Don's diary

January 24, 1997


Am in the masochistic throes of completing a book to get to my publishers by Friday, writing two conference presentations to give tomorrow and wondering how to tell my research students that they have an unexpected exam when they come back from their Christmas holidays. On top of this, the conference organisers, the British Psychological Society, have issued a press release about my talk. This concerns the effects of food aroma on the brain.

We set up two experiments in which an electrical activity in the brain was recorded while people were exposed to the aroma of real and synthetic, sweet and savoury, pleasant and unpleasant food odours before and after lunch. Chocolate produced dramatic reductions in one EEG frequency which, I speculate, may be due to the calming, distracting nature of this smell. Related to this, we have just completed an experiment in which we examined the effects of sedative and stimulating odours on human vigilance, with similarly significant and dramatic results. I spend the afternoon fielding queries about the EEG studies from the press, Reuters, the Press Association and New Scientist. Academe does not get more exciting. Am consumed by a rational fear that my printer will pack up before Friday's publisher's deadline. Creatively, I begin generating imaginative excuses for the invisibility of the manuscript. I stop, realising that I have heard most of them from students and they did not sound particularly convincing then.


Picked up by BBC driver for an interview with Radio 1's Newsbeat. I am told by the producer that this is a "young people's programme" and that I should try not to be too erudite. I do the interview in Broadcasting House's canteen with Angus who uses his stentorian radio voice to great effect talking about the foods he has collected for me to smell.

I try not to be too erudite about this. Get a taxi to the conference. The BPS press office is astonishingly efficient and has messages from the daily papers, Radio Johannesburg, Cologne and CBS New York. Streakers clearly have the wrong idea about publicity; all they need is to get a research grant and do some interesting olfaction work using chocolate aroma.

Speak to about half a dozen of the press before I dash off to give my talks at 11.20. Meet up with my research assistant for a coffee after this and am then picked up for an interview with Radio 5 Live. A jolly interview, despite the presenter's sickbag-green tie. Back at the press office I spend the rest of the afternoon doing radio interviews.

Realise that I have spent most of the day riding the media merry-go-round. Which is why I end up in the bar, drinking innocuous orange juice and being interviewed by Network Southeast about a colleague's research on humour and drinking.


At 6.20 I am picked up for a round-robin set of 12 local radio interviews at Broadcasting House. I make my own way along the BBC's labyrinthine complex to the engineering room which is reminiscent of the Siberian HQ in Goldeneye. I do the interviews, from a small, sound-proof room. There is me, technical equipment, a high-tech clock, a coffee and a microphone.

I am left to get on with it for two hours. Responding to the nth pathologically cheery broadcaster, I begin to sound like a Eurovision host ("Can you hear me, Leicester? Can I have your DJs, please?" etc.).Back at the conference I read some interesting coverage of the research. The Sun calls me a boffin and so, inevitably, I feel that I have finally arrived. Meet up with my book editor who seems utterly convinced by my promises of a prompt manuscript delivery. As a polished media performer, I have learned to lie convincingly through my teeth. Conference draws to a close; it is sad and anticlimactic.


Am mugged by the thought that I have two days to deliver my 200,000 words. I try and get this mammoth spell-checked in between (i) running a research methods class, (ii) reassuring students that my comments on their reports were not meant to be that frightening and (iii) being interviewed by Radio Vienna. Also hear from an old school friend with whom I was once suspended from the sixth form.

He is doing a story about life changes and wants a quote. Get an email message from a cocoa manufacturer in the States about the BPS press coverage and I suddenly realise in astonishment how many people this research must have reached.


Final day of the university's semester. Am on the last lap of the book. My printer finally rolls over and pretends to die which means I have to feed in each sheet of my 700-page opus by hand. This takes me six full hours, making me miss our departmental Christmas party (this is normally a traditional affair: Indian meal, American bowling etc.).

With the text in front of me, and in the quiet of a late Friday in the department, I sit and consider that the past 12 months haven't been bad. Not bad at all. My reverie is interrupted by the phone. Can I do BBC Scotland on Sunday? Hey-ho, back to work . . .

Neil Martin is a Senior lecturer in neuropsychology at Middlesex University.

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