Saturday, 19 February 2011


I have almost no sense of smell. It's a bit like that very old, and not very funny joke:

'My dog has no nose' 
'How does he smell?' 

It hasn't always been that way; I have some really powerful scent memories. Ambre Solaire in the heat of a Majorcan sun on my first teenage holiday, fresh-cut-grass in Dulwich park on a Sunday morning, burnt-out fireworks in November, the bury-your-face-in-it scent of a just shaved boyfriend. But it's been a long time since I walked past a lilac tree and was knocked out by its fragrance, even longer since I came home to the heart-lifting aroma of a roast dinner.

One of the real down-sides is the impact on my ability to taste. I easily get those flavours that rely only on the tongue - put either sugar or salt in my tea and I will kill you while spitting it out in your face; but ask me to describe the nuances of a fine glass of wine and I'm lost. I live in awe of tea-tasters and all those who earn their living by their taste-buds. I am nonplussed by those who can define the impact of a herb - imagine being able to say you don't like coriander.

I know it's frustrating for my beloved. He's a very fine cook and will happily spend hours blending flavours to create a perfect dish. I know that my "very nice" doesn't do it credit, but I just don't have the vocabulary to describe what isn't there. In compensation for my lack of palate I have however developed a supreme appreciation of texture. Take the well-crafted combination of textures in crispy duck and pancakes, the soft giving-ness of the pancake, the cool crunch of the cucumber and spring onion, the springy bite of the duck, all enfolded in sticky plum sauce. Unbeatable.

There are other advantages; I never suffer from the odour of sweaty shoes left lying around the house, I'm never compelled to move away from a smelly fellow passenger on a train, I can be relied on to put the rubbish out without making a fuss.  At times though, it borders on dangerous. I can sit in a room with burning bacon under the grill and notice nothing until the acrid smoke brings tears to my eyes, I can happily pour gone-off milk into my tea and only notice when it rises to the surface in lumps.

I always wear perfume, but never choose my own - I have to rely on the good taste of others to tell me if it suits me. And because I cannot rely on my sense of smell, I live in constant fear of offending the olfactory organs of those around me.

A few years ago, while sitting in bed with my beloved, he started talking in his softest, kindest voice,
"you know that I really love you...."
Well that immediately set alarm bells ringing. Why was he being so nice, what was he building up to?
He must have been about to tell me that I smelled.
"...I want you to know that you can rely on me..."
Now I don't mind making a deliberate fool of myself, but I couldn't bear to think that he was feeling sorry for me or disdainful.
"...and because I really love you, I think..."
This was too much. I was ready to leap out of bed and rush to the shower.
Then he took my hand.
I knew it must be really bad.
"...I'd like you to marry me..."

Well I certainly never sensed that coming.


Baglady said...

Brilliant! I didn't sense that coming either. Love it!

Hating coriander? Who on earth would say such a thing?

And the dog with no nose joke is hilarious. Always. It's the law.

Jennifer said...

This was great. One of my favorite blog posts, in general. I love it! :D

Nessa Roo said...

(Right after you bathe....) hahahaha!
Very nice. Very sweet...

Rohini Prasanth said...

You have an odor-blind buddy in me. And I am not making that up. I have always been that way - runs in the family, and I know exactly how you feel. I am going to link my own post about being odor blind to yours, for some people are so surprised at this loss of smell (including my husband).

All that I feel about this, you have written brilliantly. It was almost like reading my own experiences - my husband too is an excellent cook, my husband chooses my perfumes, and I constantly do offend his olfactory organ. I can never smell anything burning or boiling and to compensate that I have a good sense of sound.

I have been checking your blog regularly for I love the way you write. I am amazed at this strange coincidence.

Hillary said...

Loved the way this ended.

dys·func·tion said...

Beautiful ending! Nothing quite like reading the signals wrong. "Why was he being so nice?"

Karthik said...

I'm your exact opposite, you know. My nose is very sensitive and I can easily differentiate one smell from another quite accurately. One of my friends even wondered whether I was a dog in my last birth (if there is such a thing as re-incarnation). :P

Either ways, first time here. I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Will be here for more. Cheerios! :)

Pat said...

Sharon you mean you went to bed with him before you were married?
I think I'll have to go and lie down.

NanU said...

Brilliant indeed! Never sensed it coming either.
Though a poor sense of smell is something I certainly relate to. For me it leads to embarrassement when having people over, to remember halfway through the evening that I forgot to change the cat litter and I'm probably the only one who isn't noticing...

Jane said...

I didn't see the ending coming at all - just brilliant.
Scent memories are really powerful and I have been whisked back in time when I've caught some long forgotten smell.

Philip said...

What you neglected to mention in the denoument is that you proceeded to laugh for 5 minutes and cry for a further 8 before finally giving me a reply.

If you had told me 15 years ago I'd pledge eternal love for a woman without a sense of smell I would not have believed you.

I am more than happy to serve as your nose for the rest of your life. Some people have guide dogs, some have hearing dogs. You can have a Smell Dodd. Mmm maybe Fragrant would have been a better word to use...

Seré said...

I loved the wonderful happy twist at the end. My sister doesn't have any sense of smell, either, after years of sinus problems and surgery. I'm the opposite -- gagging when I have to change the kitty litter, stopping in the middle of a walk to try to detect which flower is in the air. And sometimes I forget when I'm with her and say, "Ohhh that smells incredible. What is that?" For someone with such a sensitive sense of smell, I realize that's pretty insensitive.

light208 said...

I love the ending of this, especially after reading Philip's additions.

I always think other people should chose your perfume for you anyway - sometimes they have a better perspective of what scent suits rather than just buying into the adverts.

SuzyAthey said...

What a great read. I often said if I had no taste/smell I would never eat chocolate and bad things so I'd be thin as a rake! But it's a pain I guess. Thanks for Twitter follow I will follow you back & bookmark your blog. Take a look at mine if you fancy. Suzy

Madame DeFarge said...

Nice twist (and so romantic!). But I do feel for you, in your position. I was prompted to think of all the smells that I'd miss and I do feel that my life would be poorer without them, even the really honky ones....but don't tell M. DeFarge. He'll never change his socks now.

Corte Inglesa said...

You didn't smell that one coming! :) Lovely lovely lovely... You know, I can never smell my perfume, but I'm always paranoid that my dog smells. Would hate to be branded a 'smelly dog person'. There's nothing worse. Maybe that's why I obsessively wash her, poor thing! x

Sensible Footwear said...

I didn't see the ending coming either. This was just so lovely.

Sandy said...

Loved this post. You have such a talent with the way you weave your words throughout your writing.

Loved the surprise and unexpected ending.

caterpillar said...

I liked the ending so much....a very surprising ending....:)

Fran said...

Your description of the sour milk rising to the surface in lumps made me shiver!

Shopgirl said...

What a beautiful story and at the risk of repeating, the ending was a fantastic surprise.

Barbara L said...

Ha, didn't see that one coming either.
Side note: I lost my sense of smell for a little over a year. Then one day I smelled apples of all things. Slowly over several months my smell came back and is 100% now. Go figure.

Nicole said...

I like being pushed to think about the things I'd miss if I were missing a certain sense.

I like even more reading about getting surprised by love.

Good reading.

Olga said...

I love the happy ending in this story. I live in the world of smells, and I can't imagine it otherwise.

Sharon Longworth said...

Baglady - as in so many things, you have exquisite taste - who am I to challenge the 'coriander tastes like soap' perspective?

Jenna - I'm so glad you liked it, thank you!

Nessa Roo - nooo, I'm paranoid enough already, don't send me running for the shower!

Rohini - thank you so much - both for this more than kind comment, and the glowing comment you left on your blog - I'm bowled over and very flattered by your praise - thank you.

Sharon Longworth said...

Hilary - thank you - it was a very fine ending for me too!

Dys.func.tion - yep I'm quite good at jumping to conclusions - and very often not the right ones. I was glad to be wrong on that occasion.

Karthik - hello and welcome! I envy your nasal powers - sounds like complete witchcraft to me!

Pat - ok, guilty as charged - I guess I left myself open to that didn't I - not that I regret it at all. Hope you enjoy your lie down!

Sharon Longworth said...

NanU - ah yes, the joys and challenges of cat litter. One day I might write an entire blog post about our overweight, overly-stupid cat Martin.

Jane - I'd love to know more about your scent memories - mine have become a bit like old photos - I'm almost not sure if they're my memories or things that others have talked to me about.

Fragrant Dodd - even if I don't always show it, I will always be enormously glad and proud that you've chosen to spend time with me - thank you.

Sere - that's the thing I find most difficult, when someone says to me 'smell that' - I have a sense of missing out and letting them down at the same time.

Sharon Longworth said...

Light208 - thank you. I like the idea of others choosing my perfume, although I know that I'd trust some people's judgement more than others...!

SuzyAthey - hello and welcome - I really appreciate you stopping by and leaving a comment - I will go and check out your blog as well. And as for chocolate - surely there's always a reason to eat it?

Madame - I now have an unpleasant vision of M. DeFarge's dirty socks - thank goodness this blog doesn't have smell-o-vision.

Corte Inglesa - I'm so glad you enjoyed this. I have a horror of becoming either the wierd old cat lady, or the old woman who smells of wee. Hopefully neither will ever happen, and I'm sure you won't be thought of as the smelly dog woman either.

Sharon Longworth said...

Sensible Footwear - thank you :)

Sandy - that's a lovely thing to say and very much appreciated - thank you.

Caterpillar - I'm really glad so many people seem to have liked the ending - I certainly like how it turned out!

Fran - I know, it's gross. Luckily I haven't poisoned myself yet, but give me time...

Sharon Longworth said...

Shopgirl - thank you so much.

Barbara - I'm so glad your sense of smell came back - that means I've still got hope - right?

Nicole - thank you. I remember a training course I once went on where we each had to wear blindfolds for a while - I should thank my lucky stars it is only sense of smell that's missing.

Olga - there's a lovely image 'a world of smells' - that's almost another blog post in its own right!

Jeannie said...

This could be a good thing in terms of overindulging in food. If you can't taste and enjoy it to the hilt, why bother? Keep your trim figure!

Another plus are the emanations you don't have to deal with that might otherwise send a wife running to the sofa for refuge ;).

Moannie said...

I have come over to thank you for your visit, for leaving such a lovely comment, and for not begging me to come at see you at
And what do I find? A gem of a post that got me from Ambre Solaire...I had a singlet, bought in Cannes with the slogan in French 'I have the sun on my skin...' sounds so much sexier in French but I don't trust my spelling. Wore it till it fell to pieces. That oily lotion, along with garlic and oxone, were the scents of those happy happy days.

Too bad about your sensory loss-have you had it checked out, might be something s simple to cure as nasal polyps.

Schmutzie said...

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otherworldlyone said...

Lovely descriptions, funny and sweet. I loved it.

It's funny...I've never thought about how I'd feel if I lost my sense of smell. Eyesight and hearing, but not smell. Hmm.

Maryx said...

Brilliant and funny ! Thanks for sharing! =)

Elisabeth said...

The sense of smell is one of our most primitive and basic senses. I's part of the chemistry of attraction. Great story therefore.