On one of the miracle days of summer this week (there have only been two), I found myself in a bus shelter next to a woman who smelled distinctly of bog myrtle. At first I could not understand where the scent was coming from, as bog myrtle isn’t exactly what you expect to smell in the middle of a city. I looked around, but there were no plants or trees anywhere nearby the scent could have come from. Yet there it was, utterly distinctive and unmistakably coming from the only other person in the bus shelter.
The smell of bog myrtle makes me think of Skye on a warm summer’s day on the hill, the gnarled fists of dusty heather punctuated by tufts of springy bog myrtle, it’s sweet, pungent scent rising headily as you crush it beneath your feet. I associate it with skylarks singing, so high they are mere pinpricks on the blue vault of the sky and the spasm of skin-contracting shock diving into a deep, dark hill loch on a hot day. It is my Proustian equivalent of a Madeleine, transporting me to long summer days in the sun as surely as the coconut- oil scent of gorse.
What I do not associate bog myrtle with is the tinny smell of hot exhaust. I was desperate to know how this woman managed to smell like a hot day in the Highlands (in a good way...). Unfortunately, I couldn’t see that saying ‘gee, you smell good—just like bog myrtle,’ was going to be a particularly successful conversation opener. Even, ‘golly, what is that scent you’re wearing?’ feels intrusive at a bus stop. It is strange but true that something you might ask someone next to you in a queue at Marks and Spencer is just not allowable in a bus queue.
I think this might be connected to the cloak of invisibility we sometimes wear— the one you put on when you are picking your nose in your car. The sort of invisibility worn by the girl who moisturises each morning on the bus—I had no idea anyone could spend so much time and effort rubbing a cream into their face-- before putting on a full coat of slap (she is wonderfully brave—I can’t think how she gets the mascara on without poking her eye out. I have also watched her varnish her nails--the mind boggles--with hands that steady she should be a brain surgeon). She pulls faces, inspects her pores and squeezes her spots, all in the privacy of her own seat-space, oblivious to the other passengers.
I, on the other hand, am most assuredly not invisible to the woman at the bus stop. She glares at me disapprovingly as I perch next to her, despite my being at least two feet away from her. This does not invite confidences, or even eye contact; never mind questions of a personal nature.
Nor is she the only bus-goer who seems inclined to disapprove of me. Most mornings when I get on the bus I walk past a woman who looks me up and down with an expression of what I can only describe as complete contempt. Now, I am the first person to admit that I would never be mistaken for a clotheshorse, but nor do I dress as a short-sighted bag-lady (at least not most days and not on my way to work—though there is a bag lady who sometimes rides the bus who wears fantastic outfits...but that’s another blog). I really have no idea why my very existence seems to offend this woman so much that she feels compelled to look at me as if she is an Elvis impersonator practising lip curls. I wouldn’t mind if her own presentation was unimpeachable (and I hope she will forgive me if she is an Elvis impersonator who any day is going to break into a chorus of ‘All Shook Up’ on the bus), but I refuse to be judged by a woman (younger than me) who wears a silver and purple fleece, baby pink and blue boat shoes and elasticated trousers .
Clearly one of us needs a cloak of invisibility...and I don’t think it’s me.