Take a sniff: the five key smells of Archway

“Scent event” organiser and writer Lizzie Ostrom on N19’s most distinctive whiffs

Lizzie Ostrom
Lizzie Ostrom
Archway may not be the most desirable of locales for smells. Unless the revamp of the tower block results in a plague of macaron purveyors and perfumeries, the smells round here are distinctly prosaic in that fried-chicken-kind-of-way.

But I enjoy the more everyday aromatic pleasures around my home. Here are five of my favourites:

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1. Yildiz Bakery

Yildiz: 'the creamy, throat-coating smell of hot cheese and blistering dough.' Photos: LO
Yildiz: ‘the creamy, throat-coating smell of hot cheese and blistering dough.’ Photos: LO
Walk down Junction Road from Archway and you’ll shortly arrive at Yildiz bakery where you’ll be met by the creamy, throat-coating smell of hot cheese and blistering dough. So enticing is this aroma, I’ve been known to end up Yildiz three times in the space of a working week for lunch. At the window you’ll usually find a Turkish woman stooped over a hotplate making Gozleme, the stuffed flatbreads for which Yildiz is known. The cheese and spinach is the best. 45 Junction Road N19
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2. Resurrection Boutique

Resurrection Boutique: 'the faint scent of sweat still in the pits'. Photo: LO
Resurrection Boutique: ‘the faint scent of sweat still in the pits’. Photo: LO
True, all secondhand clothing shops have something of this mothbally, Miss Haversham scent, but there is something particularly fuggy in the air at Resurrection Boutique, which must be one of London’s most secret of vintage emporia: plenty of 1970s synthetic dresses, with the faint scent of sweat still in the pits; furry collars with particles of dust embedded into the hairs, along with some Benson & Hedges’ vestige; and tangled jewellery that goes coppery in the hands. I love shopping here especially for outfits for my perfume events, and the smell is all part of the fun. 3A Archway Road N19
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3. Waterlow Park

Waterlow Park: "a smoky, damp, peaty scent." Photo: WaterlowPark.org
Waterlow Park: ‘a smoky, damp, peaty scent.’ Photo: WaterlowPark.org
It’s difficult to describe a particularly perennial smell here as the aroma will depend utterly on the seasonal parade of flowers and plants. But there is one disguised little bit of the park called something like the ‘Social Circle’. You wander off the path and find yourself in a shadowy fairy dell, with a round array of tree trunk stools to sit on. There’s that smoky, damp, peaty scent in here, almost like lapsang souchong tea. And I could quite happily spend an hour in here, were it not for the fact that other people come in and disturb the solitude – including sometimes some characters who sit down and stare at me until I get freaked out and slip back to the daylight.
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4. The Archway Underpass

The underpass: "the smell of urine ." Photo: LO
The underpass: ‘the smell of urine.’ Photo: LO
Ah the thrill of walking under the A1! I’m going to talk about the smell of urine here. In perfumery this is a must-discussed odour, not least because many fine fragrances have something of that waft to them. Honey, for example, can smell quite like pee, as can some of the sharper, more ambery rose perfumes. Similarly, some classic scents contain cumin which basically smells like a sweaty football club changing room; others smell like crotch as they contain animalic materials like civetone, which resembles the secretions of the civet cat. Our perception of a scent can be so led by what we are told about it, and while I’m not suggesting we all sit in the underpass inhaling Eau de Piss, it’s worth thinking about that fine line between acceptability and disgust which is often there in smell.
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5. Archway Residents’ Garden

Residents' garden: "It’s this disconnect between eye and nose that I find so fascinating." Photo: LO
Residents’ garden: ‘It’s this disconnect between eye and nose that I find so fascinating.’ Photo: LO
A couple of minutes’ walk up the A1 from the tube, there’s a little wedge of land, a scrap of garden that cannot be entered (too small for that), but which is enjoyed in passing. This is the Archway Residents’ garden. It’s a complete riot of flowers, all a bit Jumanji plant takeover, and contains the most lovely scented roses along with a gorgeous fragrance of jasmine in late spring. Jasmine is an incredibly narcotic scent.

In my book I talk about jasmine perfume in relation to Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ play, A Streetcar Named Desire; in order to cope with the squalor around her, Blanche douses herself in the stuff as thought its some form of disinfectant. This is what I love about smell. We might be somewhere that doesn’t look anything special, perhaps it’s a bit run-down or neglected. But if there’s a fence with some jasmine climbing up and over to hit our nostrils as we walk by, we could almost be in the tropics. It’s this disconnect between eye and nose that I find so fascinating – and one of the most exciting things about living in a city.

Perfume: A Century of Scents by Lizzie Ostrom is published by Hutchinson priced £16.99. Follow her on @odettetoilette

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