By Rob Allanson

The Sensory World

The joy of being enveloped by aromas
It is not the sort of noise you expect to hear in a quiet, sleepy backwater place, approaching midnight; a hum similar to a power turbine, the whirl of mechanical machinery and the clunking and grinding of moving parts. Not to mention the strange lights moving behind the hedgerow, occasionally sending intense beams into the room I am writing in. It feels like the start of some sort of Martian invasion might be in the offing.

Then there is the smell that comes in waves. At first hard to place; wafts of something metallic, rubbery and then an ephemeral buttery sweetness.

I decide to wander to the end of the road to investigate what this late night commotion might be. Thankfully it is not some form of alien subjugation of the human race starting (quite why they would chose a small village in Suffolk for first contact I am not sure) but a local farmer working through the night to harvest the vast swathes of barley that have been growing in the surrounding fields.

As he turns the behemoth of a combine harvester to head back down to the far end of the field, it becomes silhouetted against the floodlit barley, massive, hulking and surrounded by a halo of dirt and shredded barley stalks.

As I am now standing a little too close to a break in the hedgerow, I get a blast of that sweet barley sugar smell, tainted a little with diesel, and a face full of dust and chaff.

The fact that he and other farmers are out late at night, taking advantage of the dry weather unfortunately means that summer is slowly fading into autumn, very slowly I hope seeing as summer in the United Kingdom only really started in July.

This late night sensory overload got me thinking. It is only really when we have an experience such as this that I think we remember what a sensory world we live in, surrounded by smells, noise and visual stimuli.

It is not hard to miss the visual impact the world has, both good and bad, and it's the same with the noise (something I don't think you can ever escape), but the daily olfactory side of life I think goes unnoticed.

I feel that sometimes we have to take more notice, be more open to the world around us. Now I know there are some pretty awful smells out there (most I usually associate with man-made industrial processes), but you have to admit there are some gorgeous ones out there too.

I really love the connection that the brain makes to link a smell to some memory from childhood or beyond, illuminating a snapshot of a moment in time. In some cases taking you right back to that instance.

For example I cannot smell caramel without thinking about my mum mixing up butterscotch Angel Delight for pudding. Or the smell of cinnanon: that takes me back to the first time my father visited the States and he brought back sticks of Big Red chewing gum. I remember it being so hot, spicy and bursting with cinnamon, was a revelation to a me.

I wonder if there is a point at which we stop "banking" aromas, where the connections become harder to make.

Certainly they change generationally, once TCP meant clean floors, now this has been replaced with pine or lemon. A different connection has to be made.

I am not sure how much of this sensory world you really experience travelling by car, but by motorbike you are positively enveloped by it. Crossing bridges gives you a glorious minerally metallic note; recently harvested barley fields exude this dense, sweet, warming cornbread and caramel note, and passing through villages with open fire you get a mix of coal, wood and sometimes peat.

On the other hand, when you pass a motorway service station it is like riding through a deep fat fryer (possibly the best advocate for not eating at them); not like passing those little burger vans which usually smell of fried smoked bacon.

So back to the harvest. A close friend of mine recently posed the question: harvest whiskies, what would you chose to represent the season? A very good question and I like the idea of seasonal whisky. Answers on a postcard, or a tweet.