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Silence Exile and Crumpets
 
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Monday, March 31st, 2003

Time Event
12:36a
Smelling things
Sometimes, just before he goes to sleep, my friend Simon sees noises. A car will hoot, or someone will bang a dustbin and inside his closed eyes, or sometimes in front of his half-open ones, he will see a flash of light. It doesn't seem to be any particular colour - just light. Simon went most of his life thinking everyone had this happen, until he happened to mention it to a neurologist chum, who looked at him as if he were a specimen.

' You what', his friend said.

'But doesn't everyone see that?', Simon said.

'No-one sees that.'

'I do,' said Simon.

Synaesthesia is one of the coolest variants available to the human brain - seeing smells or hearing tastes. Most people who have it, seem well satisfied with it.

The rest of us have to content ourselves with the intense sensory links and memories that come with a wellstocked mind. Just now, as I was walking up from the bus along the side of a park, I could smell various blossoms and night-blooming spring plants really intensely - given that it has been warm today, and the park borders onto a significant road, I was vaguely amazed that scents get past the pollution. I was feeling middle-aged and wistful - partly because of supper with a young firebrand - and the blossom smell instantly had me going all Housman. 'Since to see the trees in bloom/fifty years is little room/around the woodlands I will go/to see the cherry hung with snow.' Except of course inside my head, it wasn't just the words, it was the setting of them by George Butterworth, only it wasn't the piano accompaniment I was hearing behind the singer, it was the orchestral music Butterworth based on the song - 'A Shropshire Rhapsody' - which is one of those defining bits of English music, all tremolous strings and horn calls.

Moreover, I was thinking about Butterworth also because I was thinking about the war - the reason most of you have never heard of him is that he was a brilliant young musician who died in the trenches, having just had enough of a career that his music is still played. He was one of Vaughan Williams' best friends - which also helped. The really horrid thing about WW1 and WW2 is not all the significant artists that we know about who died during the war or as a result - it is the people who never made a mark at all and who we will never hear of. And death is always tragic, but a lot of people die before war, and die, as the cliche - which is also a truth- goes, before their time.

What makes me especially mad when I see people like Richard Perle on television is that they give the orders for mass death and just regard it as an instrument of policy - there is no human dimension or human guilt attached. When, as is the case with Rumsfeld, they are incompetent as well as evil, my heart just sinks. Perle looks like a Buffy vampire - George Orwell talked about people in middle age having the face they deserve and Perle is an argument for that.

I could talk about the interesting dinner I had with an American academic and activist who is a friend of my radical friend Anna and how I humiliatingly forgot the name of Silvia Riveira, the Stonewall riot trans activist whose story I was using to talk about how the left is so good at trashing itself. And how we watched OMWF on DVD for the first time, which was a very cool thing.

I would rather think about smelling blossoms and hope that some come to me in my dreams.

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