The things that remind us of loved ones
A tweet about an M&S jumper triggered a flood of Proustian memories. We asked contributors to share theirs Telegraph
‘Nowhere and no time do I miss my dad more acutely than in the men’s department of M&S at Christmas,” Rachael Prior wrote on Twitter at the weekend. It had been a red jumper, to be precise, that had stirred powerful memories of her late father, Lynton: “It was the sort of thing he would love,” she said. “I’d have picked it for him and I could imagine his face in that moment.”
Sharing that simple thought has led to an outpouring of similar stories on social media, with moving tales of everyday reminders of grieving for lost loved ones being traded. Here, Daily
Telegraph contributors share the little things that make them miss the ones that matter most.
Tom Parker Bowles Food writer and critic (right)
The scent of Elnett hairspray immediately transports me back to my childhood, sitting in my maternal grandmother’s bedroom in Sussex. She was Rosalind Shand, and she died when I was 19.
As a child, I would hang about talking to her as she got ready to go out in the evenings and I thought she was very glamorous and cool. Whenever I catch a glimpse of the distinctive tall gold Elnett can, I always smile.
Libby Purves Journalist
It is a privilege to know someone in their last months and become closer friends than you were before. It was through her patient project, healthtalkonline, that I got to know Dr Ann Mcpherson, an Oxford GP who spoke out about assisted dying for terminal patients. The irony is that not long afterwards, she had a final cancer herself. We used to have breakfast together once a month. I got her special order by heart – milk and hot water, soft scrambled egg. And as she became weaker over the year, her spirit became greater.
We talked of plays and books and the news, laughed a lot. I had my own troubles – family bereavement, my husband away a lot, the usual frets – and every piece of advice and insight from Ann was gold. She made me see that life was OK. Even though for her it wasn’t. I shan’t forget our last breakfast: weak, brave,
she could still laugh.
Vanessa Feltz Broadcaster
Whenever I see the colour turquoise or smell Lily of the Valley, I am flooded with a rush of loss and sadness. They remind me so strongly of my mother who died 22 years ago, aged just 57, and I feel such longing it pulls me up short. My mother was a hugely intelligent, enigmatic character who was always coming out with snippets of recondite information and I miss her every day. My daughter Saskia had Lily of the Valley in her wedding bouquet because that way my mother could be part of her happy day.
Margaret Mountford Businesswoman (right)
Whenever I hear the Salvation Army band, it immediately conjures up a wonderful Christmas feeling and takes me right back to when I was a little girl growing up in Northern Ireland. My father was a clergyman and my mother loved Christmas so it was a really special, happy, important time. Back in those days the band would come round all the houses and we would gather on our doorsteps, enjoying the music, and then give them a donation. In my memory it was always crisp and snowy rather than grey and drizzly of course, but that’s the joy of nostalgia!
Susannah Constantine Novelist and makeover queen
I can scarcely describe the emotional impact the first winter snow has on me; the silence, the expectation, the crystalline chill. I am suddenly a child again feeling liberated because the normal rules of everyday life have changed completely. I used to sit on the window seat in my nanny’s room, drink hot chocolate, eat treats and watch the flakes spinning down to earth, all the while imagining the adventures that I would have. I named my first novel After the Snow because I loved how exhilarated those flurries made me feel. Even now I chase everyone outside when it snows; I want to pass on those associations of freedom and recklessness to my own children.
Ben Fogle Adventurer (below)
I’m a smelly person. Not in a stinky kind of way but in an emotive way. Smells catapult me like a time machine to my childhood. The smell of sweet shops always reminds me of my late grandmother, Jean. She lived alone in Brighton in a tiny little place called Smugglers Cottage. My grandfather (her husband) died when I was almost too young to remember, so it was always Grandma and her little Norfolk terrier.
We would often visit for the weekend and, as a treat, she would take my sisters and me to the small corner shop near her house, lined with jars of multicoloured sweets like something out of Willy Wonka.
That smell takes me back to that shop. The delicious decision. Which sweets would I go for? We would spend ages debating the merits of each kind. Flying saucers dissolved on the tongue too quickly. Shrimps never fulfilled anticipation. Invariably, I would go for the acid drops or some pink ball that left pink powder on my finger tips. I can still hear the clank of the sweets as they tumbled into the metal weighing dish before being poured into a little paper bag with blue stripes. There aren’t so many traditional sweet shops any more, but occasionally we stumble across one as a family. I find myself mesmerised and lured in by that unmistakable smell. It always reminds me of grandma Jean with her little Norfolk terrier sipping a cup of tea.
Victoria Hislop Novelist
My grandmother used to ask me for the same present every year: Yardley lipstick in cherry red. I bought her one of these each year from when I was eight years old until 18, when she died in the early Eighties. By Christmas, the one she had was worn down to a stub, so in the nick of time she unwrapped a new one and exclaimed with surprise.
The casing was heavy and gold and the lipstick itself had a sweet, waxy smell. It seemed like a really glamorous present (always purchased from the same department store in Tunbridge Wells) and I knew it would be applied carefully and frugally once a day until the following year. It’s a colour that’s very on-trend again now, and every time I walk past the shiny cosmetic counters at Christmas, I think of her. ‘Cartes Postales from Greece’, by Victoria Hislop, is published by Headline
Jenni Murray Broadcaster (below)
It’s 11 years since the death of my mother, Win Bailey, and, while I think of her often and miss her giddy chatter and absolute adoration of my two sons – how she would have loved to see what splendid young men they’ve become – it’s the phone that brings that piercing sense of loss to my heart.
Not the mobile – she never called me on that – but on the increasingly rare occasions the landline rings, just for a second, I still imagine it will be her voice on the other end.
She had a very particular telephone tone and it’s one of those inherited traits I recognise in myself. When I called her, I heard a rather taut, studied, posh, clipped “Barnsley 291188, Winifred Bailey speaking”.
I would say: “Hello Mum, it’s Jen.” She hated Jenni, saying it reminded her of a cow she’d known on her aunt’s farm as a child. I only ever got Jennifer when she was cross with me.
As soon as she realised it was me, she would slip into her warm Yorkshire burr: “Ooh, ’ello luv. How you doin’?” We would chat for hours, exchanging gossip, recipes, moans and groans. I will never hear her voice again, but, just for that second, as the phone rings, I will always fancy I might.
Bells and smells: Jenni Murray aged 14 (main picture) is reminded of her mother, Win Bailey, by the sound of the landline ringing. Other memory triggers include the Salvation Army band, Elnett hairspray, traditional sweet shops and Yardley lipstick