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September 16, 2013 | by  | in Opinion |
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Shit My Dad Says

My father is recently retired. His hobbies include: reading gruesome stories out loud from the Daily Mail, trying to find out where the beeping noises are coming from, and identifying mystery smells. My mother avoids him by playing online Scrabble with a bariatric surgeon in London.

“It smells like cooking,” he said sometime in July.

He had in fact just been cooking, so it did smell like it; I observed this cause and effect and told him so.

“No no no, the whole house smells like cooking even when I haven’t been.”

I guess what perturbs him most is that the house doesn’t have a consistent track record of smelling like cooking, and he’s been there 20 years. My mother and I agree: the house has never had the tendency to play aromatic practical jokes, but neither, so we think, has it developed it now.

We thought it would go away, like many of his fleeting discontentments. But on the cooking smells he’s persistent, and may try to convince you of their existence at any moment. It’s like he’s seeing ghosts, but more culinary. You might be brushing your teeth, only to be startled by the apparition of him in the mirror behind you.

— Curry.

— No thank you, I’ve just had one.

— Can’t you smell it?

— Is it minty?

— No.

— I’m afraid not then.

— Get your mother in here.

— You do it.

— No she thinks I’m mad.

Mrs McKinnon enters the bathroom.

— Dad can smell curry.

— He’s mad.

— He knows.

— I’m not mad; I know you think I’m mad but that doesn’t make me actually mad.

I think he secretly enjoys the detective work it involves, whether the smell exists or not. He’s the kind of person who likes having opinions about things he doesn’t know anything about, especially food.

— Tomatoes are getting cheaper, but don’t buy the Australian ones, they’ve been X-rayed.

— What’s wrong with X-rayed tomatoes?

— I don’t know, but something doesn’t seem right about them. Besides which, they’re Australian; what would you be doing with Australian tomatoes?

Emails from my mother, August 19.

8.06 pm: D is still convinced cooking smells are lingering in the hall. I suppose he is right… does it matter?  When you come home you can let me know what you think.

10.43 pm: He has washed the curtain that goes over the front door in case they are stored within.

One time, she awoke in the middle of the night to find him polishing the silver.

Anyway, all the cooking is now done outside—spaghetti on the barbecue, curries behind the shed and up a tree.

— Would you like anything for breakfast?

— Oh, just a bowl of cereal.

— Let me just pop down to the end of the garden to get that for you.

— But muesli doesn’t need cook—

— The smell, Hugo, the smell! By the way, did you hear about that baby who drowned her own mother?

— She must’ve had an Australian tomato.

For better or worse, I’m turning into my father. In fact, it may have happened already. We bond over lumps in our ears and wind in our stomachs.

In the corner, Mrs McKinnon lets slip a wry smile, having just scored 95 points in Scrabble.

When I’m home, we frequently bump into each other wandering the house in the early hours of the morning. Then it really IS like seeing a ghost, only it’s in pyjamas and turning the kettle on.

I might have an affinity for smells too. While on a family holiday many years ago, I was convinced a putrid smell had followed us from Oamaru to Timaru. Dad got the motel to change all the sheets, and I accused my sister of having vomited. As it happened, I’d forgotten to shower.

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