The Importance of Scent in the Air

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Smell is a dynamic sense which is constantly changing and new associations are always being made. Twenty years after I made the bakery association I had another sensational moment. I was staying over at a villa next door to the Marbella home of PR mogul Max Clifford, who I was interviewing. On opening the door I was literally stopped in my tracks by an overpowering floral smell. My brain told me that my first task wasn’t to move my suitcase in to my room or put the kettle on, I had to find out what‘ that smell’ was. I followed my nose to the lounge – on the table was an absolutely huge vase of Stargazer lilies. Now, every time I smell a lily, even if there is just one or two in a vase, it reminds me of Max. Professor Tim Jacobs, of the School of Biosciences at Cardiff University, says the effect of smell on people is vastly underrated. “How we smell, why we smell and the impact of smell on our everyday life is poorly understood. We certainly underestimate the importance of smell to our well-being – ask an anosmic (someone who has lost some or all of their sense of smell). Some anosmics suffer from depression and their quality of life is severely affected- at the moment there is little that can be done to help them.

Smell is the sense which can knock your socks off. The power of smell can instantly transport you back to a definite place and time, whether it’s sweet peas in your grandmother’s garden or the vile stench of the Portaloos at a music festival. Leading scientists’ argue that it is one of the most powerful methods of memory recall, yet it still remains one of the least appreciated senses. Memories, complete with their associated emotions, can be conjured up by a single smell. The association is a learned one. For some the smell of roses will conjure up a perfume or garden, but others may associate the scent with funerals. The phenomenon is known as the‘Proust Effect’ after Marcel Proust’s  description of an event in the first volume in Remembrance of Things Past.