Michael van Straten
Michael van Straten
australiaphen375.com

No Sense No Feeling

The five senses of sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch are our most treasured possessions and who would willingly give up a single one. Though most people fear going blind or deaf, regarding these as the most essential of the senses, smell, touch and taste are more vital to our overall well-being and happiness. Yet it's these very senses, our most primitive survival mechanisms, that are being stolen by 21st century living.

The unholy trilogy of lunatic political correctness, the hygiene terrorists and the food police are robbing you of all the comforts of touch, the mood boosting effects of smells good and bad and the wonderful flavours of food that stay in our minds for ever.

Physical contact between human beings is an essential part of life but in Britain touching is taboo. We've inherited Victorian attitudes to physical contact which have been seized on and magnified by the political correctness brigade whose smutty minds are unable to separate the touch of companionship, friendship, healing or comfort from sex. Fathers are afraid to cuddle their daughters, teachers forbidden to make physical contact with their pupils and doctors discouraged from putting a comforting arm round a frightened patient's shoulders - in fact they usually only touch you with a rubber glove or a cold instrument. As an Osteopath I am supposed to ask patients to sign a consent form which says that I've explained exactly what I'm going to do and why and that some examinations or treatments may involve intimate areas of the body.

Is it any wonder that our children grow up believing there is something 'wrong' about touching? Is it surprising that adults get aggressive in crowded situations to avoid making any sort of contact with strangers? Does it astonish you that so many couples have difficulties in their sexual relationships when even in this most intimate of situations one or both may feel uncomfortable touching their partner?

Touch is healing, a fact that every mother knows when she rubs a child's bruised knee or bump on the head, which every patient knows when a nurse wipes their forehead or simply pats their hand. Even the simplest of touches like a brush of the fingers on someone's forearm, a pat on the back, a supporting hand under an elbow at a tricky kerbstone, are at best risky, but generally forbidden territory. Describing someone as a 'touchy-feely' person should be a compliment, but today in the UK it's an insult. Most of our EU neighbours don't have this problem and seem perfectly capable of separating sexual contact from the wonderful warmth of day-to-day touching. It's normal for friends of either sex to embrace, to walk arm in arm, to touch each other during animated conversation, and even total strangers will squash up together on a park bench, in the bus or standing at a bar. And we watch them without concern in Paris, Rome, Madrid or Athens. In London they'd be 'touchy-feely' and viewed with suspicion.

Paying for someone else to touch you is a different matter, which is why massage has suddenly become more respectable, even though it's often described as remedial, sports or therapeutic massage just in case people think it's something dodgy. Aromatherapy massage combines the wonder of touch with the fragrance of essential oils and it's our sense of smell which is being eroded by the hygiene terrorists.

Smell is one of the oldest and most important of our senses and without it man would not have survived as a species. Of course it's not as sensitive as it used to be as we don't need to sniff out wild animals on the breeze. But our memory stores smells longer than any other type of information which is why smells are so widely used as part of reminiscence therapy in the treatment of senile memory loss and early Alzheimer's disease. It's not only nice smells either as even unpleasant ones like sewage, farmyards or gas works can bring back happy memories and stimulate brain function.

Smells have a direct effect on the part of the brain that controls our emotions, so happiness, sadness, romance, elation, delight and misery can all be triggered by the appropriate aromas. A hint of your mother's favourite perfume will take you back to childhood, a passing girl wearing familiar scent conjures up the image of your first love, and a waft of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding or eggs and bacon will transport you back to your family kitchen.

Not any more. Our homes are filled with deodorant sprays and plug in air fresheners; our clothes reek with the synthetic perfume of fabric softeners; the work place is awash with chemical fragrances in polish, paint and disinfectant. Natural smells are taboo. They're also outlawed on us and B.O. is as bad a sin as touching. All this is in the pursuit of profit by the multi-national detergent and chemical companies - but at what cost? There is a natural attraction in body odours, created by a group of chemicals called pheromones which are the triggers of sexual attraction. But we remove all underarm hair, we wash and scrub till our skins are so dry that 30 percent of the population now suffer with eczema and we fill our armpits with possibly harmful deodorising chemicals just in case someone thinks we're dirty.

It's not until they get a severe cold that most people realise what a vital part the sense of smell plays in the enjoyment of food. If you can't smell you can't taste. Just try closing your eyes, pinching your nose and getting someone else to feed you small cubes of raw apple and raw potato - you won't tell the difference. To go with the sanitised, deodorised world that we live in we're now offered sanitised and deodorised food. People don't cook cabbage because it smells, they don't cook fish because it stinks out the kitchen, they don't use garlic because of the pong, and they won't touch an onion in case they can't get the smell off their fingers. But it is these very smells which awake happy food memories in the brain and start the flow of saliva long before you've seen the food or put it in your mouth.

How excited can you get presented with an odourless dish of instant noodles or food without the wonderful smell of herbs and spices. Our children are being fed a diet of bland food because that's what's advertised incessantly on the TV. Consequently they develop very limited appreciation of the rich diversity of taste that leads to a varied and healthy diet. Everyone watches the TV chefs. The books sell in their millions, yet to avoid the risks of bacteria in the kitchen or smells in the house, they take a ready meal out of the freezer and stick it in the microwave. Cooking has become a spectator sport.

You may think that going to work is the great escape from the odourless, tasteless home, but you'd be wrong. Most workplaces are a sensory desert - literally. The atmosphere in most UK offices is dryer than that in the Sahara which does nothing for your sense of smell, your hay fever or asthma. Colour schemes are bland and institutional and there is a dreadful lack of visual or tactile stimulus. Everything feels the same, looks the same and smells the same. Even the sense of hearing isn't stimulated by speech thanks to e-mail. Colleagues sit facing each other across a desk for weeks and communicate electronically rather than speaking.

Sick Building Syndrome caused by over-dry air polluted with carbon particles from printers, faxes and photocopiers, ozone from all the electronic machinery and everyone else's bugs being recycled by the air conditioning, means sick workers.

Sensory deprivation is the first tool of the sophisticated torturer. Sadly we live in an ever-increasing world of sensory deprivation where our children seldom feel the warmth and comfort of touch, get familiar with the wonderful smells of nature or learn to develop a complex sense of taste. They have little freedom to go outside and spend most of their time glued to TV or computer screens. As parents we join them like couch potatoes in front of the soap operas and little by little we're becoming a nation of senseless adults manipulated by the do-gooders, the politically correct and the food police and the hygiene terrorists. In the words of the West Side Story song, 'depraved coz we're deprived'.

The proverb is right - no sense, no feeling.

 

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