Savouring the Senses

Behind a shop counter down our way this week-end an animated discussion was going on. ‘What’s the smell of Christmas?’ Customers and check-out staff all had their ideas: Cloves, spices, oranges, mulled wine, turkey and the fresh evergreen of a Christmas tree. Smell was one sense we explored at Saturday’s Write for Growth at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden: Savouring the Senses.


We opened with some free-writing about what sense we’d if we had to choose just one. Whilst initial thoughts headed towards the ‘top two’ senses of sight and hearing, some found the writing took them in another direction: ‘I ended up thinking how awful it would be not to have that connection with others that touch brings,’ commented some-one.

We sat in silence for three minutes, noting down what we could hear. It felt like a long time, and we reflected on how little we ever stop to listen. A background clatter of crockery became intrusive; the turning of newspaper pages felt gently rhythmic. Distant conversation became nuanced, even when no words were discernible amid the warm flow of voices punctuated by laughter.

We tasted different foods – blue cheese, coconut, lime chilli chocolate, sometimes struggling to find words to describe taste. We turned to comparisons: A raisin became a ‘ghost of wine.’ Sampling each food with intentional slowness opened up the sensations of texture and ranges of taste even within one food.

thumb_IMG_0061_1024The sense of smell seems especially evocative. We recalled the impact of school corridor polish; woodsmoke of rural France; freshly-baked bread. Vivid details surfaced through layers of memory penetrated by just one aroma. We sampled smells that triggered thoughts of childhood – like the  cinnamon used to enhance family baking. The same smell evoked different emotional responses. Eucalyptus oil’s ‘medicinal’ smell reminded some of being ill, others of being soothed.

The most unusual scent was a circular slice of soap called Maypole, purchased from Lush. ’It’s meant to smell like rock,’ said the shop assistant, eager to help as I explained I was after a workshop resource rather than a Christmas gift. The smell did not impress the group, who labelled it as ‘clinical’ and like ‘coal tar.’ Its pink and green colours promised a fruity aroma, a hope dashed at first sniff.


The disappointment reminded us of the interplay of our senses. Pot-pourri, observed some-one, contains a range of shapes, colours and textures offering a beguiling variety of stimulus to sight and touch, yet each piece has the same aroma – in our case, Apple Spice.

Senses also interact with emotions as our feelings may interpret what they tell us. We wrote about our surroundings through the eyes first of a jilted lover, and then an ecstatic one. Writing that focuses on the senses can show us a character’s emotional state rather than tell.

The workshop sharpened our awareness of the senses, encouraging us to use them attentively to enrich both our writing and our lives. And when it comes to discerning through our senses, there’s always more to learn. When I told my geologist-trained husband about the rock-like scent of Maypole, he was curious. ’ What rock? he said.’ They all smell different.’

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  • About Julia


    From writing stories for my younger brother, to penning poems for the School Magazine and filling a growing pile of personal journals, the written word has always been part of my life’s journey.

    I started out as an English Teacher and subsequently retrained as a Counsellor. I have counselled in a GP Surgery and worked with various Employee Assistance Schemes and Charitable Trusts alongside seeing private clients.

    Although I have done some freelance journalism and written four non-fiction books, creative writing has become my main focus in recent years.

    My poems have appeared online on sites including Amaryllis, Silver Birch Press, Clear Poetry, Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis, Riggwelter and Ink,Sweat and Tears. I have been published in Curlew and Bucks Mill Magazine, and anthologised in Our Hearts Still Sing. My first poetry collection, Chester City Walls, came out in 2015.

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