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Smellyvision



It’s 1976. A heatwave and I’m lying on my bed. It’s a single, and I think at that time I have sheets that tuck in. This is before we went to an early Makro and came home with new fangled things called duvets which improved our ability to sleep in an unheated house. I remember the sensation of cold inside my nostrils and I have, to this day, an unusually acute sense of smell, and I’m lying there wondering what it might be like to invent a new kind of TV - It's called Smellyvision and my ten year old self needs to try it out before the BBC might invest bucket loads of cash in my idea when I write to them. I had a habit of contacting people  - I am the proud owner of a Blue Peter badge for sending my buttons to John Noakes and spent Saturdays trying to call Noel Edmonds on Multicoloured Swap Shop to see if anyone wanted my broken etch-a-sketch. I am ashamed to tell you too that I used to contact the police from the call box in the “waiting room” at our house. My mother always said you had to go through the boredom threshold to come out the other side. I think in my case it went a little too far.


So, I’m lying there, thinking it would be a great idea to hire the ABC cinema, and to buy a lot of indoor plant water sprays from the garden centre which people can keep by their feet. Each bottle is numbered and ready to spray when a number comes up on the screen. The smells, let’s just say , aren’t likely to be from the Gucci Alchemist’s Garden selection but are more in the nature of domestic smells at best like lawn cuttings, but more likely manky oxtail stew bubbling, or maybe beans and diesel.


For those who know me best you also know this will have been a passing whim, like my desire to have my own comic without the commitment to learn to draw the characters beneath the speech bubbles. My mother told me (even after 40 years in a committed career) that I didn’t stick at anything for long. While I know it not to be wholly true I think she may have been referring to my racing mind that wasn’t able to push through the mechanics of creating reality from such dreams. I also cooked up an indoor playground called "The Beach". It was a little like the Centreparcs style wave pools that kids love so much now, but mine offered a very limited - if no- ability to swim. It was just an industrial unit full of beige grit, complete with tides and a lighthouse, and the sounds and the smell of the sea alongside dirty great piles of sand to create sculptures that were rinsed down by the night shift. The lack of any interest in engineering, oh and and not owning an industrial unit, let me down once again. I’m also not sure how the hygiene deopartment would have dealt with the inevitable wee.


Some years later - perhaps early ’90’s, I find myself at an exhibition. This time it doesn’t smell of much, except perhaps some sweaty fabrics and dry ice - from memory it’s a Peter Greenaway installation and I recall being wowed by the interaction between actor/models and environment and the sheer theatricality of the gallery. Perhaps it was this that has been sitting quietly in my psyche and what inspired me to plan (a still unexecuted) installation on the theme of radical unschooling. I have the notes and was ready with the wish list of contributors, many of whom I had lined up. But something was stopping me. Perhaps the omnipresent fear of failure. Then lockdown happened and the world became expert on the very theme. The piece still sits in my head, and I can still picture the huge metal tree sculpture and the kids swinging from it at the premiere where the audience are sitting at wooden school desks.


Like it or not, I remain a quirky thinker. Here is a curation that speaks to me of Mother. I can’t offer Smellyvision but you are welcome to pop into Boots and spray yourself with a bottle of Blue Grass before viewing these images.

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