Having rediscovered my long-lost love of coffee in recent months, I’ve laid on a selection for you: cappuccino, latte, americano, filter, espresso (with or without a shot of your choice, depending on your time zone), macchiato, ristretto, and mocha. (For the luddites, Nescafe is available in a brown waxed-paper cup from under the counter.) Of course, tea (Twinings) is also available!
Now, raise your cup, mug, or shot glass to your nose and sniff. Can you smell that? Have a sip? Can you taste it? Lovely, isn’t it?
I’m not just meaning the coffee, I am also talking about being able to smell and being able to taste - two senses we take for granted, and two which we’re often told are rarely mentioned in writing, even though smell is said to be the most evocative of senses.
My (great) Uncle Harold was gassed in the Great War and had no sense of anything in his mouth, throat or nose. The family story (no doubt well-embellished by my father) detailed the necessity of Auntie May having to turn him upside-down and give him a shake whenever he got something stuck, or else he would choke.
As a child this struck me as a wildly amusing and, given the diminutive proportions of both Harold and May, plausible story. I never once considered how life must have been for Harold.
Well, I discovered for myself earlier this year when my taste and smell, already dulled by two and a half months flu and recovery from flu (of the human variety) and by a month-long chest-infection, were completely wiped out by sinusitis. It left me unable to distinguish that coffee you are holding from a mug of hot muddy water.
For a further month, I tested myself each day on samples of increasing pungency (including Olbas Oil) in the hope of discerning some hint of recovery, but could not detect any of them (although being unable to smell the toddler’s nappy was a bonus - at least for me). Worst of all, my supply of comfort chocolate could have been tofu. My life became grey and joyless. There was no pleasure in mealtimes or that well-earned cup of tea each mid-afternoon, or beer, or Scotch, or anything else. I lost weight because I couldn’t be bothered to eat. There was no point.
We can all imagine how we would feel without our sight (we can close our eyes), or hearing (block our ears), or even perhaps our sense of touch (when our hands and feet go to sleep), but have you ever stopped to think how life would be without taste or smell, for longer than just the duration of a cold? Harold was twenty when he was gassed, and he lived to be eighty five; that’s sixty-five years of being unable to wake up and smell the coffee. Awful.
So why don’t we write about it?