Page last updated at 13:50 GMT, Saturday, 29 March 2008

'George Bush is like crusty potato'

James Wannerton, president of the UK Synaesthesia Association, explains how the condition which "mixes the senses" affects his life.

He is speaking at a conference in Edinburgh where scientists and others with the condition are discussing the phenomenon.


For as long as I can remember, words, word sounds, musical instruments and certain ambient noises have produced involuntary bursts of taste on my tongue.

Gordon Brown and jar of Marmite
James gets a taste of Marmite when he sees Gordon Brown

Texture and temperature also feature in this experience which is with me 24 hours a day. My dreams also contain tastes, and I am unable to turn it off.

Although predominant during my formative years, I never considered these invasive sensations to be abnormal. Tasting words seemed as natural as breathing.

As I got older and more involved in the wider world, I found my word/taste associations having an increasing effect in my everyday life, subtly dictating the nature and course of my friendships, personal relationships, my education, my career, where I live, what I wear, what I read, the make and colour of car that I drive. The list is endless.

As a teenager, my developing interest in girls was heavily influenced by the tastes of their names, something which has led me up some disastrous paths over the years.

A girl's name was just as important as her looks and in some extreme cases, even her personality.

How shallow is that? I've constantly asked myself why girls with the sweetest tasting names quite often come with the sourest of temperaments.

'Surreal experience'

Everyday tasks such as meeting people, general conversation, driving, shopping, or reading a newspaper, often pose an extra challenge.

I have concentration issues if a person I am listening to speaks slowly and has clear diction.

At university, some lectures were a total waste of time.

I vividly remember once sitting through a two-hour economics lecture, having learnt very little about the Money Supply but having an intense craving for apples.

James Wannerton
James said the condition helps him to remember things

Negotiating the taste of road sign information at the same time as processing the multifarious flavours of my surroundings often causes confusion and usually ends with me feeling hot and bothered in Burnley when I should have been in a cake shop in Eccles.

Eating out can be a surreal experience, especially if the menus are in a language other than English.

Thankfully, there is a plus side to all of this.

Music has a very pleasant added dimension and my taste sensations most certainly aid my memory recall.

If I see a face I can't immediately identify my mind goes through a process of using taste recollections to effectively apply a name to the face.

Whenever I see a picture of Tony Blair I instantly get the taste of desiccated coconut.

Gordon Brown leaves me with a very strong taste of dirt and Marmite, so he shouldn't count on getting my vote.

George Bush gives me a taste similar to the crusty potato bit on top of a cottage pie.

What is beyond doubt is that I would never consider the option of being cured, if ever such a thing were offered, although it would interest me to find out how my perceptions would be altered if I "lost" it for a day.

It is a fundamental part of who I am and has most certainly helped shape my concepts and personality.




SEE ALSO
Conference on 'mixing' of senses
29 Mar 08 |  Edinburgh, East and Fife
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