Losing Taste

I learned about Sod’s Law from my parents, whenever I dropped a piece of toast butter side down, which was shockingly often. Its true definition is that ‘anything that can go wrong, will go wrong’, but I always took it to mean that if something goes wrong, it will always go wrong in the worst possible way. Maybe they’re the same thing.

I started this blog about three years too late. I always had it as an idea, but it was a bit of a flight of fancy, even though it was incredibly achievable. I wasn’t trying to teach myself how to fly a B52, I was reviewing restaurants a stones throw from my house. There’s a terminal laziness in my blood, that’s why I never started. But being lazy leads to being bored, so a cycle of getting up, doing something, giving up and lying back down begins. This time, though, I was determined not to let it become another failed project, and not to let views and clicks dictate the worth, as I had let them with essentially everything I’d done before.

It’s unlikely, now, that it will ever be ‘finished’, at least in the way it was intended. If the high street was once an old but proud steed being put gently out to pasture, it is now a screaming racehorse, legs broken at the foot of a hedge, in a tent with a vet and a big needle.

People have been scolded for focusing on closing restaurants and bars when such a huge loss of life is occurring, mainly for the complainants who can’t go to them to get pissed and have fun. But if you’ll allow me to be galaxy-brain pretentious for a moment, ‘loss of life’ is a multi-faceted term.

I’m unsure if I could describe what I’m experiencing right now as ‘a life’. The days merely zip from one end to the other. I do nothing aside from eat and sleep, and am more like a house cat than I am a person. I’ve started thinking about this period in terms of an illness, or a coma, a year or so that didn’t happen. But it was worse a month and a half ago.

After stupidly having a ‘big weekend’ before a self-imposed lockdown began, which involved various pub and restaurant visits, I felt very unwell. The following Monday, mid way through a particularly confusing episode of Westworld, something was deeply wrong. My hands and feet were ice cold, but my stomach felt like a forge. I spent the rest of the day and night alternately shivering, hallucinating, groaning in pain, having a sip of water, sweating it out, lying diagonally – trying anything to make it stop. Eventually I took a cocktail of sleeping tablets and knocked myself out.

The next day, and the days that followed, it got better. I didn’t have the cough, I needed no ventilator, I wasn’t about to become a statistic read out on the daily lockdown update. But I began to lose my sense of taste and smell. After a couple of days, it was gone completely.

I’d lost my sense of taste before, like most people, with a shitty cold. This felt different though. It felt as if something in my brain had gone wrong, like when people take a knock on the head and wake up talking in a Jamaican accent.

In the Pasolini film Salò, when the tortured teens and their captors are eating their own shit, one sadistic libertine muses that ‘Nothing’s worse than a breath without odour.’ Though its application is different in my case, there’s truth to it. I imagine the idea is that scent, even faeca-on-the-breath scent, is a signal of humanity, of being alive. By not being able to taste or smell anything, for such an extended period of time, I began to feel like an animal. I couldn’t smell garlic or onions or flowers or wine or perfume, but I also couldn’t smell body odour, flatulence, shit, burning. A bloated, sunburnt corpse could crawl past me on a conveyor belt and I, blindfolded, would not know it from a bouquet of lilies.

So my sense of self began to erode. Stuck inside, unable to taste or smell, eating without pleasure, sleeping to waste time – I was human paint drying. Nothing could be enjoyed anymore. I starting thinking ludicrous things like I would sacrifice my hearing to taste a piece of toast. It started to feel permanent. Other people had only had it for a few days. I was on week three.

And then I could faintly smell wine again, if I stuck my nose right in the glass. It almost brought me to tears. All of a sudden drinking and eating wasn’t a robotic function, it had the potential to mean something again. It would be another three weeks of annoying meals that were almost nice but not quite until it would return completely to ‘normal’ (though I think my capacity for enjoying English mustard may have permanently been erased – it now only tastes of chemicals, what I imagine tear gas is like).

I didn’t learn any grand lesson from this stint as an anosmic, only the realisation that in a time and space where such heavy restrictions are in place, removal of such simple things is tantamount to torture. A piece of the thousand-piece lockdown puzzle is missing, and the blank space stares at you mockingly. To go back to the melodrama at the beginning of this blog, any more of it and I think I’d begin to envy the dead.


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