Thought for the Day - Anne Atkins

If you had to lose one of your senses, which would you need the least?

At its most basic, hearing alerts us to danger; sight shows us where to find everything; feeling prevents us from damaging our tissues, like those who lose extremities through leprosy; and the basic tastes of sweet and sour, bitter and salty tell us what food to avoid.

But smell? What does it do for us that we couldn’t survive without? The aroma of roses. The bouquet of wine. The tang of a pine forest. Scent, for humans at any rate, is surely the most luxurious of the senses.

Yesterday’s presenters, Sarah and Evan, endured the tantalising whiff of Bakewell Tart at the end of the programme, brought into the studio by Lizzie Ostrum who helped design a smell stick for those with dementia. Marcel Proust re-entered his childhood with the savour of a madeline, and the description of Bakewell Tart wafting into my kitchen triggered powerful reminiscences for me.
My dear mother lost her appetite with her memory, so my father spent hours every day for years, coaxing down every mouthful and each sip. To our great joy when she moved in with us, surrounded by young people who loved her, her hunger quickened again with her tired mind, and she asked for small second helpings and even enjoyed half a glass of wine. The last thing my father and I did for her together was persuade her to drink a mug of tea.

After her death, I gave him a bottle full of the fragrance of bluebells, to bring back a mauve-washed picnic, taken with her in a wood in early summer. More than any other sense, aroma evokes. Fresh mown grass conjures my childhood and long lazy afternoons at the edge of a cricket pitch. My salad days studying are summoned by the brewing of fresh coffee, the pungent redolence of Brasenose Lane in the late morning. When I crossed Asia one long vac a friend gave me his huge shirt, so that I slept under the stars wearing the smell of the person I now smell every night in person when I sleep.

The Teacher was eating with friends. One took a pound of pure nard worth a year’s wages, and poured it over his feet. It filled the house. The cost could have saved the starving, do-gooding observers objected.
“Leave her alone,” He said. “The starving will always be with you. I will soon be gone.”

Jesus said many shocking things. The wild extravagant celebration of a scent, counted more important than rescuing lives? All of a piece with Someone who wined and dined for pure pleasure; who considered gladdening of the heart so vital that his first miracle turned necessary water for essentials into quality vintage for the party.
If my mother were still alive, I would certainly buy her a smell stick. The absurd, ridiculous opulence of mere odour... designed to stimulate the appetite, and save life with a luxury.

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