Tuesday, 27 December 2011


“Good morning.”
Custard and toast.
“Good morning Mr Stevens.”
Custard, toast and a Marathon bar.  

Kevin sighed. Another morning, another feast. Today was Monday, so everything had a whiff of elastic bands anyway. Nodding greetings to his colleagues, Kevin backed into his office and shut the door. Silence. Unfortunately Janet was lingering on his tongue, and Peter was resting pungently in his nostrils. Not forgetting the elastic bands, of course. Adding the scent of his early morning coffee and Danish into the mix, which sat innocently on his desk, the cacophony of smells and tastes was enough to nauseate anybody. As it happens, Kevin wasn’t just anybody.  

For as long as he could remember, words had been accompanied by tastes. It didn’t matter whether he was speaking, listening, reading, thinking or even dreaming; almost every word sparked a flavour. Kevin hadn’t considered it an abnormality until one day, age seven, when he was forced to partner up in a science class. Sharon, a perfectly friendly classmate, had approached him and asked if they could work together. “I don’t want to work with you,” Kevin had blurted, “you taste like lard!”  

For quite a long time after that unfortunate incident, Kevin left his abnormality unmentioned. The other school children had quizzed him no end, and had finally decided that he was either mad or an attention seeker. Neither of these qualities went down particularly well in the playground, and over the years Kevin gradually felt himself becoming more and more isolated from his peers. As he grew up, he became acutely aware of the difficulties that arose due to his gift. Classes were difficult, and some voices even became incomprehensible past their flavours. He spent many hours tuned out, staring out the window and trying not to listen. In time, he developed ways of filtering out some of the tastes and smells around him. Drinking strong coffee, he had discovered one morning in his early teens, overpowered some of the weaker flavours, leaving him more able to concentrate on what was being said in class, rather than on what it tasted like.  

Sitting at his office desk with his coffee and Danish, Kevin took a minute or so to let the Arabica beans wash over him. With a familiar sense of inevitability, he turned on his computer and checked his email. Gorgonzola had responded to one of his questions, Soggy Crisps needed some advice and, unfortunately, Vomit from human resources needed some additional information from him. Kevin had attempted to make his initial email to Vomit as concise as possible, as no matter what words he used or how quickly he typed, Vomit managed to overpower all of the other flavours coming through. Vomit was most unpleasant. Vomit also happened to be just about the prettiest colleague in the company, perhaps in the entire sherbety office complex that Kevin worked in. All of his male, and a surprising number of his female co-workers swooned whenever Vomit floated in. All apart from Kevin. Just as no-body liked Richard from technical support because he genuinely smelt like Stilton, Kevin couldn’t help but dislike Charlotte, simply because she was Vomit.  

But then, there was Vanilla.  

Vanilla had joined the company relatively recently, and everyone liked to talk about how easy she was to get on with. She was around Kevin’s age, and although nature had not been as conventionally kind to her as it had been to Vomit, there was something in her generous frame that made Kevin’s belly perform acrobatics. Of course, he was a little swayed by a biased sweet tooth, but Kevin knew that under her palatable exterior, she was just as nice inside. Kevin took every opportunity he could to speak to Vanilla. She was, granted, not the most exciting flavour he had ever tasted; she was just nice.  

It was on this elastic band morning that Kevin found the opportunity to call Vanilla into his office, on some pretext or another.
“Good morning Kevin!” 
Vanilla flavoured, slightly elastic, custard, toast and plastic car interiors.
“Good morning Mary.”  

Mary had always felt a little flattered that Kevin paid her so much attention. He tended to keep himself to himself, and seemed to strongly object to speaking to certain people, apparently for no good reason at all. Most peculiarly, he avoided Charlotte at all costs. Mary suspected it was due to his shyness, and that he simply felt more comfortable around her homely self than the gorgeous Charlotte. But still, there was a small part of her that couldn’t help but wish that Kevin actually preferred her.  

At 5pm, just like every other day, Kevin’s colleagues watched as he left the office. Nodding goodbye to his co-workers and swiftly avoiding the piercing gaze of Vomit, Kevin left the building. His employees had always found it peculiar that so seemingly friendly a man barely spoke to anyone. Kevin had made the decision early on in his career to avoid telling anyone about his gift; it had only actually been in the last decade that Kevin had been able to put a name to it. After years of frustration, he hit ‘I taste words’ into Google. ‘Lexical – Gustatory Synaesthesia’ Google had replied, in 0.23 seconds. The revelation had been somewhat of a relief; he wasn’t mad after all.  

Arriving home, Kevin threw off his glasses, tie, jacket and shirt and tied his apron on like a cape around his neck. Pulling the apron round and fastening it behind his back, he felt anxious with anticipation. Kevin had happened upon many peculiar yet winning recipes by chance, in fact it happened every day. One of his most successful had been a toffee and lime cake, the combination for which he’d come across in a conversation with a Toffee client, whilst talking on a limey Wednesday. Chocolate and bacon had been a nice surprise too, although Guiness and liver had been a bit of a disappointment.  

He whipped up a storm in the kitchen that evening, and after a long day of Gorgonzola, Toast, Custard and Vomit, he sat down to a fat slice of vanilla cake. There were some flavours he just couldn’t get enough of.

The task for this piece was to write a story involving the senses or colours. I remembered a Horizon programme that I'd seen about synaesthesia, which is actually called 'Derek Tastes Like Earwax' and I would recommend watching it if you can find it. Everything I used in the story was based on fact and I spent a couple of days in my bedroom eating biscuits and researching it. Absolutely fascinating. Anyway! I think that during this I ran away a little with what I knew about synaesthesia and was telling a lot of backstory, rather than concentrating on telling the Day-In-The-Life-Of, which is what I had planned on doing. The ending is pretty rushed - I was going for a Clark Kent/Superman effect with the penultimate paragraph that I don't think anyone got! Oops. Anyway, let me know what you think and where you would like it to be improved.

From James Wannerton's website, Welcome to the World of Synaesthesia. This extract in particular was very inspiring and totally blew my mind. James is on the committee of the UK Synaesthesia Association and is the man who thinks Derek tastes like earwax. Check out his site, it is overwhelmingly fascinating.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Emily Jane. Good story! I've been involved in the study and reportage of Synaesthesia for over 20 years now and this is the first time I've come across someone attempting to describe the experience of tasting sound in the way you have. It's a fascinating condition that goes way beyond the obvious as it gives a valuable insight into how we as humans perceive things. Thanks for your interest and insightful take on the subject! James.