Coming of Age Inspirational Fiction


There was no other way to describe it: it was an explosion - a revelation. The smell that had, quite literally, stopped him in his tracks this very moment was that same smell that had eluded him for 50 years but only now, in this instant, identified. Gorse! That sweet, intoxicating perfume that was almost tangible. And it only increased in intensity in the warm spring sunshine as he trudged further up the hill towards the monastery, along with the other visitors who had disembarked from the boat with him. He had never, ever, known what that smell was on his walk to school all those years ago until this moment, but it had lodged within his memory. The memory had become a comfort blanket that somehow defined his early years without his ever knowing what it was, nor experiencing it again until now. And ‘experience’ was the right description, for it was more than just the essence of coconut suffusing the air, it was a total download of perception and emotion that was overwhelming. Other people could not possibly feel the same way. How could they? It was highly personal. In fact, his fellow day-trippers appeared largely indifferent as they picked their way up the hill, except perhaps for the occasional abundant sniff and admiring glance at the sweep of yellow petals that cloaked the hillside as far as the eye could see. 

The island was as well known for its gorse as for its monastery which attracted an influx of visitors during the summer and, in season, it was a popular day trip from the nearby seaside resort of Tenby - just for the gorse, so it was said. Jack Bromley had little personal interest in the monastery but decided to go along simply to experience the gorse, which he had heard was spectacular at this time of the year - not that he could have distinguished between gorse, bracken or heather, being exclusively a townie from the industrial midlands, where the countryside was stunted and disfigured by clay workings and slag heaps, and vegetation barely scraped a living from the starved soil. He hardly expected it to be so transformative until he had walked into that wall of memory that wrenched at his soul, as the invasive aroma first tugged gently at his thoughts and then dragged him back to childhood with the full force of nostalgia.

Secondary school years had not been particularly kind to Jack. He had had an indifferent time at grammar school, barely breasting the middle ranges of the middle stream, troubled by poor eyesight and an absolute abhorrence of physicality of any sort. None of that sat well with his contemporaries, nor the school’s ‘muscular christian’ outlook. The one saving grace had been an affinity with languages which had seen him outweigh anyone in even the top stream in just that one subject. But illness in the family had obliged him to leave school early, thinking he might have to be the breadwinner without his being able to capitalise on that singular talent. The eventuality didn’t work out as feared, however, but the die was cast by then and an unfortunate choice of career thereafter had meant a relatively unsatisfying and unrewarding professional life. But if his later schooling had been mediocre, his early days at infants' and then junior school had  been an inspiration to a five-year-old starting his first big adventure in life.

Other children wept copiously on their first day. Jack had revelled in it. That first day at school had stayed with him all his life: the smell of chalk dust and the sticky aroma of jelly babies kept in a jar and awarded for good work, the light streaming through the windows illuminating all the colourful posters and artwork adorning the walls and intensifying all the unfamiliar smells permeating the atmosphere - even the smell of cooking cabbage from the school kitchens, yet another indelible memory that was as precious as it was malodorous. 

But, above all, what he remembered most was the walk to school in springtime crossing over the shallow brook, along the railway embankment and past the disused pottery works, entrusted to the company of big girls from the secondary school at the top of the infants’ playground. They were daughters of a friend of his mother who was heavily pregnant at the time and reluctant to leave the proximity of a neighbour’s telephone - a rarity in those days. There was little conversation on the way to school. All he remembered, other than the kindly consideration of the girls practising their own mothering skills, was talk of mysterious goats' milk lollipops that were apparently made by someone in the street they had to walk through on the way to school. He had never tasted them, nor knew anyone who had, but they were the topic of conversation amongst his school friends. 

But the smell that had lived with him throughout his life came on that walk past the disused pottery works. It was the most soothing, exquisite, smell, made all the more remarkable in that it overlaid - no, overpowered - the heavy, cloying tang of sooty smoke that was all pervasive in the heavily industrialised community in which he grew up. He had no words to describe it at the time but remarked on it to the girl who was taking him to school. She couldn’t identify it either. It had remained indefinable and enigmatic. Until now. And he almost wept at the recognition and the wistful recollection of the innocence of childhood epitomised by that intoxicating smell. A smell that also simultaneously triggered a second nostalgic remembrance: that of salt-glaze on the air and the hum of drying sheds in the evening, after the day shifts had ended at the local pottery works, safe and warm at his grandmother’s house, a short distance away from school just beyond the recreation ground where he spent a lot of his time growing up during school holidays.

Although all those sensations had stayed with Jack all his life, they had largely receded to the back of his mind, driven out by the exigencies of work, responsibility and family. But they now came flooding back in an instant and Jack was transported back to a time when nothing else mattered but the moment. When love, security and safety were all there was. When hate, and war, and pestilence meant nothing - did not even register on a five year old’s mind. When all that did matter was that walk to school accompanied by that sweet, sweet, indefinable, scent. 

Jack remembered little else about his trip to the island but that rediscovered smell - and those precious moments he had spent in the company of his ethereal younger self, full of hope and innocence. It  had somehow put the years of disappointment and despair into perspective. All brought about by the simple realisation that nothing else really mattered in life. Nature prevails over everything. Even when all else is dust. 

Jack had arrived at the island that morning a disillusioned man, but left a more contented person. All for the simple smell - but complex sensation - of gorse.

October 05, 2023 09:17

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07:34 Oct 25, 2023

Thank you for letting me read this story. I found myself transported to a new place and kept on reading as I was getting curious about Jack and what memories were triggered by this smell. The adjectives used are strong and make the picture come alive. I am glad he found it to be a healing experience to find that smell again and that it made him stronger. A very nice story.


Malcolm Twigg
21:00 Oct 25, 2023

Thanks Anna, glad you enjoyed it. It is probably 95% autobiographical so far as the locations and the smells are concerned.


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Arthur McNamee
23:20 Oct 11, 2023

Smell is a great trigger and enigmatic smells are the best triggers to the soul. I liked the imagery used and the used of language to bring out this plot. Thank you for allowing me an opportunity to read this story.


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