An essay by Professor Caldwell Mook, as told to Nick Morrish
Art by Leigh Legler
It is not often that I agree to become personally involved in one of the scientific experiments that I am investigating. Generally, I prefer to observe and deride from a safe distance. However, Doctor Felix Happensnapper’s research into sensory enhancement intrigued me greatly.
Many years ago, as a callow youth living in rural England, I was persuaded to play in a village cricket match. I was allocated a fielding position close to the batsman; a position with the apt name of “silly mid-off.” After a while, I made the mistake of concentrating on a problem of mental calculus, rather than the game in progress. It was the turn of the rival team’s captain to bat. In response to some heckling from the crowd, he swung energetically at the ball which promptly struck me hard on the bridge of the nose.
Interestingly, before I passed out, I clearly recall being able to calculate the velocity and vector of the offending projectile with considerable accuracy.
When I came round, I had lost a large amount of blood and much of my sense of smell. My body efficiently replaced the missing blood cells, but my olfactory nerves were never the same again. I consider this to be a gross design flaw and were it possible, I would certainly have complained to the manufacturer.
Since this unfortunate incident, I have been unable to discern anything but the most pungent aromas and the strongest tastes. Over the last year, I have compensated for this by dining extensively on Goat Vindaloo, a fiery curry dish from south-east India, which even my acquaintances from the Indian sub-continent consider uncomfortably hot.
As much as I enjoy the sensory experience, my new diet has put something of a dampener on my social life, as the after-effects can put be somewhat off-putting to those with a normal sense of smell. I had been searching for a more convenient solution to my problem, so when I heard of Doctor Happensnapper’s work, I put aside my usual skepticism and offered myself as a subject for his experiments.
“We have developed efficient hearing aids, so why not scent aids, taste aids, or even touch aids?” he asked when we met at his Hampshire laboratory.
Although housed in a Victorian Gothic building studded with sinister-looking pinnacles and gloomy towers, the laboratory itself was perfectly clean and modern. I understand that the myriad spider’s webs in the foyer are merely there for effect.
“As you can see, I have been experimenting with a series of sprays, gels, injections, and electrical shock therapies to both enhance and degrade the efficacy of the sensory nerves.”
I am aware that electrical shock treatment is now considered the gold standard amongst para-rational medical practitioners such as Doctor Happensnapper. However, I suggested we begin with more conventional treatments, since their effects are usually temporary and are less likely to cause scarring or memory loss.
The doctor began by offering me a patent nasal spray which he said would fortify my damaged olfactory nerves. I tried it, and within a few minutes, I was able to detect the scent of new mown grass drifting in through an open window. I was delighted by this result and congratulated Doctor Happensnapper on his formulation.
Gradually, I began to detect more smells, both pleasant and unpleasant. The intensity of the experience increased exponentially, and I soon became aware of a strong odor of curry exuding from my skin.
I had for some time wondered if my personal hygiene was suffering due to my poor sense of smell, and I now had considerable evidence to support this hypothesis. I asked his assistant, Nurse Mundy, a large bearded gentleman with little discernable bedside manner, if there was a shower I could use. I followed his directions, but as soon as I entered the bathroom, I was overcome by the stench of chemicals, air fresheners, and drains and immediately passed out.
I awoke some hours later on a hospital bed. Doctor Happensnapper did not appear unduly concerned but made notes on my condition and agreed to use a lower dose next time. He suggested we move on to the sense of taste which, I found, had also diminished as a result of the accident.
Nurse Bundy applied several unpleasant tasting droplets on my tongue to collate what is commonly known as a taste map. From this, the doctor was able to deduce which areas required the most enhancement and which were working satisfactorily.
He produced a viscous gel, which the nurse spread over the relevant parts of my tongue. I suffered a certain gagging reflex, but the taste was not unduly unpleasant. Nurse Bundy then fed me small pieces of food, such as broccoli, chocolate, anchovies, and so on.
My experience of each flavor was indeed heightened, and my opinion of the doctor’s methods was somewhat restored. However, when the nurse returned an hour later to repeat the tests, I found that everything now unaccountably tasted of Brussels sprouts. Now I am not one of these people who detest the noble sprout, but the intensity of its bitter flavor soon overcame all others.
My distress was clearly evident to Nurse Bundy, who attempted to remove the gel with an electric toothbrush. Unfortunately, the spearmint flavoring of the anti-bacterial rinsing fluid only exacerbated the all-encompassing sprout sensation. Overwhelmed by this vegetable excess, my brain again decided that a brief period of unconsciousness was required.
Once I had recovered, Doctor Happensnapper returned, appearing even more excited by the results of this latest experiment.
“Do you not see what this means? If we can enhance the sprout reaction in a subject who has no aversion to its taste, then surely we can also reduce it in those to whom it is a complete anathema. The boon to mankind and also to my research budget could be immense. Imagine what the Brussels Sprout Growers Association would say if I could make their product universally acceptable.”
I consented to assisting him in his continued research, but only after a suitable fee was agreed, the amount of which I am not prepared to disclose. I was introduced to Doctor Happensnapper’s wife, Ingrid, a tall, emaciated-looking woman with disconcertingly hairy hands and a limited command of the English language. She distilled the essence of sprout from a large cast iron pot filled with the vegetable, which she had been stewing over an open fire.
Once the potion was ready, she wasted no time before passing it Nurse Bundy with a nervous wink and a grimace. The nurse began by applying a high-concentration Emla cream to my sprout taste receptors. He then administered several drops of essence of sprout to each side of my tongue and waited for it to take effect. The inhibiting cream certainly reduced the adverse reactions noted previously but on the left side only.
“I see you are uni-sprout intolerant,” explained the doctor. “You have a tongue asymmetry, which means that half your taste buds are more sensitive than the other half.”
He advised Nurse Bundy to double the strength of the cream applied to the right-hand side. Although I could now no longer feel large parts of my tongue, or my face for that matter, it did even out the taste sensations. However, I did not find essence of sprout any more pleasing to my taste.
It reminded me rather of the cabbage soup my grandmother used to make. Needless to say, visits to her house are not a fond childhood memory. As sad as I was to hear of her unfortunate accident with my nephew’s skateboard and the London Underground train, there was a part of me that was inappropriately overjoyed that I would never have to taste her cooking ever again.
I concluded that Doctor Happensnapper’s scheme to extort money from sprout farmers was doomed to failure. However, I decided not to mention this to him until I was certain his fee was securely in my bank account. I consider that his sense enhancement experiments may one day bear fruit, but I shall wait until his techniques are at a more mature stage of development before subjecting myself to Nurse Bundy’s tender ministrations once more.
On a positive note, my sense of taste remains somewhat improved. I have relinquished my Indian curry diet and have recently developed a fondness for Thai cuisine. I look forward to the renewal of various social relationships which have languished in recent months under the miasma of Goat Vindaloo.
Since the conclusion of my investigation, however, I have been unable to so much as look at a Brussels sprout without shuddering. In the autumn, I am seriously considering taking a sabbatical somewhere in the far east until Thanksgiving, Christmas, and other sprout-related festivities are safely in the past.
Professor Caldwell Mook holds the Mithering Chair of General Negativity at the University of Leeds, England. He specializes in pre-emptive risk analyses for technology that has yet to be invented. Professor Mook regularly offers discouragement and derision to scientists and engineers around the world.
Nick Morrish is an increasingly mad engineer who lives in Hampshire, England, where his eccentricities are considered quite normal. During a long and futile career, he has worked for a number of frankly certifiable, multinational companies. He clings to the last vestiges of sanity by writing serious and truthful stories about the nature of existence. Since no one else seems to observe truth in quite the same way, his work is often mistaken for satire or fantasy.
Leigh’s professional title is “illustrator,” but that’s just a nice word for “monster-maker,” in this case. More information about them can be found at http://leighlegler.carbonmade.com/.
“The Essence of Sprout” is © 2018 Nick Morrish
Art accompanying story is © 2018 Leigh Legler