Updated: Jun 2
Olfactory obsession has taken over. Ping; the phone alerts us to a newsflash.
Ping; the doorbell signals arrival of a package. Ping One, the BBC advising that a loss of smell has been officially added to the list of coronavirus symptoms. Ping Two, a package from a recently discovered little company, Iron & Velvet, specialising in eco-friendly cleaning products. The water-soluble, multi-surface sachets had arrived!
Smell’s a big thing in this house. Not that we suffer from Jolly Green Giant-sized noses you understand, oh no, more that the aroma of a food product, room, person, offer, for us, a valuable sense of context and understanding. Afterall, who hasn’t stepped from the shower, squirting on fragrance to make the day feel better?
Take the car for another example. Those dangly little numbers, bobbing about from a rear-view mirror, promising ‘spring blossom’ and exotic ‘top notes’, put nerves on edge, but give me a squirt of lemon juice and a slug of white vinegar (brilliant, I promise) and both the car and I seem to run better.
We had a big house party a few years ago. Mid-winter. Cold outside. Warm and welcoming and infused with the aroma of mulled wine mincemeat within the walls.
But what’s that? Reaching my nostrils’, an alien waft curled around the room. Sniffing the wind like some Disneyesque dog, I was inexplicitly drawn to its source. Others seemed completely oblivious. ‘How can you not smell that?’ I wanted to scream.
And there it was. The cause. AKA male friend, prone and puffing out through the cat-flap.
Now we have a new foe to fret about. “Our sense of smell plays a huge role in our memory, mood and emotion, and forms a major part of many of life’s pleasurable experiences,” says Fifth Sense, the charity for people affected by smell and taste disorders. I couldn’t agree more. Daily life is made so much richer with the added bonus of smell.
In a bid to discover if anosmia had struck, I decided to embrace the assistance of our new cleaning materials, plopping each sensory promise into individual recycled bottles, full of tepid water. Feeling like a Sunday Times wine critic and in highly controlled, laboratory, conditions (not) we inhaled slowly, breathing deeply, shunning the labels for fear of rigging the results.
First-up was the “something citrusy with an edge” said a team-member. Not bad, it’s orange and ginger. Good call, but let’s do another one just in case.
“Oh, that one’s quite clinical, sort of fresh, mouthwashy perhaps, standing to attention?”
Top of the sensory class; apple and mint glass and mirror cleaner, who knew cleaning could be such a buffet of choice?
OK, erring on the safe side, just one more go.
“Eeuurgh, it’s like sun cream, edgy sun cream, I wouldn’t want to slap it on but it’s definitely beachy.”
Well, that’s a relief ‘cause it’s coconut and lime antibacterial surface cleaner: just shows you the way neuro-pathways dig deep into memory.
For now, family noses seem to be functioning as they should (and here we must all reach out to touch a piece of, preferably aromatic, wood), but the loss of this ability, even for a short period, must be hugely traumatic, further enhanced by its lack of visibility to others.
In these disturbing times, it’s more important than ever to wake up and smell the roses, or the Ylang Ylang antibacterial cleaner in my case. Failing that, just make sure you do a lot of housework. It’s a fragrant jungle out there!
Mairi Fraser 19.5.20