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Surfers' paradise

Dixe Wills


'It takes a lot to make a stew/A pinch of salt and laughter too/A scoop of kids to add the spice/A dash of love to make it nice.'

My first memory of feeling 'that feeling' - the feeling I have never put a name to nor ever even considered naming - came upon me in a shoe shop when I was five or six. The shop assistant parted the crepe paper, lifted the shoe out of its box, threaded the lace with what, to my young gaze, seemed like magic-show rapidity, and gently but firmly eased the footwear onto my hoof. All of a sudden my brain experienced a tidal wave of pleasure, starting from behind my ears and washing over my temples where it remained for as long as the woman was fussing with my foot.

This was not, as might be supposed, some early awakened foot fetish. It was not the levering on of the shoe that sent such gratifying paroxysms coursing along my synapses, but the thrill of someone doing something for me - the delight in being cared for. More specifically, the delight in being cared for by a stranger. For some reason, this is a sensation that cannot be induced by even the most fervently belov├ęd amongst my loved ones.

Up until now I'd always assumed this was something peculiar to me and have never discussed it with a living soul. Great was my surprise therefore when I discovered that a whole online community, indeed a whole nascent industry, had been formed around the phenomenon. The sensation has been given the disappointingly uninspiring name Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR) - presumably Brain Joy didn't sound medical enough - and its devotees are given their fixes through a series of videos. These are posted by 'ASMR artists' - typically comely young women (which I find slightly bemusing because the sex and the age of the unwitting ASMR-giver has never been a factor in my experience). The often lengthy clips range from artists pretending to be a doctor to an 18-minute class on how to fold towels (don't knock it until you've tried it - over 800,000 views at time of writing). Some of the videos have assignments that might be considered to inhabit the very margins of what one might consider helpful but there are plenty of people out there who can experience the soulful delights of watching and listening to someone tapping their fingernails on Christmas tree ornaments.

Now, many readers may have read thus far with an even greater degree of blank incomprehension than they normally experience while perusing this column, but trust me when I tell you that whenever I'm on the receiving end of a bit of it it will almost certainly be the highlight of my day. So next time you perform what appears to be a trifling task on behalf of another, consider this: you might not merely be giving them a helping hand but also vouchsafing them a moment they will cherish long after the deed has been forgotten. We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made.