By Rob Allanson

The mid-point of things

Time to take a breath and assess how we are doing
Here we are, over that midway point of the year, and for some of you dear readers by the time you get this we will be well into the second half of the year. Midsummer has arrived and we now look to the last hazy days of summer and the lush autumnal weather coming in.

For me this is really a time to reflect on what has gone in the previous part of the year and how to work towards the good ending we’re all after.

You guessed it… how are those New Year’s resolutions going? Every year most of us try to make them and break them (perhaps), but I think this year we can make an exception (and hopefully a pass). Seriously, what a start to 2020. I don’t know about you, but I can count on one hand the number of people I have seen in person. I went to a band rehearsal recently, and dealing with people in person feels almost like a lost art.

As Becky Paskin mentions in her column, everything has gone online – even church services are now on Zoom. The last-minute scramble to get there on time has been replaced by pondering what might replace the communion wine and wafer; oaty biscuit and Ribena juice anyone?

But as we move into the later part of the year, I think now it’s time to either renew those resolutions or start to work out how, in this ‘new normal,’ we can strive to be better at things. Be it talking to family, looking out for those who haven’t really been outside in months, supporting your local (pub, bar, shop, farmer or producer) or, more importantly, supporting our fellow humans by wearing a mask. Even if this is all a ‘conspiracy’, ‘more people die of flu’, and ‘masks are ineffective’, whatever the abuse and excuses you get, just wear one; it’s not going to hurt and any extra protection for those around us is all good in my book.

To circle back to where I started though, I love autumn. Those times when the day starts out a little chilly, warms up and then cools for the evening; but not so cold that you can’t sit out and enjoy a sundowner.

There is, certainly here in my neck of the woods, a certain aroma that goes with these days. Distant grass fires, almost leaf mulch, and a really earthy edge to things, especially as the sun drops down. It takes me back to childhood, the herald of Bonfire Night and home-made treacle cake and cinder toffee. Trying not to drown while bobbing for apples in a bucket, and the one year my friend next door walked through our pond in the dark.

It’s funny how some things take you straight back to a place, a time, a very specific moment that the scent is connected to. I love this about the brain. Here we are with our wealth of technology, science and philosophies, and yet we are not really clear on how this connection occurs or why.

To give you another example, I was out riding the other week with my partner Kate, and we rode past the seed store just outside the village. The farmers here have pretty much been making hay while some sun shines, and the barley harvest has been coming in. They had the doors open to their seed store, which is just a corrugated metal structure and heats up in the sun, and they were filling it with grain. The smell – wow – pungent, heady, creamy, and, well, malty.

But it wasn’t to whisky that my brain went. It did have those wonderful underlying whisky notes, certainly from the milling and mashing area of the distillery, but again it linked back into my childhood. There I was in the kitchen, the old galley-style one before my dad built over the garage, being given thick, syrupy malt extract by my mum. The taste and smell was exactly the same as what was wafting out of that seed store.

Incidentally, before the building work on our house, my neighbour Tim and I used to try to create parachutes from bedsheets and launch ourselves off the garage roof, mainly to avoid the malt extract moments.

So as we move into the later half of the year, let’s try to explore that connection that’s there within, of smell and memory. Is there something that takes you back to a specific moment? Be still and let the aroma take you there if it does. To be honest, I think now more than ever we are allowed to indulge ourselves in memories.