I feel I can write this post from a position of some authority as when it comes to centrally-located, cartilaginous facial excrescences (as it eventually must) I am unusually gifted. This nose forms the major part of my inheritance – this nose and an oil-painting of a sea captain. This captain, apocryphally named Uncle Tom, is alledgedly an ancestor of mine – but I do wonder if he is actually a practical joke and is just a painting picked up in a junk shop sometime in the nineteenth century and which my antecedents then chosen to invest with genealogical meaning. For one thing, he entirely lacks the family nose!
The sense of smell, as noted (at length) by Marcel Proust, provides a backdoor into the memory. Somehow, our olfactory sense is able to bypass the gatekeepers which usually keep ancient memories buried and tickle long neglected neurones back into life. The fragrances of nature help us to measure out the seasons: as but a single example, the heady scent of massed wisteria is a sure sign that winter is well and truly over.
My sense of smell is important to me, if only because my treatment of “best before” dates as an irrelevance means that it is a key player in my attempts to avoid food-poisoning. However, there are still times when anosmia has a certain appeal. I have observed that a certain class of both young men and elderly women are reluctant to go out in public without first drenching themselves in an eye-watering quantity of scent. Is the sense of smell somehow diminished following male puberty and by advanced, female age? Whilst the specific “notes” comprising their respective perfumes are somewhat different (or certainly the perfumiers – a word not commonly applied to the devisers of Lynx Africa – would like us to believe this is the case), the impact on those in enforced physical proximity is very similar. This usually occurs on busy public transport or in a packed concert hall. As I write this, I do wonder if anosmia would help – or whether I would need to pack a lightweight gas mask for any significant alleviation in my symptoms? A week or so back, the changing room at the gym was rich with the strident notes of a young man’s perfume. This clung to me and my clothing through the windswept cycle ride home and I was eventually forced to resort to the shower and laundry basket to eliminate it from my life. I suppose I may be overly sensitive – perhaps as a result of the exquisite sensitivity of my own nose (well, all that volume must be good for something), I almost never wear perfume of any sort.
A little while back, my neighbour across the hall installed a robot air freshener. This regularly squirts the hallway with some industrial scent – and also does this if it detects a human (or possibly other large animal) presence. At this latter it seems infallible, I am unable to sneak past it undetected despite my years of ninja training. It was installed to spare my neighbour the late evening aroma of curry which rises up the stairwell from the flat below. I have no objection at all to the scent of curry, though it does tend to make me a little peckish in the run-up to bedtime – and may be responsible for my increased consumption of dhal. I do also worry (or like to imagine as a better option than my advanced age) that it is increasing my tendency to drool into my pillow during the night.
I think on balance I shall seek to retain my sense of smell. I believe it is a huge component of the taste and enjoyment of food and losing this seems a heavy price to pay for being spared the wearing of superfluous scent by others on relatively rare occasions.