Friday, 19 April 2019

Words and actions and reactions!

Smells are strange. Or rather, our reaction to smells are strange. Proust knew all about it, letting himself be carried away on a wave of nostalgia by the taste of the madeleine rather than the smell. But then. Without the sense of smell, they say we would not taste things properly.

So there you go.

Hannah Jane Parkinson was writing about a particular smell, and the word for it, in a section of the newspaper called Health and Wellbeing. (Wellbeing is one pf those bits of modern terminology which i explicably annoys me, by the way. There is really no reason for it to annoy me but for the fact that it is rather twee and precious and smacks of a life spent eating quinoa and other fashion-fad foods. That’s just how it is.)

She wrote:

“There are times when we discover a word that maybe we didn’t even realise we needed, but after we are inducted we’d feel lost without. For me, this word – or one of them – is petrichor. The Oxford English Dictionary defines petrichor as: “A pleasant, distinctive smell frequently accompanying the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather in certain regions.”

Scientists in Australia coined the word in 1964, by combining the Greek for stone, “petra”, and the word “ichor”, the mythological blood of the gods. In India they call it “matti ka attara” and have even bottled it!!

I know what Hannah Jane means about favourite smells. For some people certain food smells are the best, wich is understandable. My daughter has a thing about the smell of tiny babies. She also enthuses quite a bit about freshly dried laundry, outdoors of course, and certain types of fabric softener.

Personally, like Hannah Jane, I prefer the naturally occurring ones. There is nothing quite like the smell of a crisp frosty morning and at the moment there is an elusive aroma from a flowering bush. As a rule I become aware of it when I am almost past it and I have yet to identify it.

That’s enough waxing lyrical.

Back in the real world, I read that more and more teachers are spending their hard-earned money on basic equipment to use in the classroom - glue, paper, scissors. It always was the case to some extent but now it’s reaching epidemic proportions. And in some schools they are providing soap and school uniform for the poorest children. not to mention breakfast!

At the same time, certain statistics show a rise in the number of deaths of small babies. Always from the poorest parts of our society. It’s too soon to call it a trend but it’s a worrying sign of the times and of current austerity. 

Julian Baggini in this article expresses a cautious optimism that France’s reaction to the Notre Dame fire is a sign that people still believe in society - less individualism and more collectivism.

Let’s hope he is right.

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