When I was a child – without fail – November smelled of cinnamon, nutmeg, jewel-bright candied carbuncles of citrus peel, and rich, shiny brandy.
My mother baked Christmas cakes then for a mid-December delivery.
It was a skill she’d acquired at a women’s club in the local primary school where I’d been taught by the nuns.
As a kid, I found it impossible to imagine these stern bewhimpled disciplinarians running around the vast industrial convent kitchen, laughing, joking, clucking like chickens as they instructed the local housewives on how to make a fruitcake. As an adult, the image gives me great comfort, and makes me smile every time I imagine it.
Every year, my mother would pull an array of bowls from our cupboards.
Into one, a bag of raisins would be mixed with a bag of sultanas, the dark – almost scorched – scent of the fruit hovering like a lurking threat over the bowl; you had to put your face close to the fruit to smell the musky, oriental funk.