Sunday, 13 May 2012

The smell of creosote

Walking along the abandoned railway track close to my home in Jeziorki, Warsaw, Poland, I could smell creosote, used to preserve the sleepers under the rusting rails. With a whiff of that pungent chemical odour, I suddenly found myself in the back garden of 15 Croft Gardens, Hanwell, London W7, on a sunny summer's day. The wooden fences on both sides of our garden were painted with creosote, and after a fresh application of the tarry fluid.

These days, creosote has been banned from household use by the European Union and the US Environmental Protection Agency, the characteristic smell is now to be sniffed only in industrial situations. So its relative rarity means that when it does drift up my nostrils - the association can only be with my childhood back garden (the front garden fence was brick; the gate painted wood).

My father propped a long wooden ladder on the fence between our garden and our neighbours at number 13, the Jones. This gave a long one-in-three incline between the top of the fence (about four and half feet) running down to the lawn. My brother and I would use our old baby bath as a roller-coaster ride; we'd pull it to the top of the ladder and slide down. Not particularly dangerous (the worst thing that could have happened was a fall of a few feet on soft grass), but fun; it kept us amused for quite some time.

To my imaginative and historical mind, our pink plastic bath was a battleship sliding down it slipway into the sea. The ladder would be propped up against the fence for much of the summer holidays. And falling to my knees and giving the railway sleepers leading to the former aggregate sidings in Jeziorki brought it all back to me.

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