Thursday, 21 June 2012

Scratch 'n' Sniff

Scratch, sniff, scratch, sniff... Sniff, sniff, sniff... Positioning my nose nearer to the wall and inhaling deeply. The smell of freshly baked bread fills my nostrils, instantly reminding me of the crusty French stick we'd get from the bakers each Saturday, stuffing white tufts into my mouth as we continued to shop on the high street. As I scratch the next picture, I'm hit by a ripe, yeasty odour, the unmistakable whiff of mature cheddar. Eyes tightly shut, my mind's eye conjures up steaming plates of Marconi cheese, the pasta tubes engulfed in a massive bear-hug of thick sauce. For dessert, I get the unforgettable scent of melted chocolate. Its rich aroma reminding me of velvet mousse and milky cocoa. My mind has regressed to worn-out memories... This is, I imagine, what it would be like, if I could design my own scratch 'n' sniff wallpaper.

What makes scents so evocative? Do we associate smell with a mental image or is it the other way around? I retrieve memories from my favourite smells, but some scents I can't connect to any picture. True, most of mine link to food, but it's how I relate to events and people. These aromas largely evoke positive mental images. Smell starts the appetite off and crystallises the location, occasion or person. Mum is red wine and a rich tomato sauce; dad, a peppermint cream. I associate fried onions with my paternal grandparents' house and vanilla with my maternal. Pancake batter is holidays spent at Centre Parcs and pistachios is Tunisia.

As with sight, sound, touch and taste, smell is about recognition. What our nose detects we break down into neat compartments. We use certain words to describe them: aromas are reserved for food, scents for perfumes, and odours for bacteria. We all have our own unique blend of pheromones which provides information to others about us. Our sense of smell is a science which repels and arouses us. Without it, food becomes ambiguous and people are olfactory evasive. We're obsessed with masking any natural body odours. Is this why we take up with the wrong partners I wonder?

Our sense of smell, if you ask me, is under-rated. Most of us use it subconsciously and not to its full capacity. Imagine what life would be like if you had a cold continuously. Your environment turned down a notch, unable to distinguish fragrances and the taste of food in your mouth. Your senses are a man down making the world seem like a cardboard cut-out: two-dimensional. Could this be why we eat mindlessly? I've made it my new strategy to beat the UK's obesity epidemic: smell more, get thinner. Scratch 'n' sniff, become a scent connoisseur and breathe in deeply.