ONE STINK TOO FAR
‘So let’s talk perfume…’ said Mildred with an elaborate hand gesture. The family sat down on a rather floral sofa, in a room with white and pink rose decorated wallpaper and dark wooden furniture. She arranged a large white porcelain teapot decorated with blue flowers with cups that matched. Bertie carried in a silver tray with blue and white decorated plates with shortcake biscuits in the shape of toilets. Josh and Tingle giggled and then saw that they had cloudy fresh apple juice in their own special see-through beakers in the shape of toilets.
John glanced at Dianne who smiled, ‘Visitors also come to the Waftness Pumping Station for the Great Stink Exhibition and the display showing the history of the water closet. A lot are amazed by the exhibition ‘What has been used instead of toilet paper’. We made some nice cups and souvenirs in the shape of toilets for tourists to take home. They are very popular, especially the ‘surprise’ toilets. If you pick that ornament up over there…’ Mildred said pointing.
Josh went over and picked up a toilet shape and studied it. ‘Now open it but point it away from you…’
Josh did as he was told. He opened the toilet lid and a jet of water shot out. He screamed with delight and giggled.
John jumped and began to laugh. ‘Honestly this day is just becoming stranger,’ he said.
‘I think toilet biscuits are funny,’ said Tingle.
When the group stopped giggling Auntie Joanna took her opportunity to dig a little deeper. ‘Can you tell us more about the perfume, and Josh please put the toilet ornament back where you found it.’
‘Well,’ said Mildred in a tone of mystery. ‘Originally perfume wasn’t used in the same way as it is today. Victorian ladies didn’t usually spray it on their bodies. Instead they used it to scent their handkerchiefs or gloves and added it to their clothes. Most fragrances contained bergamot, an orange smell or lemon oil.’
‘They liked fruity smells?’ asked Tingle. ‘I like fruity smells – I like strawberry best.’
‘Strawberry is a lovely smell and would have been more expensive than the usual orange and lemon smells,’ Mildred said with a smile and waving her hand through the air theatrically dramatically. ‘So the wealthy women decided they wanted more complex smells to distance themselves from the poor. That was when the master perfumer Sebastian Scent became very popular. He studied the art of aroma when he was young in an area of France called Grasse. Grasse is a beautiful village known as the Ville Fleurie. The perfumery began production in the 17th century. The funny thing is that the village originally created leather gloves, but those gloves smelled bad – so they created nice smells to make the gloves smell better. When the gloves became less profitable the town focused on creating exquisite perfume. The flowers for the perfume were grown in meadows surrounding the town. Sebastian loved it there and when he finished studying he wanted to take what he learned to London. He had a wonderful vision to fill London with beautiful fragrances. At first his perfumes were quite popular and word of mouth made him famous for fragrance in only six months. He would combine flowers and fruit to create scents that captivated.’
‘What is captivated?’ asked Josh.
‘The smells were so lovely that people were amazed by them. They wanted to smell more of the wonderful scents.’ Dianne answered.
Mildred smiled, ‘Word of mouth about the beautiful aromas travelled amongst the gentry. The wealthy women desired unique perfumes to be made especially for them. As the gentry smelled finer Sebastian’s reputation made him rather famous. That eventually resulted in him being summoned to Buckingham Palace. After a perfume presentation he was commissioned to create an exclusive scent for the Queen. Of course he took his passion and combined some rare aromas for her in a secret fragrance recipe. He then presented her with the perfume and she loved it. It wasn’t surprising that when she went to court everyone wanted that same aroma. Sebastian said to the Queen that he was happy to keep the specific scent secret but she liked the idea that the court wanted to smell like her. So she let them buy that perfume and then requested another one and then another. Each perfume was completely original and created specifically for her. There was talk in the court and there was jealousy because Sebastian became favoured by royalty and socialised in the royal circles. He was considered a lucky peasant by some of those who were in the Queen’s assembly. At the same time Sebastian Scent, as he was nicknamed, became the talk of London – everyone wanted to smell good. Then one day he created a perfume so ornate and so special that he took it to the Queen for her approval. Unfortunately when he wasn’t looking, someone added garlic and rotten cheese to the smell. The Queen, opened the perfume in front of her court and… screamed with repulsion! ‘I am not amused!’ she cried. ‘How dare you create something so disgusting!’
Sebastian was stunned. He had created a supreme scent, the most magnificent fragrance he had ever created. What could have gone wrong? In an act of revulsion, the Queen hurled the glass bottle at the floor. When it smashed the stink filled the room. The court covered their noses with their handkerchiefs and appeared repulsed. It was then that he realised someone had sabotaged his exquisite creation. In that moment he was shamed and cast out of the court. All those well-to-do friends, who had basked in his beautiful perfume glory, no longer wanted anything to do with him.’
‘But he did nothing wrong,’ said Tingle sipping her apple juice.
‘No but the Queen didn’t know that,’ Bertie said, picking up a toilet-shaped shortbread from the tray and offering everyone another biscuit.
‘The humiliation made him very angry and that anger turned to rage. Who in the court had been so cruel? Who would sabotage him? For a few months he wandered around the city wearing a coat with a hood. He listened to people gossip about the pong he had made. People laughed about him and made shows about the stink. He was mocked and ridiculed in all areas of the city – over time he soon became known as Stinky Sebastian or Sebastian Stink-maker. Then the city finally settled on Sebastian Stinkworthy as his new nickname. One day he watched a street theatre acting out the story of the Queen sniffing the perfume and her screaming ‘What a pong! We are not amused…’ In the play the actors pointed at the actor playing Sebastian and sang…
‘Sebastian the stink maker of the extreme…
It smelled so bad it upset the Queen…
A pong so bad made nostrils clench
Because Sebastian created an awful stench…’
There was cackling among the audience before all the actors broke into the chorus…
‘Oh what a pong….
To make a song…
To make such a smell for the Queen was wrong….
The audience joined in the chorus and they all belly laughed as the song came the end. Then one of the crowd spotted him. ‘That’s him… That is Sebastian the Stink Master!’ ‘Sebastian Stinkworthy is among us! Cover your noses.’ The crowd turned and pointed. ‘Stinker! Stinker! Pongalong – apoo!’ They all chanted.
Sebastian froze to the spot. In that moment a rage like no other filled his being. That evening as he walked home he realised that he had been ridiculed across the whole city and the population even sang songs about the stink-cident. He paused under a window and gazed out over the city. Unfortunately he had paused under a window that happened to be emptying their toilet at that precise moment. It all landed on top of him. That was it. That was the moment he turned. He intended to take revenge. If they were going to sing songs about the stink then he intended to make it worthwhile. Sebastian would make a stink so bad that it would certainly be Stinkworthy! That night something shifted in Sebastian. He transformed from a kind man who was inspired to make supreme scents to a man who was intent on festering, foul fragrances.’
Tingle sighed very loudly. ‘That isn’t fair,’ said Tingle. ‘He made really nice perfumes and they were all horrid to him. That makes me sad.’
Auntie Joanna sensed that Tingle and Josh were on Sebastian’s side.
‘Darlings… let’s find out what happened next and then you will have a better idea of how life can give you choices…’ Auntie Joanna said sipping her tea. She knew something they didn’t.
Illustrations by Robin Dry – Thank you!