Here are some previous thoughts on the subject of Memories. When you have finished on this page, click Back to look at other topics.


Tourists can now sniff out their perfect trip by wearing a virtual reality headset that emits evocative smells of a destination. The first 3D sensory tour is of Egypt and includes the smells of herbs and spices at a market and the musty aroma of a Pharaoh's tomb. Thomson Holidays, which is offering the new service, said it allowed customers 'to try before they buy’.

Much more evocative for most people, though, than smells of what might be are smells of what has been. Sights, sounds, mannerisms, songs and places can all bring back memories, but it’s just as often a particular smell which recalls a situation. Sometimes too it's the smell we associate with a particular occasion that is the most prominent feature in our memory of it. Wood smoke, perfume, mown grass, seaweed, cooking – each of us will have our own favourite smells and many of them will no doubt be associated with a person, place or event.

Sometimes, though, the memories that are evoked can be painful and unwanted. This weekend we have been remembering those who have suffered in war. For those in the thick of them, war zones have strong associated smells. We are grateful for those who not only lived through warfare but now have to go on living with the memories. As we remember them, we may also want to be glad that life also produces more pleasant memories, and for the pleasure to be had in recalling the smells which were often such an important part of the experience.


"What you have just witnessed could be described as one old man giving another old man two old notebooks." This was how Nelson Mandela described a recent meeting with a former apartheid policeman, Donald Card. The notebooks contained reflections from the period when Mr Mandela had been incarcerated on Robben Island.

Mr Card, who had had the job of inspecting political prisoners' belongings, had been given the notebooks to check. Sensing their potential importance, he kept them for 33 years. Mr Mandela, who initially had no recollection of having written the notes, says he is now enjoying a “recovery of memory”.

Most of us recover our memories in less dramatic fashion. Reminiscing with friends and family, sharing stories from a shared past, searching the net for former school friends or colleagues, are all popular pastimes. They are valuable ways of bringing back to our consciousness some aspects of our past which have contributed to making us who we are now. What Mandela called ‘making friends with forgetting’ may be inevitable where there are gaps in our awareness of our history but making the best of opportunities to rediscover our past does us good.


Sir Charles Isham, who introduced the garden gnome to Britain, punk icon Sid Vicious and Doreen Valiente, a 20th century witch, the "mother of modern pagan witchcraft," all appear in the new edition of the 60-volume Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, published yesterday. It differs from the last edition by having a ‘much more inclusive attitude’. The qualification for inclusion is that the person described left a mark on British society and makes no value judgements about the worth or otherwise of their contribution.

It might be worth recalling today who would appear in a list of those who have left their mark on our lives. There will be some names that come immediately to mind. Their impact on us may have been for better or worse. Like the new dictionary, we can’t just miss people out because we don’t like the effect they had or are having on us. But unlike the book, we can make living decisions about how much to allow others to affect us. Resisting an unwanted influence, either the memory of it or its present reality, often involves a struggle but it can be done. Feeling grateful for those whose impact has been positive gives new impetus to their significance for us.

The publication of the Dictionary itself makes a contribution to British society as those who can afford the £7,500 price tag are able to reflect on what has made us the country we are. Perhaps as we reflect on those who have helped make each of us who we are, we will be the better equipped to have our unique influence on the lives and attitudes of those around us.


This weekend has seen festivity in Mexico. On the Day of the Dead, families visit cemeteries and offer fruit and bread – pan de muertos – to deceased relatives. Most Mexicans believe life exists beyond death and the veil that separates this life from that one is even thinner on this day than normal. The singing and keeping of vigils are seen as times of reunion with family members who have died.

Most westerners are more sceptical about the possibility of relationships continuing across the divide that is death. Belief in a life beyond the grave does not necessarily include contact between the living and the dead. Those who attempt such contact with specific people or who claim to have received messages from another world rightly attract suspicion.

But perhaps today we could benefit from our own Day of the Dead. By celebrating people who have influenced our lives but are now dead, we open ourselves again to the love and good they offered us in their lifetime. We may find that rather than us offering them earthly food, it is they who nourish us by our remembrance of them.


In Japan each February, the Buddhist ceremony of Hari-Kuyo, festival of the Broken Needles, is celebrated. Once only observed by tailors and dressmakers, today anyone who sews can participate. A special shrine is made for the needles, containing offerings of food, scissors and thimbles. A pan of tofu (soybean curd) is the centre of the shrine and all the needles that have become broken, bent and useless are inserted into it. The needles find their final resting place in the ocean as devotees wrap their tofu in paper and launch them out to sea.

Anyone who pauses to reflect on their past will be aware of things they have done and experiences they have had which no longer serve any purpose. Periods of struggle and stress, times when things went wrong, ideas and dreams that came to nothing, relationships which failed, may all be cause for regret. For better or for worse, these difficult times will have contributed to our present state of being. But either way there comes a time when it is best to put such memories out of our minds.

The people of the Old Testament celebrated the Day of Atonement by, among other things, symbolically laying on the head of a goat the rebelliousness and sin of the nation. The scapegoat was then sent off, carrying the painful memories and bitter regrets of the people into the desert.

Today it’s worth asking ourselves whether there are any memories which still haunt us but which no longer have any creative purpose. If so, it might be helpful to dispatch them from our minds deliberately and self-consciously. Perhaps, even though we may not be near an ocean or desert, our imaginations might come up with some symbolic way of saying goodbye to our regrets.


It was said of Bob Hope,who died four years ago today, that he would go to the opening of a phone booth in a gas station in Anaheim provided they had a camera and three people there. He might even sing them his signature tune ‘Thanks for the memory’. He just loved applause. ‘When I die they’d better nail the lid of the box down pretty quick – or I’ll be up right away for an encore’. The number of plaudits he received for his work is reflected in the Guinness Book of Records where he is cited as the most honoured entertainer in the world.

Yet there was another side to his success. Although he hosted 22 Oscar ceremonies he was never awarded one himself. ‘Welcome to the Academy Awards,’ he said at one gala, ‘or, as they are known in my house – Passover’. On his visit to the American forces in Vietnam, he was deeply puzzled when the troops showed none of the widespread enthusiasm and affection to which he was accustomed. Placards held up at his performances read “Peace not Hope”.

The lives of all of us contain times when we feel loved and appreciated, and when we have enough success to satisfy us. There are also times when we feel unwanted, confused about why we’re being rejected, a failure in many, if not all the areas of our lives.

If that last experience is what we are going through today, it’s worth remembering that even the most apparently successful people go through times like that. Memories, even if we have to dig deep to find them, of times when we have felt appreciated and cared about, can help carry us through. For those memories, thanks indeed.