There are certain sounds that bring back feelings and sensations of childhood like no other. The experience is so strong that I again feel it as I did then, not as a memory which is like a faded photograph or half-forgotten thought scurrying across my mind, but as a full-blown synaesthesic episode that transports me in time and place.
For example, when I hear the football results being read out I smell ham sandwiches; as a child often on Saturday evening as I listened to the final scores, waiting impatiently for them to end so I could get on with more interesting television, my mother would make me a ham sandwich for tea. The ham was fresh from the corner shop that afternoon, cut from the bone on the big machine. My mother and I would go together to buy a few small items, and then my mother would ask for some ham, and Mrs Knight would cut some slices for us while her gigantic, drooling, panting Dalmatian sat on my foot and grinned at me, begging me to scratch her ears.
Or again, certain songs from childhood will re-ignite a feeling of utter joy, of being open to new possibilities, in a way that the music itself does not really justify. The songs will be ones that somehow my brain has associated with some activity; bizarrely “Puppet on a String” playing while I colour in pictures on make-your-own Christmas cards for all my aunties and uncles; or singing along to The Marmalade’s version of “Ob-la-di, ob-la-da” while persuading my friend’s hamster to run up my arm, across my neck and down the other arm.
This works, of course, for smells and tastes as well. The smell of the sea air recalls a miserable day out in the rain and cold of a British summer while my parents tried to find a café selling tea at a price they could afford. We sit at a slightly greasy formica table watching the rain run down the windows through the foggy condensation on the inside of the glass, never sure if the drop of water trickling down the pane is inside or out, and not really caring either way, counting the slow seconds until the driver will let us on the coach again and take us home.
Happier memories? The sight of a knicker-bocker glory recalls another greasy café under Waterloo station which my father found, and where I had my first experience of a dessert almost bigger than I was; there was a peculiar spoon designed to reach the very bottom of the glass, nuts and chocolate and strawberry sauce and wafers and enough ice cream to feed a village. Meanwhile my parents had a cappuccino each – they called it “frothy coffee” – and grinned at each other with foam on their upper lips.