My little synaesthete

I’m looking forward to this session I’m doing at the TV Festival with Alex Horne for Audio Network. It’s called Synaesthesia, and that’s what it’s all about.


I’ve been thinking about how when I was very small every number had a colour; I don’t have this any more, but every now and then something I see, smell or hear prompts an almost physical response that’s hard to quantify – and I like it. I feel like it’s a pathway into the subconscious side of my mind, and/or my younger, more primal self.


And it’s a bit crazy.


Of course, some adults are palpably synaesthetes (woah – good words!); I met a man the other day, a very talented musician with perfect pitch, who could see musical notes in colour. A mutual friend was wearing a bright orange-y red dress, and we said, half-joking, ‘so, what note is that?’


‘B flat’ he said, unnecessarily sheepish. No shame in a special power as cool as that! In my book, that qualifies him as a frickin’ Avenger.


But it’s children who tend to be best at this, and this was demonstrated brilliantly just this week by my daughter Daisy – she’s seven. We were at dinner, in our Edinburgh flat, and she asked about the painting over the fireplace; the flat has some deep red details – ceiling, rug etc. – and the picture is a Rothko, to ‘tone-in’ I suppose. She said ‘why is that painting just a big block of colour – what’s the point of that?’


I know. Philistine.


We said we thought the artist was trying to create a really pure emotional effect, unencumbered by narrative, or cultural baggage – although I’m not sure I used the words ‘unencumbered by narrative, or cultural baggage’. Then we talked about synaesthesia. She totally got it, and, fascinatingly, began to tell us what colour she sees all the days of the week as. My son, just slightly older, said he doesn’t see things that way at all, and I got the impression he never has – they do both have very different, albeit equally perceptive viewpoints.


Anyway, as I say, Daisy really got all this, and she looked back up at the Rothko appraisingly.


‘I think it looks like the colour of heartbreak’


She’s not wrong.