x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Heavenly smells can make a columnist's day

From hyacinths to musty old books, Rebecca McLaughlin-Duane is passionate about her favourite smells.

The winner by a nose

As far as the senses go - and don't tell my ears - I think smell might be my favourite. No matter how long or stressful the day, there's one thing guaranteed to instantly lift my mood: a bunch of hyacinths. There is something so intoxicating about these deliciously scented stems that whenever they're in stock at my local supermarket I forget the world, bury my face deep in the display bucket and inhale. "Does Madam need some help?" Yes, Madam will take the lot please.

A burning turf fire also makes it into my top 10, for nothing transports me faster to the west coast of Ireland than its sweet, smoky aroma. Cut and harvested by hand the same way for centuries, great pyramids of these hairy brown blocks can still be found in the driveway of my grandparents' house. As a child, these mounds made for excellent, albeit filthy, climbing frames. But what a versatile resource. A turf-lit range boiled the hot water that was used to scrub my cheeks clean again before bedtime.

I love to bury my nose in a good book, and the old ones have a woody, musty fragrance no iPad will ever muster. Though I haven't smelled it in years, I also love the punch that creosote packs. The merest waft conjures up childhood memories of hazy summers in London: the smell of fences being treated by diligent neighbours hung heavy in the air as my brother and I would run through sprinklers and ambitiously attempt to leapfrog the pampas grass.

The aromas of food are, of course, hard to beat and breakfast probably takes first place in the smell stakes for everyone. But does coffee really taste as good as it smells? Braced for a backlash, I would say maybe not. Fresh pesto, chocolate truffles and strawberries, however, most definitely come up to snuff.

But as we all know, there is a downside to this particular sense. My nostrils are assaulted every time I fill up my car with petrol or stand downwind of a cigar smoker. Stale milk, cod liver oil and the acrid smell of silver tarnish can also take the shine off a girl's day. But for me, there's one thing worse than even the stench of wet dog. Vanilla. Overpowering, cloying and saccharine sweet, I can't help but turn my nose up at the poor wee pod. Put it this way, a scented candlelit dinner with vanilla ice-cream for dessert, might just make me turn my nose up.