19 Mar 2015

What your life tastes like

James Wannerton tastes words when he reads or hears them thanks to a neurological condition called synaesthesia that links senses which are normally experienced separately. The Telegraph published this article back in August 2013 about a systems analyst from Blackpool who'd created a version of the London Underground map that, instead of the stations' names, showed what each one tasted like. To James Wannerton that is. He has Victoria down as 'Candle Wax' but Victoria is much more 'Old Sweet Wrapper' for me. But the sweet wrapper I have in mind is the kind of paper that Bazooka Joe bubblegum came wrapped in. And that was waxy. So maybe we aren't that far apart. 

Tastes of London 1964 - 2013
You can read more about James Wannerton and browse the whole of the map (with more clarity) by clicking on any of the links above. And I bet you'll immediately check out the stations you're familiar with to see if his taste makes some kind of sense to you. 

Wannerton has been diagnosed with lexical-gustatory synaesthesia, a rare form of synaesthesia in which spoken and written language causes individuals to experience an automatic and highly consistent taste/smell. My 'sweet-wrapper' response to Victoria wasn't at all automatic - but when I imagined myself among the sounds and smells and textures of the railway station that's my gateway into London that's what popped into my head. 

If I think about the 20 acres of orchard outside my back door it would be too easy to say it tastes of apples. Right now it has the taste of soft mud with a hint of earthworm. But in the summer it tastes like Pink Shrimps - you know those old-fashioned spongy sweets? 

You don't have to make logical sense here. It's probably best if you don't even try to as that detracts from the wonder that is our brain. How it makes links between things that can occasionally astonish (and perhaps even confuse) us. 

One of the pieces of advice that I give to apprentice writers is not to edit first thoughts, don't be judgemental at the beginning of the writing process. Just write down everything, however bizarre or boring they might seem. We can never know what might make sense, what might be worth exploring, further down the road. And you don't have to show anyone. No one has to know how barmy you might sound!

Hungry Writing Prompt
Write a list of tastes for: the street you live on, the inside of your car, your favourite room in the house, a place you loved from your childhood.

I'm reading in London at the Poetry Society Cafe next Monday, 23rd March. I'll arrive, as usual, at Candle Wax, change at Pea & Ham Soup and get off at Chocolate Digestives. 

I checked out one more station on the map. Paddington Station tastes of Flumps to James Wannerton. I'm going to have to disagree with him there too, because that's the station that rumbles me westwards towards the Severn Estuary and its bridge into Wales. It's Salted Butter.