A lyrical essay by AS

A lyrical essay by AS Byatt describes the evolving human relationship with smell.
I know and can remember the scent, the smell, of all my four children's hair when they were babies. There are no words to describe these unique scents. When they are very small there is something extraordinarily painful about other women picking them up and making them smell briefly of L'Air du Temps or Chanel No 5. Other women's children at that stage always seem to me to have a Noli me tangere [Touch me not] smell - unless they are perfumed with talc and Bounce in their babyjamas. Sheep only accept other ewes' lambs if they are rubbed with their own lambs' smells.

We are losing functions - we don't recognise, we don't detect; it is all ersatz. Ants, as EO Wilson discovered and described, communicate and organise their complex societies with odours and pheromones. We also recognise - or used to recognise - good and bad food with our noses. I know the smell of tainted meat or fish, or mouldy sprouts - but I believe our senses are being blunted by the chemical haze we choose to live in, like living in a constant buzz of high-level interference, snow on the television screen, just audible screeching on the radio to which we have had to become inured.

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