It's been 68 days since I lost my sense of taste and smell, not that I'm counting.
In late March, just when I thought I was recovering from a thankfully mild bout of Covid, I spent a brief couple of minutes marvelling at the fact that my pan-fried fish hadn't caused the kitchen to smell at all. Reality soon kicked in.
• Coronavirus: Petition calls on UK to declare war on New Zealand 'then immediately surrender'
• Covid 19 coronavirus: Highest number of daily infections recorded in Sweden
• Covid 19 coronavirus: Satellite images may prove China was in grip of outbreak months before announced
• Covid 19 coronavirus China: Beijing in lockdown after food market cluster identified
Every day since then, I've hoped that I will literally be able to wake up and smell the coffee, but the wait goes on.
I'm not alone. The loss of taste and smell was added to the official list of Covid symptoms last month, and scientists monitoring the virus have found that it's by far the strongest single indicator of infection, more so even than a cough or fever.
Until Covid struck, anosmia – the medical term for a loss of smell - was relatively rare, although it was known to affect people with viral infections, and other conditions such as head injuries. I spoke to Chrissi Kelly, a former anosmia sufferer, who runs the smell-loss charity, Abscent (I see what they did there). Kelly told me that the first sign that something strange was happening came as early as February this year, when she received a message from a Twitter user in Iran, asking for help. A couple of weeks later, she was contacted by an ENT surgeon in Italy who was suffering. By the end of March, literally thousands of people in the UK were asking Abscent for assistance.
For most people, this unwelcome phenomenon will be mercifully brief. It's as if you have a clothes peg on your nose, but, once that's removed, you recover – usually after two to three weeks. For a substantial minority, though – me included – the virus causes nerve damage. According to Simon Gane, who's a trustee of Abscent and a consultant ENT surgeon at the Royal National Throat, Nose and Ear Hospital, the good news is that the nerves can regrow. But it takes time: usually anything from two months to two years.
A small, unlucky, number will never get better, and in even rarer cases, the nerves can repair in the wrong way, like rewiring your house and connecting all of the appliances to a different circuit. Sufferers of this condition – parosmia – can suffer horrifying results: in extreme cases, food can smell like faecal matter.
My own slow progress has felt incredibly frustrating. I'm well aware that, at a time when so many people are dying from Covid, the loss of almost 40 per cent of my senses has felt as if it's something barely worth mentioning, let alone complaining about. The truth, though, is that – while I'm lucky to be otherwise healthy - it's pretty miserable. As Gane told me, "most people don't realise how much they use their sense of smell until they lose it".
When you can't smell, it's like you're smelling a kind of nothingness the whole time. I miss the ability to drink in the aroma of a cup of coffee or freshly cut grass, but also the memories that smells evoke. On a more practical level, I'm constantly checking that I haven't left the gas on. I'm paranoid about personal hygiene, and repeatedly showering and changing my clothes just in case - though, on the bright side, I'm not the one who has to suffer when I miscalculate.
Perhaps the worst of it, though, is being unable to enjoy food and drink. Although I did get back what's known as "basic taste" after a few weeks, so I can discern if something is sweet, sour, bitter, salty, or umami, it's your sense of smell that allows you to taste "flavour".
Some food I just can't taste at all, and mostly it's like I'm eating a watered down version of the real thing. The nicer the food, the more noticeable the difference. Eating steak feels like chewing through rubber, while drinking whisky is like sipping on flat coke infused with cat urine. I wouldn't recommend it.
Even so, there are others far worse off than me. Gane tells me that many people can "expect a grieving process", and that anosmia can cause significant mental health difficulties. In some cases, relationships can even break down – not least because humans are hard-wired to use smell in determining the attractiveness of a partner.
There are, however, things you can do to help with the recovery process. For the last month, I've been "smell training", using a kit provided by Abscent. It's surprisingly simple. I have four small glass jars, each containing an oil, that gives off a distinctive everyday scent: in my case, of roses, lemons, cloves and eucalyptus. On day one, I realised that, embarrassingly, I had no idea what cloves are or what they smell like. Despite friends instructing me to think of the "smell of Christmas", for obvious reasons, I still don't know what it is.
Twice a day, I have to spend 20 seconds inhaling each of the jars, in four short sniffs, all the while imagining the smell within. Cloves aside, it's fairly easy to remember what a smell is, even if you can't make yourself actually smell it. I always go for the roses first: I open the jar, close my eyes and imagine a rose bush that we had in my childhood home, and smell away. It's as if the scent is in reach, but somehow I can't quite grab hold of it.
Then, each time, I record the result on Abscent's app, rating how "strong" and "true" each smell is on a scale of nought to four. For weeks, I've been recording solid zeros, allowing me to create a series of depressing bar charts.
It's certainly been disheartening at times, doggedly opening up my glass jars each morning and evening only to smell nothing at all, and with no sign of progress. I have to confess to giving up for a few days when it all felt a bit pointless, although I'm now back on track after my wobble.
According to Gane, it's important to persevere. "When I first heard about the process, I thought, 'no way'," he told me. "I wanted really complex molecules and investigational medical procedures. But when I saw the data, there's no arguing.
"The more smell training people did, the better they got."
It works because humans have around 400 smell receptors: the training helps you to "turn on" these receptors, which in turn helps to stimulate your olfactory nerves as they repair. It's important to use different smells, as each one will use a different combination of receptors.