Cat-calling and coronavirus

Have you been verbally abused when running? "What female hasn't? I've been followed before by a man in a car."

It's May 2020. The U.K. has been in lockdown since March; our one dose of outdoor time has been stretched to ~*unlimited*~ status and we're allowed outside more than once a day. Roads are busier, pavements heavily trodden with walkers, runners, dog-draggers and seemingly immovable family units of five.

I've been running consistently during the eight weeks - which isn't a #quarantineandnochill brag - it's just a fact for framing. I'm not new to running. My pandemic-etiquette is sound, avoiding clouds of maybe-coronavirus by stepping out of other people's way.

But it doesn't mean the practice has been easy. I've been followed, cat-called and intimidated - and, worryingly, I'm not alone: "A car drove past me, and the passenger got out a toy pig and oinked it at me."

Earlier today, a car slowed down to my running pace (70mph; nice and brisk). He rolled down his window (read: probably had the windows voice controlled from the inside of his outrageous car), and called me a 'silly bitch' for using the road to keep away from the other people already on the pavement. I rolled my eyes so hard I thought I'd lost them in my head. When they came back round, I looked in his car. Two children, girls, young. Listening to what had just been said and to whom.

What sort of message is this sending them? That it's to be expected, that they'll too have this privilege of unprovoked libel when they're old enough? "I've noticed far too many people are out there getting brave at the moment. Feeling confident enough to insult others in the street." It's not OK. In a time where some people's only freedom is on the pavements of their towns, why is that freedom smeared with someone else's dumb choice of words? Last week I was cat-called from a man in a Blood and Organ Donation van - this isn't a fictional yarn for effect. It really was a Blood and Organ Donation van. Classy.

It's not all gloom: I've been cheered on by families; joined by a little boy who wanted to race me up a hill (I won't spoil who won, but he had twenty + years on me, go figure); and at the end of my first 10k, an old lady clapped me as I panted myself back to life on the edge of the pavement. Other runners echo this: "Generally [I feel] very supported."

Why is there such a divide between attitudes? We are all co-existing, with the pavements our shared gardens. Anecdotal evidence shows that running with a partner makes you feel less vulnerable than running alone - but I don't want to rely on that to have a peaceful (read: probably painful and sweaty) run.

I'll leave you with this sage advice upon being asked my opening question; have you been verbally abused when running: "Yes, but then I remember I wouldn't do it so someone else, so I run it off, and let it give me power."

so, you can't smell or taste: here's what to do next

After eight weeks of calling, ENT-UK (the professional body for Ear, Nose and Throat surgeons) has stopped being ghosted by the chief medical officers of the UK. As of today, anosmia has been added to the list of symptoms and reasons to self-isolate as a result of Covid-19.

A collective, belated cheer.

There's heavy criticism that the government have been slow to act, with some citing clinical negligence. It's easy to see why, given eight weeks have now passed with undetected cases circulating none the wiser.

It's also been eight weeks of frightened sufferers, contending with smell loss on top of potential coronavirus, without any explicit answers. So, as someone with two years of acquired, post-viral anosmia to reflect upon, here are some practical ways to cope - physically and mentally - of the onset of your loss.


Anosmia is largely misrepresented as both a loss of smell and taste. It is the loss of the sense of smell, either total or partial - taste is made of around 70% smell, making you think it's gone, too. Professor Barry Smith of the University of London, says: "Is taste missing or dulled? Try putting just some salt on your tongue, then sugar, then lemon juice. Can you taste those? If so, it's mainly your sense of smell that is affected."

You'll be surprised: your basic tastes of sweet, salty, umami, bitter and sour will still be there, albeit a bit dulled.

Don't panic

This isn't meant to be as flippant as it seems. We're in the gooey epicentre of a global pandemic; we have reason to not be chill - but try not to add another bit of coal to the fire.

If you've lost your sense of smell, keep in mind that these symptoms are usually temporary when related to coronavirus, and the sense returns once the virus has resolved.

Keep a log

Not a branch - you're not a dog. Keep a diary of your encounters - food, drink, washing powder, someone else's socks - anything. Rate your ability to smell, or not smell, these items. It may seem overwhelming in the beginning, but it'll serve as a useful touchpoint.

Note any exercise you have done, too - this is anecdotal, but when I come back from a run I can usually smell something briefly. It passes, but it's good to see trends where they occur (even if they are predominately sweat-related encounters).

Remember to eat

When I developed anosmia two years ago, food was the last thing on my mind. Every mouthful served as a reminder of my loss, so I would routinely dump quarter-eaten things in the bin, or throw them on the floor, or - my favourite - sob whilst I made them impossibly soggy inside my mouth.

Losing your ability to smell knocks out natural cues to feel hunger - that feeling you get when your mouth waters when you smell a freshly baked cake, or salty chips. Salivation is hard to find with anosmia, so sip water when you eat to make things easier to swallow.

When I eat, I play with textures for sensory pleasure, mixing crisp with soft – like pomegranate seeds in hummus, or crunchy seeds on top of soft porridge. The olfactory system (the place in your brain in charge of smell function) has a remarkable ability to regenerate after injury - so keep your body properly fuelled with nice things.

Smell train

It sounds bizarre, and the practice is even more bizarre, but hear me out. You can stimulate the olfactory system with four scents; rose, lemon, clove and eucalyptus. You know those little glass jars you get in hotels filled with jam and marmalade? If you have any empty and lying around, they're perfect for this.

Empty the jar and pop in a cotton pad at the base, then drop a few spots of essential oil on the pad. Then, smell train: mindfully smelling the different jars morning and night. Really try to imagine the scent as you do it.

This is hard work. I cried when I tried this two years ago, and gave up quickly. When you read a label and nothing smells even slightly, it's painful. This is a case of do as I say, not as I do: there have been remarkable recoveries with smell training, and with dedication it can bring back losses.

Be open about your feelings

Some days suck. Everything feels like it'll make you cry. The comfort you get from smells is inexplicable, and hard to replicate. Talk about how you feel. Tell your friends, family, whoever you're living with (be that a partner or a cat or just a piece of furniture you chat at throughout the day). No-one really knows how to cope with it, or what the right answer is.

The solace is that, right now, there is more chance of someone going through the same thing as you. When I first Googled my condition two years ago, there were thin scrapings of articles and nothing concrete - and there was hardly any community to speak of. I felt alone, isolated, and misunderstood.

Today, there is a lively online community (on Facebook, the Congenital and Acquired Anosmia page; and similar content under the #anosmia and #olfactoryloss tags on Instagram and Twitter). There's also me. I have gone in and out of wanting to help others, as the loss can be so bespoke and challenging to hear about when you're no longer at stage one of grief.

If you've got it right now, I've got it too: so we're in this together. Send me a message if you want some advice - and I promise I won't ghost you for eight weeks like the chief medical officers in the UK.

Image: Christian Sterk @ Unsplash


a child sits, eight fingers and two thumbs.

in front, a palette: watercolour.

he takes a brush and dips into water

then into the red

and smashes the bristles against the page,


he dips into water, then dumps into blue,

slapping heavy on the page like a flannel weighed down with soap.

the edges of the colours blur and bleed,

inviting a thick purple vein, accidentally, into the fray.

Image: Erol Ahmed @ Unsplash

five letters, beginning with 'w'

the first time i had my earphones in.

i don’t think i got round to turning the music on.

i walked the aisles and repeated, “this is weird”, over and over.

an hour later my mouth was empty of vocabulary.

i sat in my car, and started the engine.


the second time, i went with you.

i told you it would be weird, so we walked in together, holding hands.

crates were upturned.

i can’t remember what you said, but i know it didn’t take long for your words to stop dropping, too.

you took a photo, and we stood still, hugging in the fruit aisle.


by the third time, we were overestimating what 2m looked like.

we were nodded in, and i said something unfunny about aldi being a shit nightclub.

inside, we probably said, “this is weird”, again.

and it was, wasn’t it?


the fourth time we were naïve.

the ground was freshly painted with lines, and we realised we couldn’t go in together anymore.

you gave me the car keys, i gave you the list;

when we got home, it was still missing ticks.


now it’s two separate lists, and two sets of bags.

before we go in, i recite the rules to you like an old coach wanting to change careers.

the first time we queued apart, we pretended to not know each other, and i asked you for your number.

i covered my lips with a scarf and smiled beneath it, but all you could see was a little curl in my eyes. i turned back, and watched a woman wrap a long-sleeved top like a balaclava across her face, wiping down a trolley and smothering herself in sanitiser.

i turned back to you, and we smiled in solidarity.

beneath my scarf, i mouthed wordlessly:

“this is weird”.

and pepper

it was 10:30pm

or thereabouts,

watching a film with the lights blown out.

did you turn to me? or was it just your hands, when

you brushed my lips and twenty-two months came flooding back

spearing my tongue with liquid then my eyes and i

turned to you and asked, “is it salt?” and i couldn’t see your face but you gave me another

and there it was, salt, muddling between my fingerprints and behind my teeth –

i could taste it

i could taste it and all i could think was how it would be gone again in a few seconds but for that lull it felt like i was fixed, like i was better, i had suffered my time;

but then

it was gone

you held me with both arms,

and let me bleed mascara on your chest.
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