Who knew that in just 45 minutes, I could drive all the way to 1979?
It began with a scent. I was walking rather purposefully towards the last punnet of blackberries, and I was stopped short by a sudden sweetness in the air. Elusive. Familiar. And then, amidst some tiny box-hedge and scraggy greens, I saw it: one perfect regal face, in purple velvet. A stubborn pansy ready to do battle with winter.
I have learned to overlook pansies. Truth be told, I tend to resent British pansies. They are so ubiquitous. They are so long lasting. The pansies of my childhood bounced their way through March winds, then withered in exhaustion (like me) with the first hint of summer heat. There was a pansy farm near our house on a pretty old road by a river, and as soon as I was old enough to be trusted to remember that a carpet of pansies was for looking and not walking, I would be sent up and down the narrow dirt paths to pick my favourite colours. I had forgotten how wonderful pansies smell, and how beautiful they are if you can see past the kitsch.
The next retro-smell was not so pleasing. All over town, every shop I entered smelled vaguely of wet wool, mouldy books, and mothballs. Now, it is true that half the building in sight were charity shops, where one might expect a certain je-ne-sais-quois of mothball. But I didn’t go into the charity shops — tempted neither by the caramel coloured leather jacket, nor the glossy book on Cliff Richard. No. I was in the department store and the post office and the book shop, and even (briefly) in McKays. All had the same smell and seemed essentially unchanged for decades.
My tour of 1979 reached its zenith in the cafe: a vegetarian restaurant that I felt duty bound to support, but which offered nothing more exciting than a cheese and onion toasty. Or so I thought. I sat there, sipping weak tea and admiring the bold combination of micro-floral, mint-green, maxi-skirt and lavender striped sweater at the next table. I listened to a slightly surreal conversation about how much cheese is the right amount of cheese in a cheese scone. Then, my plate arrived. Beside the toasty was a small salad: ice-berg lettuce, carrot shreds and green pepper. Then I saw it, poking out from under a leaf: a radish, perfectly quartered so that the bright red would not offend.
The waitress looked at me conspiratorially. In a breathy voice that suggested we might try something illicit, she said, ‘shall I bring you some salad cream for that?’.
My joy was complete.