I do have a particular husband of my own, but I’ve put the more vague ‘a husband’ here because – just as the emotional associations with smells interest me more than the specific notes in a perfume – it’s more the abstract notion of a male spouse I’ve been thinking about. What it feels like to have one in your life.
I met mine when I was 23, and we got married just a year later, which is young by today’s standards. He was a junior history lecturer at King’s College London, where I had just arrived to start my Masters degree and we met for the first time at a welcome drinks for new post grads and I was immediately impressed. He seemed so confident and at ease with everything.
After my wonderful, but rather sheltered university years at St Andrews – the town is basically four streets – and a childhood in the equally rarefied environs of Cambridge, the sprawling nature of a London university was overwhelming, as was living in the capital for the first time.
Trying to find my way around the city and the university buildings, to be in the right place at the right time for my lectures and tutorials, I was in a permanent spin– complicated further because I was also negotiating the world of modelling, which I was only doing as the most efficient way to fund my degree, because it paid more than waitressing and bar work.
Of course, I knew quite a bit about it, from my mum, but I was at a much lower level than her. No chauffeured cars came to pick me up (!) and I had to trudge around doing hideous ‘go sees’ to try and get work. I hated it, which was probably why I wasn’t very successful.
So this sophisticated man, nine years older than me, who already knew his way around the big city and the university with great élan made a big impression. He was also good looking, funny, sexy and kind.
The next time I saw him after that drinks party I was sobbing in a corridor, when I’d just realised I’d handed my essay into completely the wrong office in a building miles away and was now going to miss an important tutorial because that was all the way back where I’d erroneously delivered my work.
He took me for coffee, gave me some very helpful advice about organising my academic life – and invited me out for dinner at the end of it.
I was lucky to be sharing a flat in Clapham with two girlfriends from St Andrews at the time, but D. (my future husband…) had his own place in Holborn and it soon became much more appealing to stay there than hack back to Clapham on the Northern Line. It was glorious to be able to walk everywhere – and not to have to wait forty five minutes to get in the shower in the morning. And, of course, to wake up with him…
But probably the most exciting thing about the first couple of years with D, was getting to know London through this eyes. He knew all the great places to eat, the best cinemas, quirky little parks and museums, great old shops hidden away and where to get anything mended or made.
He had studied London like the academic he was and loved it with a fervour that could only be felt by someone who’d moved to the great city from the north of England at the age of 18 and never left.
He also loved sharing it with me, opening it up like one of those interactive children’s pop-up books, with tabs to pull and things to discover. I’ve always thought of him as my second university, more than King’s College was. It never really worked for me there and I was relieved to give my MA up.
So – completely contradicting what I said at the beginning – I suppose that is the specific story of my husband!
The smells of a husband for me are the petroleum twinge of WD40 and the dirty metallic tang of a tool box. Swarfega. Shaving foam. Cabernet sauvignon, beer, freshly brewed coffee. Bacon. The sweetness of wool with a high lanolin content. Shoe polish, leather and canvas. Wet ink and old books. Sweat and stinky gym kit. That indefinable male musk.
My scents for a husband are:
Yohji Homme by Yohji Yamomoto
Oolong Infini by Atelier Cologne
Bois Farine L’Artisan Parfumeur
Piper Leather by Illuminem
Coeur de Noir by Beaufort London