Smells like summer
I recently had the pleasure of reading Patrick Suskind’s “Perfume” and was overwhelmed by the skill with which he captured the smells of eighteenth century France, particularly the overcrowded city of Paris. He described stenches so foul that our twenty first century pampered orifices would struggle to cope with even a smidgen of the rancid odours. At some point I wasn’t sure whether to feel revolted or ecstatic at the thought of perceiving some of the smells he described. Thankfully I didn’t get carried away and try to recreate anything pungent. There were many reasons for the odours around in those days and most of them were due to poor hygiene and incurable diseases – no one in their right mind would want to recreate that!
But as much as it is fine to spare a thought for those who lived in those days, I still find the assault of the stenches in our modern day cities too much to bear, especially in the summer months. Although we have been saved from the combined stench of food rotting in streets, decaying diseased bodies, overflowing sewers and unwashed bodies, we are faced with an inexcusable dilemma created by the lazy and the vain. In London today, the worst offending human odours can be narrowed down to three – eggy suntan lotions, bad breath and body odour.
Why, oh why would anyone want to smell of rotten eggs? I’m lucky enough not to need to tan and I have to admit I don’t get the whole thought process, but I’m willing to not judge people who feel the need to appear a completely different colour from what they are naturally meant to be. What I can’t understand is why in supposed developed countries, someone hasn’t found a way to outlaw the lotions that make anyone standing ten meters away from the offending body retch constantly until they find a way to escape the air space. Apparently the chemical that causes this smell is called dihydroxyacetone and companies try to mask the smell with essential oils, but they tend to start smelling a couple hours after application. DIHYDROXYACETONE! I don’t know about you but that just sounds freaking scary to me. Let your skin breathe people! Let it breathe!
And for all those who think showering at night and not in the morning is ok – IT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE! You sleep and sweat then wake up, mask the sweaty smell with some deodorant or perfume, or most likely not, and then head out to face the brand new day in last night’s muck. If anyone can explain this mystery behaviour to me, I’ll be happy to hear it. Also if you suffer from an unusual rate of perspiration, there is no law that states that deodorant should be used only once a day – despite what the product makers claim on the cans. If you think you smell yourself in the middle of the day, go and spray some more. You will be saving many a nostril by that simple thoughtful act. A colleague recently told me that she found it worse when people drenched themselves in perfume to cover up the fact that they hadn’t bothered to shower or use deodorant but as bad as the combined smell of perfume and body odour sounds, I would rather there was the possible respite of a whiff of perfume than none at all.
Bad breath? Let’s be honest, we all suffer from this sometimes, eating a spicy oniony meal can cause a lot of discomfort for everyone else we meet for the rest of the day but surely we can be more aware of this niggling peeve. We now have far too many options for us to keep making excuses. Pop a mint, chew gum, brush your teeth, gargle with water – or go see your dentist. Better yet, go see your GP. Persistent bad breath can be a sign of something much worse like gastro-oesophageal disease, an upper airway infection, diabetes, kidney or liver disease (the Reader’s Digest comes in handy sometimes).
The worst place to suffer this is of course the underground, in the human sardine cans where armpits constantly make contact with noses and smells are intensified by the inhuman heat that engulfs the carriages. Anyone that has caught a rush hour train in central London will appreciate the thought. I stopped using the tube to commute to work in 2007 and haven’t looked back. As slow as the buses are, the windows open and let in fresh air and even though it gets packed sometimes, you can sit upstairs (where standing isn’t allowed) and avoid being squashed under that hairy giant’s armpit for the duration of your journey.
So I say viva showers, deodorant and toothpaste! Viva natural odourless skin! Viva fresh air!