Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Sharper Senses.

Some days my senses seem sharper. It seems as though something has been stripped away and everything is brighter, louder, and, unfortunately, smellier.

Today, for instance, I was forced, by Hodmandod Minor's grumblings, to leave my research and go to Tesco. I plugged in my ipod as consolation and consequently felt detached from everything around me and maybe it was because of this that my sense of smell seemed heightened. Each rack of shelves seemed to have its own piquancy: the flowers by the door, the fruit and vegetables around the corner, and then the smell of fabrics where the clothes were stashed on racks. I am sure I could have shut my eyes and listed the fibres in front of me: the teased-out bolls of plants, the cocoons of worms, the extrusions of petrochemicals. Then, after that, it seemed to me I could smell hardware: metal, pottery, plastic, but all of this was soon overpowered as I approached the bread and then the meats and the fish.

But there was another smell too, underneath all the rest like the rumbling of a large-bellied drum you barely hear and yet know is there; it was as if something had died and had been secreted away. It was pervasive and seemed to billow up from my ankles; a decaying, rotting smell, seeping into my memory.

Then tonight, at dusk, I went out to post a letter with Hodmandod Senior, and a blackbird was sitting on a chimney pot singing a chorus for the coming of night: strident, loud, giving each note a fierce deliberation. And then , at the corner of our road, was something that has always been there, but I hadn't really noticed before: a telegraph pole, its wires radiating out, each one black and perfect like the spokes of an unfinished spider's web. For a few minutes we stopped and looked at it, noting the way the steps begin half way up the pole. It is a defence against the casual climber and the wilfully bored - like the way the leaves of a holly bush go from smooth to sharp.


Blogger Merc said...

Wow! Your smell stuff is wild. That other coming up from below the gut of memory - yes. I have been trying to express this in my thesis on olfactory imagery in expat writing ... and smell sneaks in when the other senses shut up a bit. I thought I was crazy. Maybe I am. Maybe I'm not alone. Thanks, Clare.

Wed May 21, 05:14:00 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heh, thank YOU Merc - looks like we're going crazy together. It looks a fine place.

Wed May 21, 10:19:00 pm  
Blogger Kay Cooke said...

Our sense of smell is apparently the one most hooked into memory ...

Fri May 23, 08:09:00 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

C.B.There was a good piece on this by Nigel Slater in the radio times today. I wish I could link to it. He said taste was equally important as far as he could see. I believe the two are linked. I remember reading somewhere that smell memories go to a different part of the brain, somewhere seaprate from the cortex, I think.

Fri May 23, 11:28:00 pm  
Blogger Merc said...

Somewhere in my notes I have a reference to the effect that 80% of what we think is taste is actually smell. And yes, Chiefbiscuit, and apparently smell also bypasses the mind and sort of works on the brain from the inside through the gut. Thanks for the Slater tip.

Mon May 26, 07:22:00 am  

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