This is a story based on a true story; as true as I remember it. Maybe it’s a fabrication based on some small points that I recall. I’m sure some of the other players in the tale remember it better than I.
Some time ago I lived in the front bedroom of a student house. It sounds a strange arrangement now, but at the time it made sense. As I was the one least likely to be asleep at any time, I was the one least likely to be woken up by anything.
Although it was a living room initially, it was very much a bedroom for me. If I entertained, it would be there, though I didn’t. I had a 2 metre high poster of the sleeve of Let Robeson Sing by the Manic Street Preachers on the wall by the door, and later, the line “Love’s The Greatest Thing” in the style of blur’s Tender on the other side of the room.
I was downstairs, then, and two of my friends were upstairs. In truth, only one of them spent any significant time upstairs as the other had a girlfriend in a different house, and he spent a good deal of his time there. It made for a cushy time, and we were happy.
A lot of things happened during the few years I lived in that house – too many to mention in just one tale – though this is the story of just one.
It was, for example, where I definitively stopped wearing jeans. One day, after walking home in the rain in jeans, I found my legs had gone blue in the bath. Never again, I vowed. Never again.
That was in the downstairs bathroom, a place that was forever cold and the site of some of my more spectacular nosebleeds.
There was also an upstairs bathroom, though this was seldom used – with two and a bit people in the house, it was an element of luxury seldom afforded to the student populous.
Well, it was for a while. The bathroom was on a corridor that ran along the length of the ceiling of my bedroom and the room itself was entirely over my room. Lucky it was not regularly used.
One day one of my housemates answered a call of nature upstairs and the toilet in that room omitted a noise we were unfamiliar with. As language students we were ill prepared for the realities of emergency plumbing, so we hoped the noise would stop and the problem would go away.
It did not.
Before too long, it was obvious that the water level of the toilet was not what it was. The pressure dropped and we thought it would pass.
Things do not work out like that with water. Overnight, it became very apparent that something far more was happening. The first sign was that the big poster peeled down, creating a hell of a racket as it peeled off the wall.
There is a time in situations like this, that things race away from you. I remember bullet points from the week, and there is a logical order to them, but I don’t recall how it all came about.
We got a plumber in; he fixed the problem about three days after it started. In that time, I had spent one night in my room with sewage dripping down the wall, ruining the electrics and laying waste to the paper and posters.
By the following night, the odour of faecal matter had become so strong that I couldn’t stay in the room – even with the door shut it was difficult even in the living room across the corridor.
The next day was different; a mad rush to rescue anything that was salvageable and dispose of what wasn’t. I learnt a lot that day. Primarily, that was a lot about what was permeable, and a lot about what was not but also a great deal about how you could fit the contents of one room into another.
There were other lessons, about how quickly one’s nose adapts to a smell and, later, how easily it can return to it. It was quite a day.
The next day, when the brown liquid had stopped drip drip dripping, the clean up operation began. It was painted wallpaper, and it took a long time scrubbing, and a lot of disinfectant but eventually it was sorted, a more pristine powder blue than it had been for many years.
The electrics were a different matter. More lessons were learned, and over a longer time. Plastic plus cleaner equals the smell of chocolate orange. A piercing, irreplaceable chocolate orange that lingers for many weeks. The sockets still worked, but they took on the role of air fresheners too.
I have never been able to listen to Let Robeson Sing since that week without thinking of it, and never really eaten a chocolate orange again either.