feet smell like rank cheese. Newly mown grass smells like newly mown grass.

Thus, when you come up against something like this bush smell that's around at the moment, you find yourself stymied. It is a most unpleasant odour, but it doesn't smell like a dead thing. It is not the stench of rotting flesh or sewage or even decaying vegetable matter. It is strong, it is pungent, it reminds me faintly of the Far East. It combines the dusty yet very faintly bitter smell of clothes kept too long in damp cupboards with what I suspect is some kind of plant essence, (not a million miles from citronella, but definitely not citronella).

I suspect this odour - (and why is an 'odour' generally something bad, whereas an 'aroma' is lovely [although vaguely associated in my mind with the Bisto Kids]) - is being given off by some tree or bush to attract or repel some bird or insect. Or possibly it is being emitted by insects breeding. Whatever it is, English - usually so rich in possibilities - has proved itself inadequate when it comes to providing words to help me convey an idea of it. All I can tell you is it is really unpleasant and I hope it goes away.


  1. Well, there is the expression "the odor of sanctity", and there is D.H. Lawrence's story "The Odour of Chrysanthemums".

    1. Hmmm, but is the odour of sanctity an entirely approving phrase, do you think, and is the smell of chrysanthemums not rather horrible (haven't read that story - will search it out)?