Wednesday 3 February 2016

Urban Diary

The smell hits me as soon as I come out of Cartridge World: dried salt cod. It is not just the instantly recognisable waft, but the memories it evokes. For a split second I am back in Havana as an eight- or nine-year-old in a fun-packed, baseball game in the courtyard behind the fishmonger’s five or six doors down from my bloc of flats. All of a sudden it is all makeshift baseballs again, using a tennis-ball base and plenty of string and Scotch tape wound around it, a wooden, dented bat and sewn-up gloves.

However this is not Havana in late 70s but London, E17 in 2016. Walthamstow on a Saturday winter morning. Minus the winter. The local postie sees to that. The January-defying dark grey shorts, red jumper, rolled-down thick socks and trekking shoes have been a common sight during this climate-change-ratifying weather. He walks just ahead of me on Hoe Street towards the intersection with Lea Bridge Road and High Road Leyton; his single-strap, yellow-and-red bag banging repeatedly against his side.

An avenue of people stands beside me at the traffic lights. It looks busier today. Perhaps because it is Cup day. This is deep claret-and-blue Hammers territory with Upton Park a stone’s throw away. Although it is only noon and West Ham are not due to play Liverpool until later on in the evening, some of the locals might already be on their way to their local boozer for an early pint and some pie and mash. Sandwiched between Lyca- and Lebara-decked shop fronts their nasal Cockney twang mixes with heavily rolled Somali “Rs” and agglutinated Polish consonants.

I make my way to Tesco Leyton Superstore where I have left my car. I drive out, turn left onto High Road Leyton and at the traffic lights I am forced into a stop by another vehicle stationed in the middle of the street, at this box-junction-free intersection. Julie Fowlis’ “Tha Mo Ghaol Air Àird A' Chuain” is a perfect companion for this mild, cloudless Saturday winter morning. As my car slides down Hoe Street, the rolled-down window lets the smell of dried salt cod waft in again. Baseball-filled memories flood back.

© 2016

Photo taken Property Link

Next Post: “Saturday Evenings: Stay In, Sit Up and Switch On”, to be published on Saturday 6th February at 6pm (GMT)


  1. Oh how smells can trigger the most wonderful memories. Though I think my life would have been complete without the smell of roasting guinea pig!

  2. Funny how smells can trigger memories. Have to watch those early boozers lol

  3. It is amazing how certain smells can draw our thoughts away from the present.

  4. Wow. I had no idea when my derriere spread over my computer chair that I'd soon be transported to a Saturday London morning.

  5. The least acute of my senses is that of smell, but on occasion some aroma drifts by which stirs a memory. Usually it has to do with food.

    Neat vignette, CiL ....

  6. Scent is such a powerful and emotive memory trigger isn't it? For good or for bad...

  7. It sounds like you miss your Havana. I think of it in a romantic sense, although that is only one small part of many. I also think of it as color's - sun faded colors.

    Smell is high on the list for me. My Grandfather's cooking - with lots and lots of ground black pepper. I put the shaker to my nose and I am right back there. Also light. The angle of light will make me flash on a place that I've been before. It seems like light is different everywhere.

    Thanks for sharing your memory. I always wanted to smell/taste dried salt cod, but I've never found it here.

  8. Interesting how smells can take us back....

  9. Incluso no oliendo hay momentos que nos vienen ciertos olores y nos llevan a buenos recuerdos.
    Un feliz día.

  10. Hi ACIL - I love salt cod .. and your post reminds me of getting to Newlyn to see my mother and the fish harbour there ... and then going to buy fresh fresh fish for supper ... I guess I could handle the basket ball! Cheers Hilary

  11. Smells are the strongest memory triggers. One whiff...and we're off.

    Hmmm, salted cod. I have some in the fridge, and I think it's about time I make some cakes with it. Thanks for the reminder.

  12. Hi Cubano--I so enjoy your memories--the mix of Havana, which seems pretty far from London (in winter no less) but understand how these things come up--salt cod a very potent mnemonic. I'm sorry I've been a bit out of action--super busy at work, and not feeling well. Take care, k .



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