They say that music and smell can be the best triggers of nostalgia. I find that to be absolutely true. You can check out my Top Ten Nostalgia Songs that I previously listed, but today I wanted to go through the smells that trigger memories for me. It’s incredible how a smell can evoke such a strong memory, but some of the scents below instantly transport me back to a different time or place. Or, for those that are not around any more, the smell is one of the strongest aspects of the memory of that object.

First some honourable mentions.

Stinkor and Moss Man
I actually never had either of these Masters of the Universe figures and I didn’t know anyone that had them, so I have never experienced the raw smell that they had back in the day. I’ve just bought a Moss Man online but I doubt that he will still have much of a scent left. Great idea though, adding smell as their main action feature.

Wacky Wall Crawlers
These sticky octopuses were fantastic. Well, until they got all hairy that is. If you dropped them on the carpet they would invariably come back with loads of fluff stuck to them. But they were extremely cool and every birthday party gift bag from 1984 to 1990 seemed to contain them. And there was something about the smell that the sticky rubber had that was really strong and memorable. 

Creamola Foam
This is something which I think was only available in Scotland. We had a tin of Creamola Foam in our top cupboard in the kitchen of our house growing up. It seemed to evoke mystical qualities. It felt like it was decades old. The art on the tin was quite old fashioned. The tin itself I think was just made of cardboard. And it was literally powder that you added to water, making it feel like it was something from the second world war. But, it made a fantastic fizzy drink and both the powder and the drink had a fantastic smell. I believe there is a new version available called Krakatoa Foam, so I’m going to have to give that a go. Who knows, it may evoke such strong memories that I need to move Creamola Foam into my main Top Ten list.

Plaster moulds
I used to love doing plaster moulds and then painting the models. We had moulds of football busts such as Trevor Francis and Peter Shilton. But the main ones I remember were the Weetabix Neet Weet Gang moulds. You can see the models they produced on my Weetabix merchandise leaflet. I loved those things and loved painting the models of Crunch, Dunk and Brains etc. And it sounds weird but, similar to the Wacky Wall Crawlers above, there was something about the smell of that rubber that was great!

Freshly cut grass
Perhaps a bit of a standard one here, but it still gets me every time. It’s obviously a very nice smell, right after you’ve cut your lawn, and lots of people like it, but for me it always makes me think of my youth and when I used to pick up the grass that my dad had cut. I still remember the little green metal container that I would use as I scooped up the grass and as I’m typing this it’s as if the smell is right here. Beautiful. And it also always reminds me of the 1988 song “Don’t Go” by Hothouse Flowers which had the line about “There’s smell of fresh cut grass and it’s filling up my senses, and the sun is shining down on the blossoms in the avenue.” Great song.

And now, open your nostrils for the Top Ten list.

10. Cress
Another nature one here. Cress is something I totally connect with primary school. I guess I just haven’t had much contact with cress in my adult life, but we did a lost of cress growing in primary school. Perhaps cress in sandwiches was also more of a thing in the 80s? Not sure. But anyway, it’s got a really distinctive smell and it instantly transports me back to my first couple of years in school.

9. Smelly felt pens
This is one of the entries in my list which isn’t a smell today that transports me back to the past, but rather it’s a smell that I can remember from my past. I believe there are smelly pens still being made today but it’s likely they aren’t allowed to have the same chemicals as back in the day, so they might not be as smelly. But smelly pens were huge in my early school days. Particularly from the age of about 7-11. I even remember the particular pencil case I had for my smelly pens and the scents that wafted up whenever I opened it up. I used to just sit there and smell the pens all day, which was probably bad for two reasons: there was probably some addictive or psychoactive properties in there, but also I often ended up having a little rainbow moustache under my nose from where I had sniffed the pen a little bit too closely!

8. Lynx Atlantis
Lynx deodorants were big in the late 80s and throughout the 90s. I think they might be called Axe in some countries. Some of them weren’t great. I can’t remember how many people likes Spice, Africa or Oriental. But everyone loved Atlantis. Now, my memory, a very very distinct memory, is that the year that Atlantis became very popular, and when I was using it every day, was 1991. I distinctly remember that summer/autumn being the year of the Bryan Adams song (Everything I Do) I Do It For You being number one in the UK charts for 16 weeks from July until October. That song was ever present in my life for 4 months and so was Lynx Atlantis. Strangely though when I did some quick research the internet says that Atlantis didn’t come out until 1997. Strange. I’m going to go with my memory. I recently found an old Lynx Atlantis roll on deodorant on eBay but sadly, and unsurprisingly, you can’t really smell it anymore. I really loved that Atlantis smell though.

7. Scratch n Sniff stickers
This one is similar to the smelly felt pens, although you can still get smelly stickers today and also I have some from the past that still have their smell. I’m not sure if they advertise the ’scratch’ element as much these days. But in the 80s they said you really did have to scratch them in order to wake the smell. These stickers were huge in my classroom and when we weren’t sniffing felt pens you could often find us scratching the covers of our books and jotters that we had adorned with Scratch n Sniff stickers. And people say that modern video games are addictive? Check out this amazing article by my friend Shawn Robare from Branded in the 80s all about Trend’s Stinky Stickers. It’ll have you scratching away at your computer screen!

6. Mattel plastic
I loved my Masters of the Universe toys. Particularly my He-Man and Skeleton figures. They went everywhere with me. And from my perspective they had a really distinctive smell. Different from other toys and action figures. I’m sure there are plastic experts out there who could probably tell me what the specific plastic was that Mattell used but I’m certain that it was different from other companies. I only get a slight whiff of it nowadays from some of the figures I have, but I guess that’s understandable around thirty five years later. But back in the day I really do remember a strong and distinct smell from the MOTU figures and that really heightens my memories of playing with them. 

5. 3.5” floppy disks
I’ve not heard all that many people mention this one before, so maybe it’s just a personal thing. But whenever I got a new pack of 3.5” floppy disks I used to love the smell of them. I’m not sure if it’s the plastic or the labels or some chemical coating, but I loved it. I think it was maybe just from newly opened packs. I’m sure it was heightened by the excitement of having blank media and not knowing what exciting things I was going to put on it yet. Brand new VHS tapes and cassette tapes had a similar excitement and new smell effect but just not quite as powerful a smell as the floppies.

4. Cap guns
On to the big ones now. I originally totally forgot about this one and didn’t have it on my list, but my friend Ally The Retro Hunter reminded me of this one and I couldn’t believe I forgot it. So I had to update the post. This is a hugely nostalgic smell for me. Cap guns used to be ten a penny back in the 80s. Kids used to get them in party bags. And obviously Mattel thought it was safe and sensible to put caps into Thunderpunch He-Man. It was certainly cool. You used to get the caps in plastic reels or also big long rolled strips, I remember. But that smoking gun smell of caps was so distinctive and very cool. I’m pretty sure there are stronger restrictions around selling these things these days, but having said that I actually found a cap gun and cap rolls recently on a cheap rack in my local newsagent recently. I still haven’t gotten around to testing it yet. Can’t wait though. Picture below borrowed from I Love the 80s.

3. He-Man jelly
Sadly this is one of the ones that I can’t smell today. It’s stuck in the past. I say sadly because these jelly sweets smelled incredible. I can 100% smell them right now in my head and not only does the smell bring a flood of memories but it puts a big smile on my face. You can get similar jelly sweets today but they’re just not the same. Obviously there were some chemicals in these things which have been banned today. But boy were those chemicals good. If I had a time machine then these He-Man jelly sweets is extremely high on my list of things to redo. I’m deadly serious. And they tasted just as good as they smelled. View this newspaper article and great photo about a man who found a 30 year old wrapped version. Every so often I get a whiff of some confectionery that has some slight resemblance to these He-Man jellies. I’m sure they’re slightly lacking in the chemical or sugar level department, but something about them is similar. And when that happens it’s a special moment.

2. Scotch pancakes
This one is a mercurial sort of memory but boy is it a powerful one. There is a smell produced when some sort of flour baking action is happening and that smell totally takes me back to my early youth. I’m pretty sure it’s the smell of scotch pancakes. I’m not sure if it’s a smell from home or from school, it’s not a specific memory, but it is a mega strong memory of my youth in general. It just transports me back to the body of 5 year old me. Occasionally I get a whiff of this smell today, sometimes when walking past cafes or restaurants. It doesn’t happen a lot, but when it does it completely stops me in my tracks, and I go into a nostalgia coma for a few seconds. I need to try to recreate this smell at home. Not too often though. I don’t want to water down the nostalgia effect it has for me.

1. Play-Doh
For me there was a clear winner for the smell that gives me the most nostalgia. Play-Doh. There’s something about fresh Play-Doh that is just delicious. I could nearly eat it. I’m sure some people do, although I certainly wouldn’t advocate that. But the smell of it is great. It is a general reminder of my childhood. That early stage where you are constantly creating things using Play-Doh or drawing or painting pictures in the presence of Play-Doh at a party or in nursery. It’s such a strong and unique small that triggers such a vivid and emotional memory, that it has to take the top spot in my list. And don’t accept any imitations. Other ‘play dough’ products just don’t match up. You know how you get a great smell when you open a brand new packet of coffee? That’s what it’s like when I open up a new Play-Doh. A pot of your finest Colombian Play-Doh, please. Happy days.