Everyone loved her class because we were allowed to draw with soft dark pencils, practice giant curling handwriting in excitingly large exercise books and generally take a break from the think, think, thinking that the other teachers wanted us to do.
Everyone loved her classroom with its herringbone parquet she insisted be left unpolished so it roughed and scuffed and eventually smelt of the wood it was.
Loved its walls covered in pupils’ work, good and bad, and her own enormous canvases bearing amorphous rectangles in mauves and burgundies and blues that only years later would I understand as post expressionist.
And everyone loved her because she was unlike the others: the teachers, the parents, the people in the village.
She was an un-grown-up version of an adult.
Then there was the smell. The smell we all loved.
To be honest, it was impossible to say where her scent ended and the room’s began.
She was the room and the room an extension of her.
Aside from the floor there wooden desk chairs she’d salvaged when the rest of the school went plastic, trestle tables topped with boards liberated from timber yards and pew boxes salvaged from unwanted chapels.
There were the horse hair and blonde wood brushes for when we were allowed to paint and red cedar boxes full of pastels for Technicolor days.
And there was the sandalwood oil she dabbed behind her ears and said was better than shop bought scent. The oil that she tutored the girls and the willing boys in the ways of wearing.
For still life’s sake there were peaches and plums, never any other fruit, in bowls she talked of having come from North Africa.
Peaches and plums left out in the sun that were always over ripe, just on the point of yielding to rot.
She drank peach nectar too, it was ‘better for you’ and prune juice for the constitution, though what it had to do with history I never knew.
Last of all there were the joss sticks, the smoking vanilla, cinnamon and clove stalks that she surreptitiously smouldered until the day the headteacher caught her.
We always thought that’s why they took her away.
We believed they deprived us of our beloved one for the sake of a few burning sticks.
Only much later would mother let slip that the peach nectar had been found to be laced with schnapps, that the prune juice was damson wine, the joss sticks a clumsy student front for joints and her friendship with student teacher so much more than that.
Of course it didn’t matter. By that point it made me love her even more.
Feminite du Bois by Serge Lutens is a highly sexed and slightly sloshed slice of everyday bohemia.
It dances along the line between near propriety and beyond the pale and ends up firmly planting its big feet on the wrong side of the tracks.
After an early and brief spring of orange blossom and a slightly boozy, on the turn peach, the foliage and fruits give way quickly to the main part of the tree and the backbone of the perfume, the trunk.
This is a fragrance that never fails to get and give good wood.
But we’re not in a forest here, this is the whirling saw dust sand storm of a timber mill, the sculptor’s studio, the joiner’s yard or the dustbin at the front of class where 20 children are simultaneously sharpening pencils over the stones of play time plums.
This is raw wood being cut while the sap is still high.
And the softness in the background, the vanilla, and spices and resins and musk?
They all serve to prove how hard and soaringly high the wood is.
How sad then that all effort is expended so quickly on creating such effect that things must come to so untimely an end.
For a man or woman – as long as you’re a lumberjack, then you’re all right.
The Perfumed Dandy.