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July 2015, vol 11 no 2

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Marietta McGregor

The Faint Scent of Tuesday

Every Tuesday the call went out around the science end of the campus. “Time for Cheesy’s smell tests!” We didn’t need to be told a second time. Free chocolates were in the offing. So one by one we trooped into a closed-off chem lab where our eccentric second-year Organic Chemistry professor had ranged a sparkling phalanx of glass phials and flasks, each containing transparent fluids, mostly clear but some tinged pale gold, pink or green. Opting in as guinea pigs for Dr Cheeseman’s extended experiment, we were told to lift first the fluted turret of the smaller vial, then that of the flask and smell each in turn, recording whether we could smell something, or not. Some of the smells were knockouts, great whomping punches to the nasal lining: coconut, bananas, pineapple, Jim Beam, burning car tyres. Some were ethereal, small delicate wisps of smell, the thin sound of a tiny bell on a cold night, jasmine-pure, oud-musty, amberous. We dutifully sniffed… sniffed... recorded. Some compounds wiped out our perceptions of others, but that was the whole point of the exercise. Somehow the nerve-endings of our smell-receptors were duped into ‛no-sense’, so we never knew what strange and elusive odour lingered in the flask with the greenish tinge. When we emerged, a bit light-headed, there was Cheesy’s research assistant with the box of chocolates. I always chose the strawberry centres; for some reason I could taste the pink.

in a bell jar the unknown smoke of first encounters