Saturday, 24 August 2013

What does the London Underground

taste like? I prowled in briefly to Twitter this morning and, having looked at my work feed, naughtily prowled over to my personal feed for a moment and found this posted by @caroleagent : It is a link to an extraordinary "map" of the London Underground made by a man with synaesthesia - someone who strongly, and I mean strongly, associates colours, odours, sounds or (in this case) tastes with something else. 
Nicola Morgan has written a book called "Mondays are Red" in which (obviously) the main character associates Mondays with the colour red.  Please go and read if you want to know more.
I do not have synaesthesia myself although I do associate some odours with some places. I think I once mentioned on this blog going into an Oxford Street shop and smelling the same cleaning fluid that was used by the small delicatessen near my grandparents' home. It brought back a flood of childhood memories, an intense longing for my grandparents and that part of my childhood. Most of my childhood was not particularly happy so those memories are perhaps particularly strong.
Other odours also evoke strong memories for me. I dislike some perfumes because I associate them with being required to hug and kiss my maternal grandmother and her cousin. They both used "Ashes of Violet" on occasion which, as children, we all found quite overpowering. Last summer my brother was here and found a small patch of violets in the garden. We don't know where they came from but my father left them there. My brother picked one and sniffed it. Then he said,
"Ugh. That reminds me of...." His memory was similar to mine. I won't say it was the same because we must all smell things differently.
Then there is the smell of creosote. I tried to explain that once as being "dusty and sharp" but the person I was telling clearly had no idea what I meant.
And how do you explain the smell of lemon or rose or bleach? We don't seem to have as many words for describing these things as we should have.
But tastes? I think they still make "Life-Savers", those small round sweets with a hole in the middle. They come, or came, in a little roll. My grandfather used to buy "clove" flavoured Life-Savers. I think he thought they disguised the smell of the cigars he would smoke twice a year - one on his birthday and one over the holiday period. I don't think they make that flavour any more but if I smell cloves then I am always reminded of that taste. It is the smell of the cloves though and not their taste. I tried to think of something that was actually the taste which evoked the memory and I find that really difficult. There are other kitchen smells which remind me of my paternal grandmother's kitchen. There are times when such things make me feel an intense longing for that part of my life but I don't smell it.
The Underground Map tells me that the man who made it associates the taste of a "Picnic Bar" with the stop I often used.  It seems to go well with the research teams which were labelled "FISH" and "CHIPS" but I don't taste these things either, although I do remember the shop where we occasionally bought fish and chips.
And sometimes, even now, although I have not been back to London for years, I will be waiting to cross a road and I am transported back suddenly, sharply and painfully waiting to cross the road outside Dillon's University Bookshop or into the crypt of a nearby church or into the basement where the canteen was. I don't know what makes me suddenly see these things so clearly that I might almost be there.
It makes me glad I do not have synaesthesia because I think it must be very hard to live that way. 

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