Sunday, 10 July 2011

"I say, I say, I say. "

"My dog's got no nose."

"How does he smell?"


It may well be that I have mentioned this before. My memory not being what it was - not that it was ever all that brilliant. I had to spend hours and hours pacing the garden in order to memorise bits of Shakespear or Wordsworth or whoever else I was studying for my O level GCE exams when I was a teenager. I think perhaps I had better clarify that last sentence. I wasn't studying the poets themselves, you realise, but their work and it was bits of their work I had to memorise so that I could show off my knowledge by quoting the authors concerned in answer to a question in the exam paper. Probably hopelessly out of context - or it's entirely possible that I managed to mix up my authors so that I quoted Shelley when writing about Coleridge. But all this has nothing whatsoever to do with what I was starting to blether about. My memory not being what it was - and we won't go off at a tangent again at this point - I can't remember if I have or not. Mentioned this before, I mean. I have almost no sense of smell.

Some people, when I tell them that, immediately ascribe my disability - for that is what it is - as a direct result of my smoking habit. They do tend to look somewhat askance when I assure them that it is has nothing to do with the noxious weed but everything with genetics. My mother could hardly smell either. Nor could her mother. So it is blindingly obvious to me that I am not personally at fault here and the finger of blame should be transferred.

It's not that I have absolutely no sense of smell. Some things do manage to get through to me seemingly with ease. With other things I have to put my nose almost into contact with the source of the smell before I get a faint whiff of something. And with other things still I pretty well fail to smell them at all no matter what. A few examples: daphne, a strongly scented shrub, gets through with no bother, but with fragrant roses, lily of the valley and sweet peas I have to bury my nose in the flowers. I rarely small the Old Bat's perfume although just occasionally she will wear one that I do catch as we sit in the car, close to each other and in a small, enclosed space. But burning toast - well, the house could be on fire before I can smell that.

This lack of a sense of smell is not something that bothers me: I've never had it so I don't miss it. But just sometimes other people get flustered. ‘For goodness sake, couldn't you smell that?' somebody might ask. (You can guess who that it.) And the honest answer is that I couldn't. It's a bit like the difference between a blind person and a deaf one - both are disabled but the blind person is visibly so. This does appear to make a difference to the way we treat people. Take a group of 4, 5 or 6 people, one of whom is blind. If he (or she) wants to move across the room, any one of the others will be there to guide the blind person round the furniture and other obstacles and will do so quite happily. But if that blind person were to be deaf instead... OK, so he/she wouldn't need a guiding hand, but what about conversation? Would the others make that extra effort to enunciate distinctly, looking towards the deaf person and perhaps speaking more slowly and slightly louder than usual? Or would they just hope the deaf person picks up enough scraps to make sense of what is being said? And if the deaf person asks a question which was answered just a minute ago, is the reaction one of irritation?

And it's not just deaf and blind people who are treated in diametrically opposite ways. It's the same with all handicaps or disabilities. Those people with obvious - usually visible - handicaps are treated with sympathy and consideration. If the handicap is invisible, forget it. It's quite ridiculous that we should act this way. Or is it only me? Either way, I must make every effort not to do so in future.

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