Smells like Mean Spirit
With our world on a shaky peg, Colin Montgomery feels synaesthesia could be the weapon that restores it to its senses
Can you smell a fascist? Not as in literally get a malodorous whiff from one. I mean, for all I know, your average right-wing loon adheres to an impeccable personal grooming regime; an immaculately kept moustache being a telltale sign of course. By all accounts, Goering had his own range of pomades – each a different flavour of Bavarian sausage. And Lynx Blitzkrieg was a popular spray of its day. But inappropriate totalitarian toiletry gags aside, the question remains in play…
Can you smell a fascist? Or does writing that sentence, even as part of a meaningful scientific enquiry, lay bare latent fascist impulses in your own corrupt soul? After all any taxonomy predicated on a hierarchical scale of moral virtue is just as bad as locking people up ‘cause they look funny’, or disagree with you, or are somehow not quite as ‘pure’ as you. The charnel house has just put up its vacancies sign, time for a sense check.
Sense is in short supply right now. Witness the ever unfolding pandemic; how quickly humanity’s mask of reason slips. That’s for another article and if you do sneeze into this magazine, please dispose of it responsibly. No, by ‘smell a fascist’ I mean can you detect their character and, allied to that, their worldview, without them making that explicitly clear to you through their words and/or actions?
By shaking their hand or talking to them talk about the weather, could you get a sense of their being? Step forward witness A: Christopher Walken.
Walken was in a film called The Dead Zone, made in 1983. Based on a Stephen King book, it concerned the story of a teacher who awoke from a coma with an uncanny psychic ability to see the future just by interacting with things, places and people. In one scene he shakes hands with a US presidential candidate on the campaign trail and gets a horrifying fast-forward glimpse of the guy pushing the nuclear button in the future. That scene always stayed with me. It seemed to pull back a curtain to the space between spaces and all that.
That fascination led me - one day in the future - to the marvel and, perhaps curse, that is synaesthesia. For the uninitiated, synaesthesia is a neurological quirk that results in a sensory overlap in the brain’s wiring whereby people can smell days of the week or taste music or hear colours in the spoken word (and no, I haven’t just had a ‘shroom omelette). For example, you might always get a taste of melon when Duran Duran hit the decks. Or your Auntie Flo’s voice makes you think of the number 4. Or Wednesdays are simply brown.
Before I’m harrumphed to death by neurocognitive specialists, let me go on record as recognising the chasm of distinction between the supposed abilities of a psychic and the wonder that is synaesthesia; they are admittedly two different beasts. But the feeling they elicit is the same: that the superficial surface construct of our sensory engagement with the world is hiding all kinds of mysteries beyond.
It’s not just synaesthesia though. People wake up from head injuries speaking foreign languages when they’ve never ventured out of Hull. Such is the enigma of the throbbing walnut inside your noggin, and thus that fascist question.
If we could hear somebody prattling on and suddenly get a smell of their intentions, or the colour of their inclinations or the taste of their instincts, could that skill be repurposed to weed out the undesirables? Those who would go on to incite the jackbooted mob to acts which may precipitate another conflagration?
You don’t have to have read or watched A Clockwork Orange to know that such thinking sets a wholly dangerous precedent. So maybe that specialist unit of crack synaesthetics will have to be stood down. Shame really.
Tell you what, here’s a thought to prevent such superpowers going to waste. Why don’t we set them loose on our wee nation with a Douglas Adams inspired brief to catalogue their experiences through a synaesthetic filter, providing a daily dose of neuroplasticity for all. Here’s a sneak preview of how such an enterprise could benefit our troubled world. NB. These are my own inane imaginings and do not represent the synaesthesic community.
Auchtermuchty = the taste of bee stings on toast
Hampden = a faded yellow with flecks of roast onion
Sir Sean Connery = whisky bottles full of honey being smashed in a castle*
Raith Rovers = new carpet smell
The Forth Bridge = Buckfast flavoured ice-cream
Tuesdays = interminable xylophone solos
Motorways = brass and chewing gum
Cameron Toll Shopping Centre = red ash being forced into a doll’s mouth
Fort William = a number 5 being scored into a leather apron worn by a mute vagrant
The A82 = a bin bag full of old clocks
Ferries = a pair of olive coloured rubber gloves
Hanover Street = white chocolate smears on a black velvet jacket
And finally The Leither = ? (All answers to the Editor, courtesy of The Dockers Club)
Info: *I was ‘channelling’ Portencross Castle in Ayrshire