Spring is the best and worst time of the year for me. Living with color. Lively with birdsong. But dead to the nostrils and taste buds.
That's because, like three million other people in this country, I have anosmia : I can't taste and have no sense of smell.
The result is that the scent of lilac, the taste of asparagus of the new season and the scent of a freshly cut lawn are rejected.
It started after a filthy accident while I was waiting for a train at Grantham station more than 30 years ago. I was scheduled to meet at the BBC TV center in Leeds, but a flu-like cold had seriously overloaded me and made me a little dizzy.
Challenge: Tony Francis, from Chesham, Buckinghamshire, had lived without his sense of smell for 30 years after a freak accident in the 1980s
For the first time in my life I collapsed. My business partner who was traveling with me said that I hit the floor like a felled oak. The back of my head took the full power.
I was brought to Grantham Hospital with a suspected fractured skull and was cold for five hours. They summoned my wife from Hertfordshire.
Fortunately I recovered consciousness and was allowed to go home the next day. They told me that the injury would heal in time, but I soon realized that I couldn't taste my food or smell things.
I did a taste test in a private clinic. Sugar and salt were the only things I could identify. Everything that was more subtle was lost to me. I was told that the blow had damaged the olfactory nerve that carries olfactory impulses from the upper nostril to the brain. It is not only trauma that this is possible; also chronic sinusitis and post-viral complications.
The consultant said that taste and smell were more or less the same. I had lost both but retained a degree of mouth taste, the small percentage that does not depend on the odor. I was told that there was no cure. It affects the quality of life. When two of your senses are lost, the range of stimuli narrows.
Food and drink clearly lose their appeal and it is strange not to be aware of your own scent. It makes you acutely aware of personal hygiene. I avoid garlic wherever possible because I don't want to offend others by smelling something I can't discover myself.
My anosmia happened to coincide with the start of a new ITV series, Heart Of The Country, which I would produce and present in the next 25 years.
Enthusiastic about the bouquet of a flower meadow or the rich aromas of autumn was a challenge. Was that farmyard as strange as it seemed? I relied on camera people and sound recorders to mark my card.
Impact: The stroke has permanently damaged the olfactory nerve that carries olfactory impulses from the upper nostril to the brain
Naturally, viewers never knew. Nor did I have the heart to tell our campfire chef that none of the countless dishes we enjoyed & # 39; have made a big impression over the years. Farmed hare, fried squirrel, rabbit in a drainpipe were all the same to me.
The only exception was a sauce that we made from the root of a horseradish plant, so fiery that it had blown away the doors of a tenth stable. Otherwise I simulated it.
Surprisingly, the anosmics surpass the blind and deaf people – but partly because it is not as debilitating as a loss of sight or sound, it goes under the radar.
Yet research by Professor Carl Philpott, surgeon, surgeon at the ear, nose and throat of the John Paget University Hospital in Norfolk shows that nearly half of those affected suffer from depression, anxiety or relationship problems. Sometimes all three because they feel excluded from the real world.
I'm lucky. I belong to the other half. Of course I would like to smell flowers, bake bread and have breakfast coffee. Soap too. Cussons Imperial Leather was a favorite. I would like to be aware of my partner's perfume and the smell of her hair and skin, but I have learned to live without those things.
Friends always ask: & # 39; How can you enjoy a meal? & # 39; Although I can't enjoy food in a funny way, I can. The coziness of a dinner helps to mask the neutrality of the food. I also cook, but have to take it easy with the peppers.
Did you know? Anosmics are prone to gas leaks, fire and food that is past the best-before date. Our lungs, not noses, are the alarm bell for traffic fumes
Spicy food resonates because I can feel the heat in my mouth. However, I have no idea why a piece of granary and Montgomery's Cheddar are still appreciated. Texture? Probably. Saltiness in ripe cheese? I think so.
I eat fish, but prefer meaty species such as cod, tuna and salmon because they & # 39; meet & # 39 ;. Sunday roast is only worth it for the burnt pieces that I can taste. If I eat bacon, it must be cooked in the oven, preferably cremated.
Strong coffee hits a spot. I first tried licorice tea in Nepal and now get it from a health food store. No recovering value, but two bags per cup give a touch of sweetness.
I enjoy a beer or a glass of wine. Water is better carbonated because it touches the back of the throat. Food and drink are certainly not a misery and discovering new restaurants is still fun, unless they are Chinese. The food is too mild.
The role of the guest is interesting. You shock your host with your background story or lick your lips in feigned joy and nod appreciation with the others.
For the wedding of my youngest son we were invited by his future in-laws to taste a selection of wines for the reception. He warned them: & # 39; Dad can only judge wine based on the sound it makes. & # 39; I have not seen the jaws fall so fast or so fast.
Professor Philpott says there is a tendency for anosmics to stick to the same menu, sacrificing the nutritional value of a varied diet, but I am careful to maintain a decent variety.
Until 2010, when Professor Philpott opened the NHS Smell and Taste clinic in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, help for people with anosmia was hard to come by.
Although I tried zinc tablets in the early days – zinc seems to play a role in taste – it turned out to be ineffective and I thought about antidotes. There was no way.
& # 39; Patients are referred from across the country & # 39 ;, says Professor Philpott. & # 39; They come here to feel isolated by their & # 39; invisible & # 39; problem.
& # 39; They think the drug has neglected them. Their anosmia has not been explained or evaluated and they have been told nothing about its consequences. & # 39;
That, he says, is partly because some doctors have still not heard of anosmia and because people – wrongly – think that nothing can be done about it.
& # 39; You must remember that anosmia is a symptom & # 39 ;, says Professor Philpott. # The treatment depends on the cause, so it is wrong to say that there is no antidote. We can treat the causes, but we need much more research into the treatment options. & # 39;
Professor Philpott believes that & # 39; odor training & # 39; may be useful in certain cases. Patients sniff bottles of clove, lemon, rose and eucalyptus twice a day for 12 weeks.
In short, these are smelly salts that are thought to help the olfactory nerve to revive itself. His most celebrated success was restoring taste and smell to a local woman who had been without them for 36 years. She said it was a miracle & # 39; used to be.
But, as Professor Philpott explains, it required delicate surgery to free the olfactory nerve.
So have I spent 30 years in an unnecessary wilderness? Professor Philpott does not promise anything. In fact, he thinks that 30 years after a head injury, my loss of taste and odor is probably permanent.
Oh yeah. "Being nose-blind" has its advantages. Without wanting to brag, I was world class when changing diapers, although I had to be told when it was needed.
It may also have sharpened my appreciation for color, since I started painting seven years ago and was selected for the first time I tried to hold the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition.
There are, however, dangers. Anosmics are prone to gas leaks, fire and food that is past the best-before date. Our lungs, not noses, are the alarm bell for traffic fumes.
Anosmics who live alone must be especially wary. I would have to rely on sight, noise or heat if the house caught fire. Fortunately, burning toast is as bad as it has.
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