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Thursday, September 12, 2002
Body Odour

Waiting in the supermarket queue the other day, I was assailed by a gust of the most revolting BO I had ever encountered. It came from a scruffy, early middle-aged man of no particular distinction. He was wearing a stained teeshirt and ripped jeans - you know the sort: the rips weren't 'designer'; they were what you'd get if you were to climb through a barbed wire fence, running from a wild bull.

I wondered if Mr Smelly had been reading a piece of research conducted by some scientists within the last decade (and I have to apologise for not including a link here - the work probably predates the internet). Here is a summary, as I remember it.

The researchers mused upon the evolutionary value of BO. What possible use could it have? They had watched animals going round smelling each other and wondered if there was a human equivalent. Perfume is, after all, a recent invention and its intention is to hide nasty smells, not to enhance them. As we all know, that is why the French, a notably pongy lot, invented perfume in the first place.

The experiments, as I recall, involved many young women. They were asked to smell some revolting collections of male body odour, including smelly socks and sweat-stained teeshirts in a tube. They were asked to say what they thought of the smells. There was a supposition that women might find these smells attractive - otherwise how could we explain rationally lasting relationships between smelly people we know?

The tests were conducted over an extended period and the testers found some remarkable results: at some times of the month, the women were not able to make rational, adverse judgements about the smells. During ovulation, the women did not find the smells objectionable. They didn't actually like them but they tolerated them. The experimenters concluded that this effect was evolution's way of arranging that mating should take place when conception was most likely. Hmmm.

It is unlikely that Mr Smelly had read this important piece of research because he would also have come across my seminal sociological thesis on nookie:'Gucci Gains Against Grimy Grunge' and adjusted his sartorial standard accordingly.

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