The sweet smell of stating the blindingly obvious

I could have told the academics for nothing that men have a lower pain threshold than women

Sue Arnold
Sunday 15 December 2013 06:06

Write this down; it could be important. Gender is a variable, which should be taken into account in the treatment of pain. On second thoughts don't bother. It's only the result of one of those daft research projects whose sole purpose as far as I can see is to keep a bunch of otherwise redundant academics gainfully employed. In this respect I'm of the same opinion as Senator William Proxmire from Wisconsin who initiated the Golden Fleece award in 1975 for the looniest and most expensive piece of academic research. One of the winners was a PhD from a psychology graduate (they're always psychology graduates) from the University of North Carolina who produced a treatise to show why people don't like queuing.

I presume his research didn't extend to the UK. The British thrive on queues. If you've ever listened to that schmaltzy programme on Sundays where listeners phone Simon Bates to tell him how they met their partners, you will know that an alarming amount of British marriages is made not in heaven but in queues. Doubtless academics are already researching that one.

Anyway, to get back to the pain project, a couple of professors called Serge and Pierre from the University of Quebec rounded up 20 men and 20 women, sat them down in a laboratory with their hands in hot water and got them to sniff various smells – flowers, vinegar, almonds, etc – to see which, if any, reduced their pain. Sorry, I forgot to mention that the 40 guinea pigs were all experiencing some kind of pain. The article in New Scientist didn't specify precisely what pain nor, come to think of it, the significance of the hot water. Maybe they had dirty fingernails.

Here's what those doughty scientists discovered. The sweet smells – the flowers and the caramel – alleviated the women's suffering, whereas the foul smells – the vinegar, the rotten eggs, the cheap after-shave – intensified their discomfort. Meanwhile, the men, impervious to both foul and fair odours, kept on suffering and I dare say complaining. So what's new?

If Serge or Pierre had taken the trouble to ask me I could have told them for nothing that men have an appreciably lower pain threshold than women. Look at footballers – one scratch and they're stretchered off. A month before she was due to make blinis, beef stroganoff and all the trimmings for the 130 wedding guests we had last weekend, Susi B the caterer fell backwards down a flight of stone stairs and was rushed to the nearest intensive care unit with multiple fractures and possible brain damage. She would be there for at least two weeks, the doctors advised, and after that another three months recuperating. Not a bit of it. Susi was up and running five days later and within a fortnight producing tray-loads of canapés for corporate functions.

Modesty forbids me from revealing the many occasions when, crippled with chronic pain, I've soldiered on. What's more, I now realise, in the light of this new research from Quebec, that I have soldiered on despite impossible odds in the shape of our septic tank – compared to whose pestilential emissions the crumbling sewage system of Old Baghdad is a bed of roses.

I think I've told you about my septic tank before. We don't have main drainage in the cottage; no one has round here. At social gatherings we compare septic tanks. Most people have the old-fashioned soakaway model like ours, though I have heard that someone down the road has just installed a mini sewage system electrically powered that delivers drinking water at the other end. The trouble is we are on solid clay and with weather like this it isn't easy. "You must top up your bacteria input,'' advised a neighbour. "Chuck in some old Camembert or a few dead rats.''

I have more ambitious plans. I once visited a power station in Suffolk fuelled by chicken manure. Last week I read that the first power station to run on cow dung has just opened in Devon. By the way, a cow burps 218 litres of methane gas every day. Why not kill two birds with one stone; namely eliminate the smell by erecting a small power station next to my septic tank. Just think, no more electricity bills, no more smells, just roses all the way.

This morning friends from Hong Kong came to stay. I saw their noses twitch as they passed the septic tank. I could have rushed them in, steeped their hands in hot water and waved leftover wedding cake under their noses. Forget the power station – just give me sunshine, please.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments