Occasionally, fleetingly, I cease being a bona fide anosmic.
In November last year I left a meeting in central London during the rush hour. I love traipsing the fascinating streets of town, so eschewing the tube, I made for Marylebone station on foot. It was freezing – well below zero – but I was fully armed; pockets stuffed with tissues to deal with a forever-running nose. Yet my nasal passages felt remarkably clear. The crispy-cold air turbo-charged a fast enjoyable, twenty-minute walk.
The train was pretty much full, standing room only. Just before the doors closed a guy in a pin-striped suit stepped in. His arrival caused a stir. Maybe he’d had a tough, stressful day. Maybe his rush for the train was the last straw. He was overweight too, which probably didn’t help. Other passengers edged away. Two of them moved down the channel between the seats. Incredibly, I knew why. Mr Smelly had joined the carriage.
How I loved Mr Smelly. I wasn’t like the others. I didn’t move away. I had to stay within molecular range. Jesus, I felt like hugging Mr Smelly.
Twenty minutes of reassuring sniffing followed until I reached my stop. With evening falling, my walk to the car was colder still. The cold. It had to be the cold. Had it shrunk back the polyps, like my steroid spray was supposed to do? Windows fully down, I drove home in my Audi Fridge. En route, I called my partner on the hands-free. We had an unfamiliar exchange. What’s for dinner, I cried.
I tried to rein in my enthusiasm. Smell wouldn’t guarantee my ability to taste. Experience had taught me there needs to be plenty of smell, for a week or more, before anything happens. Perhaps the neural pathways to the olfactory bulb need new spark plugs to get them all firing?
It’s anything but a delicious irony that my partner is a qualified, highly accomplished chef. As usual, more in hope than expectation, she set something lovely before me. Mostly, People Like Us still like meat. We get texture from the mouth, umami from the tongue. Yet for me at least, these things are ubiquitous: meat is meat is meat. I put a little piece in my mouth.
Lamb! It screamed at me, like a baa-ing barbarian. I am lamb!!
Trouble was, this loud lamb forced a search of my memory. Did I like lamb? Strong, almost gamey, invasive and lingering. Whether or not I liked it once, I didn’t like it now. My lapsed anosmia had ruined dinner.
No matter. Once my smell disappeared I started eating lamb again. The quiet, tame ones; woolly and inoffensive.