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The School of Life

The School of Life is an alternative space that gives life to off-the-wall ideas, serious life-enhancing thought and ways in which to improve your life, but without the dogma that can drown ideas and wisdom. According to its own ethos it is a place to learn how to live wisely and well.

The founder and chairman is Alain de Botton, who some of our travellers may be familiar with for his cerebral travel book: “The Art of Travel”. The man (and the school) certainly has a way of looking at the world a little differently.

Being a snuffling Trufflepig, I was recently drawn to one of The School of Life‘s excellently organised explorations: A Day of Good Scents. This wonderful excursion sought to investigate the ways in which the sense of smell permeates life, and how one can intensify the experience of living through smelling. It was a scent-drenched day—we started with a ‘Scent-Walkabout’, smelling goods at a local market (fresh coffee, freshly baked pastries) before heading to a church for a whiff of incense, a department store’s perfume department, a perfumery, a tube station (not all smells can be so sweet), a hairdresser and a McDonald’s.

We were a rather motley bunch, all wearing dark sunglasses (on a very grey London day) and ear-plugs, so as to heighten our olfactory sense. The stroll was led by a fascinating guide, Morgaine Gaye, a ‘food futurologist’; I encourage you to check out her website.

We then had a discussion led by The Scent Critic, Jo Fairley, where we sniffed, smelled and snorted our way around a range of perfumes. We were told to free-associate the smells and dig into our memory to see what we came up with. “This smells to me like a dark-haired woman in pearls in Hampstead… this smells like purple stained glass windows…” It was quite earnest, but good fun and a great mix of folk.

Taxis then picked us up to take us to the School of Life HQ, where we had lunch followed by a series of short, fascinating lectures. One was by Sissel Tolaas, variously known as a smell missionary, sweat hog and odour artist (make of that what you will). The day finished with odoursome cocktails and a chance to chat with the lecturers, and I took home one very well-worked and newly cultured nose.

This is the first in our series of posts digging up the most interesting things to do in London—this summer’s amazing Olympic city. We’ll have suggestions even more exciting than watching people way fitter than you perform superhuman feats, we promise.

We were rather a motley bunch, all wearing dark sunglasses (on a very grey London day) and ear-plugs, so as to heighten our olfactory sense.