I’ve recently been commissioned by the wonderful Uncommon Guide Books to write a chapter for a forthcoming guide to London on the smells of the city – a kind of scent-tour, if you like. The idea is to give visitors some different perspectives from the standard guides, and also, perhaps, to take them to places and areas that they might not otherwise see.
A few things sprang immediately to mind, but I’m keen to make the chapter varied, informative and entertaining, so if you have any favourite London smells then I’d love to hear from you. Though I need to write it quite quickly I’m sure it’s an idea I’ll come back to, perhaps in a different form next time.
My favourite wheeze so far is to try and identify the smell of money, and to that end I met a friend on the steps of the Royal Exchange, opposite the Bank of England, right at the heart of the City of London. We edged our way through the suited rush-hour crowds, as they hurried home and bunched at intersections, trying to work out what money’s smell might be.
Could it be the smart shops inside and around the Royal Exchange, selling perfume and jewellery and expensive leather goods? Or the people themselves, with their varied perfumes and hair preparations, whose scents mix and mingle in minute quantities, apart from the occasional, overpowering exception?
We tried standing by the main bronze doors of the Bank itself, as employees and visitors trotted in and out, but no mysterious fragrances, redolent of bullion or banknotes, wafted out from its marble halls. In the end we decided that if money smelled of anything today, then surely it would smell like the glass-and-steel atrium of a big investment bank – icily air-conditioned, with almost imperceptible traces of testosterone.
Of course the smell of money is an abstract idea in the end, a concept rather than a physical actuality. But great perfumes have been created on far more abstract ideas than that (think of Guerlain’s L’heure bleue, for example), so maybe we should get bottling and selling it. We might even make some money, and then we could bottle that.