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Old Spice, mulled wine, pipe smoke... The aromas that remind us of loved ones

A tweet about an M&S jumper recently triggered a flood of memories for one woman about her late father. Here, Kerry McKittrick talks to well-known personalities here about what sparks off images of a loved one

Sara O'Neill
Sara O'Neill
Fond memories: Caroline Curran with her dad Owen, who always wears Old Spice aftershave
Old Spice
John Toal
Tara West
Mother’s pride: Rita, John and Ellie
Anna Henry

A casual visit to M&S stirred memories of her late father for Rachael Prior which she shared on Twitter in recent weeks.

She said: "Nowhere do I miss my dad more acutely than in the men's department of M&S at Christmas," after spotting a red jumper.

"It was the sort of thing he would love. I'd have picked it for him and I could imagine the look on his face in that moment."

Sometimes it only takes a sight, smell or sound to prick our senses and transport us back to a moment of our life and a memory unique to us.

Marcel Proust said it best when the taste of a madeleine dipped in tea instantly brought one of his characters back to an episode from his childhood.

‘Old Spice just reminds me of my dad, I buy it for him every Christmas’

Caroline Curran (32) is best-known for playing Maggie Muff from Fifty Shades of Red, White and Blue. She lives in Belfast with her fiance Chris and their nine-week-old daughter Molly.

Fond memories: Caroline Curran with her dad Owen, who always wears Old Spice aftershave

She says:

There is a particular smell of a pine cleaner that they used to use in my school. I don't know the name of it and I think it's an industrial cleaner because I've never found it in a shop.

They used to use it to clean the floors, and I loved the smell so much I would walk with my head down, quite close to the floor.

The teachers always shouted at me for it. Every time I smell it I can see myself in a little pair of black plimsolls, back in my school, which isn't even there anymore.

The cleaner is still around because I will smell it in the odd pub or shop sometimes.

It's so strong you can smell it from about three streets away.

But it's the smell of Old Spice aftershave which reminds me of my dad, Owen. I still buy it for him every Christmas but it's actually quite hard to find now, as few shops still sell it.

I have bought him other aftershaves but the only one he keeps on wearing is Old Spice."

'The sights and sounds of pipe smoking makes me think of dad'

Sara O'Neill

Sara O'Neill (35), who lives in Portrush with big wave surfer Al Mennie, is a stylist and designer. She says:

There are lots of instances in my life that I remember through music. The first is how I was very influenced by the music my dad Eddie listened to when I was little.

Songs by The Doors, Leonard Cohen and Neil Young. Even today those songs bring me back to a family camping trip or playing outside in the garden.

Weirdly the Simon and Garfunkel song The Sound of Silence reminds me of the Narnia books.

I must have been reading them at the same time so even when I hear it now it brings me right back to those stories.

Also, the smell of a pipe makes me think of my dad, who smoked one and still does.

All of the sights and sounds associated with pipe smoking remind me of him - knocking the ashes out onto the fireplace, pressing the tobacco down with his thumb and, of course, the smell of the smoke. Unlike cigarette smoking, pipe smoke is sweet.

Brown Thomas in Dublin, which sells my scarves, has a brand called Maison Margiela which has launched a range of fragrances called Replica and one of those is called Lipstick On. The smell of it reminds me of my late grandmother Mary who was very elegant and always wore lipstick. This was in the days when lipstick had a particular smell - it doesn't anymore."

'I've fond memories of mum  in the kitchen cooking bacon'

John Toal

John Toal (47) presents The John Toal Show on BBC Radio Ulster on Saturday mornings. He lives in Co Down with his wife Catriona and their three children.  He says:

The smell of bacon cooking as I lay in bed on Sunday mornings when I was about eight reminds me of my mum.

I would lie there, and I could hear her listening to the radio in the kitchen and pottering about, making breakfast.

My mum would listen to a programme that was all music and bits of poetry and stuff called Mo Cheol Thu.

The programme's theme tune was an arrangement for violin and piano called The Lark and the Clear Air.

All I have to do is smell bacon or hear that tune and I think that mum is going to shout for me to get up.

It's a very powerful memory that brings me back to that exact moment of my childhood; Sunday mornings, waiting for my mum to chase me out of bed."

‘Face powder transports me back to my teen punk years’

Tara West

Author Tara West (46) lives in Newtownabbey with her partner Dave and their daughter Farha (11). She says:

There are a few things that really bring back memories for me - usually smells.

I needed some face powder recently and went to a local chemist which had a very small selection so I ended up buying Max Factor powder. I used to wear it all the time but haven't done so in years. I opened it up and it immediately took me back to when I was about 13 and experimenting with my mum Joan's make-up.

I was a bit of a punk back in those days so I used to mix my mum's Max Factor with talcum powder to make myself as pale as possible.

It was really hard to do and you had to be really creative to look that way - nowadays it's all available on the high street.

Max Factor powder has a distinctive scent and it brought all of my teenage years back to me."

‘The pudding ritual takes me right back to my childhood’

Mother’s pride: Rita, John and Ellie

UTV reporter Rita Fitzgerald lives in Belfast with husband John and their daughter, Ellie (7). She says:

I love baking traditional Christmas puddings because of the smell and the whole ritual of making them which just brings me back to my childhood, and it always reminds me of my mum Ann. I'm one of nine kids so our Christmases were also wonderfully chaotic.

I make the puddings for everyone now, including my husband's family, but back then mum would make everything from Christmas cakes to puddings and there was always that ceremony of stirring the puddings in a big pot on top of the range.

Depending on its size you need to cook a pudding for eight or nine hours.

Mum would do them all in one go, with the range groaning from the weight of it all. She would do all of this in one day while juggling the rest of us. I have to confess I do cheat a bit. I cook them for four hours, go off and do something else before cooking them for another four hours.

For me baking the pudding marks the start of the run-up to Christmas - from the smell of the fruit and spices to the sounds of the mixture as it binds. My husband's birthday is just before Christmas so after we celebrate that the pudding baking begins in earnest - and that's when I start to get excited.

As a child it was the start of the lead-up to Christmas, then putting the tree up then your presents.

I've started making this year's puddings and still have a stir-in ceremony with John and Ellie.

It's all so old-fashioned but it's a lovely thing to do and it really heralds the start of Christmas for me."

‘I don’t have a worry in world when I smell the mulled wine'

Anna Henry

Anna Henry (22) is the current Miss Northern Ireland. She lives in Portglenone and says:

My memory is a Christmas one. We have a tradition every year that after Mass on Christmas morning the whole family goes to my uncle Noel's house and has a glass of mulled wine.

It's the kick-off to the celebrations and everyone plays Christmas games.

We're all so happy because we're all together and it's the closest family members.

Now when I smell mulled wine I think of Christmas morning when everyone is there, loaded down with presents and so happy to see each other. There's just not a worry in the world, everyone is so happy to be there and in the moment. You couldn't pay for moments like that."

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