THE BLOG

I Can Taste Words And Sounds - And I Wouldn't Want It Any Other Way

19/09/2017 17:23 BST | Updated 20/09/2017 09:20 BST
James Wannerton

life less ordinary banner

The random and complex quirkiness of the human genome has gifted me with a brain hard-wired in such a way that any and every sound I hear has a taste and texture automatically attached. Much the same as you can't turn off or turn down your natural sense of smell, neither can I turn off or turn down these very real mouth-feel experiences.

The impact this has on my daily life can be quite difficult to describe simply because it's something I've lived with for as long as I can remember - it all feels as normal and as natural as breathing. Or indeed as having the ability to smell. Sounds without flavours would seem very unnatural and would dramatically alter the perception of my immediate surroundings in a way that I cannot possibly conceive as being positive for me.

Before I attempt to describe the process as it occurs, I can tell you that these taste experiences sometimes make the mundane very enjoyable but they can also be alarmingly distracting.

They make learning a new language an absolute nightmare but do make remembering the layout of a new town or city very easy and intuitive. They obviously affect my relationship with food as well as affect all personal relationships and meeting new people is a multi-sensory experience that can be excitingly unpredictable in outcome. They affect my moods and can ruin a great night out just as much as they can enhance it. They have also directed me to make the wrong decisions on occasion. On balance though, this involuntary taste experience is an added perception that gives me far more enjoyment than not.

So, this is how it works: Whenever I hear a sound I experience an involuntary and automatic mouth-feel flavour. If I hear my dog bark, I get the taste and texture of runny custard in my mouth. The word "like" has the taste and texture of thick, creamy yoghurt, the name "Martin" is made up of a complex mix not dissimilar to a warm Bakewell Tart. Individual voices all have taste and texture as does all music.

bakewell tart

This constant flow of flavours is like the drip, drip from an eyedropper on my tongue, one after another, varying in strength and intensity and each overlaying the previous one. This is best described as being similar to operating a fluorescent light. It comes on immediately, in a flash and when switched off it fades away slowly. If the taste is a particularly strong and intense one, it will take a while to fade away. If it's weak, it will disappear almost immediately or be replaced by another new taste and texture. This process carries on all day, every day.

Thinking back, my very earliest memory of tasting sound would be when aged around four and a half. This was when my mother used to take me to pre-school on the London Underground. I can still vividly recall reading out the station names as we passed through them (I was learning to read and write at the time) and I can remember each station name had a different taste. These taste experiences certainly didn't seem odd or make me feel different, so I don't recall ever mentioning it to anyone until I was a lot older.

As a child I chose friends according to the flavour of their names and later in life I applied the same technique when it came to girlfriends. The taste of a girl's name would be just as attractive to me as their sparkling personality or cute smile. It was all part of the attraction, and quite a big part at that. I've dated a girl with the taste and texture of soft bread, another tasted of melted wine gums. I've even tried my luck with one - against my better judgement - who came with the taste and texture of flaky pastry.

tube taste

Click here to see James' Tube Taste map.

The place I live, the colour of my clothes, where I take my holidays, my favourite football team, all have nice tastes and textures attached. This just demonstrates the benign influence these taste experiences have over my everyday decisions.

Would I take a "cure" if one were ever on offer? Most definitely not. It is a fundamental part of who I am and without it I'm sure I wouldn't be able to function properly. Would you want to be cured of your ability to smell simply because every now and again the experience was unpleasant or overwhelming?

I have a head cold at the moment. I don't get these very often and the effect on my taste function still feels strange, even after all these years. Because I'm being deprived of real smells and tastes, the involuntary tastes have no competition to deflect or absorb them so they totally dominate, which can become tedious and very distracting.

You might ask what possible use is all this to me? Could it be some sort of evolutionary advantage or genetic disadvantage? I can honestly say my additional taste experiences are of no tangible or practical use I can think of other than helping me remember things with very little mental effort. And it can make music taste exquisite.

When I first began the journey to discover why I experienced tastes with sound, I came across a huge barrier trying to persuade the medical profession to take me seriously (Why would I make something like this up?). I was the first person to have my personal taste experiences studied, documented and published in various scientific journals and it is especially pleasing to see the results of this research being used to provide neuroscience with a window into how we perceive and process information about the world around us and the very different and unique ways we all deal with and process that information. Fascinating stuff and much food for thought.

p.s. "Huffington Post" has the taste and texture of thin slices of smoked Beef with a piece of toast made from thick, white bread.

Life Less Ordinary is a weekly blog series from HuffPost UK that showcases weird and wonderful life experiences. If you've got something extraordinary to share please email ukblogteam@huffingtonpost.com with LLO in the subject line. To read more from the series, visit our dedicated page.