The weird and wonderful world of smells and the odd temptation of a second sniff | Jack Marshall's column

Estate agents supposedly brew coffee and waft freshly-baked bread around properties they’re trying to flog because we, as simple breakfast-oriented creatures, like those smells. ‘Buy this house’, the thought goes, ‘and that latte and baguette could be ours.’

Monday, 13th December 2021, 4:55 am
Coffee: a Very Good Smell

While I’ve never experienced this sneaky form of olfactory subterfuge myself, smells have been on my mind lately. Insert obvious fart joke here.

Like most of my so-called “ideas” for this column, my nose was first set a-twitchin’ by a TikTok in which a young woman claims to love the smell of wet cat food. Don’t ask how the digital algorithm decided I’d like this video (judge me not by my ‘for you’ page and all that jazz), but here we are.

Wet cat food smells gross. It’s aggressively offal-y, pungent, and wrapped in gamy gelatine. There’s nothing nice about it, but this girl loves it. Which got me thinking, and bear with me here as I go all ‘Radio-1-on-a-weekday’, but what other objectively powerful smells strangely appeal to people?

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(Yes, I’ve been struggling for column ideas. Be quiet and let’s think about smells.)

Let’s start with the classic goodies: mown grass and bacon - both great smells. Cookies and new car - equally as good. Rain on a pavement - that’s some elite whiffing right there. Burning wood - breathe in the smoky goodness. Babies I can take or leave - an overrated smell for me, Clive.

Getting more obscure now: Sharpies with their chemical hint of permanent ink made of ingredients with unpronounceable names. Churches with that tang of damp masonry and history mixed with repression. Fresh tennis balls with that pong of… fish, I guess? Which should be gross but isn’t.

Books, especially really old ones, with that musk of dust and ancient paper almost damp to the touch. Old coins and brass bands for similar reasons, only with a more metallic twist to proceedings. Cheap hairspray and the thick cloying mist of choking sweet fog it creates.

Bordering on the downright weird now: the smell a Henry Hoover makes with its whirring little motor and sooty interior. Fish food with that bizarrely organic but confusingly deathly aroma which stays on your fingers for ages. The hefty smell of wet dog or cat. Used blu-tack, faded with age. Tents.

And so, a moment of faint appreciation the smells you know are bad or weird but which you like anyway. Which always prompt another sniff. Never say I don’t get real with this column.