Sunday, 2 October 2011

Memories are made of this

We’ve just taken the son back to Uni – this time to a shared house.  He spent last year (his first) in Halls which was great at first but the attraction of living with people he hadn’t chosen to live with soon wore off and he got fed up with them using  his stuff and not cleaning/replacing it.  Consequently, he and six mates have rented a house together and we were graciously permitted to take him up there today – the car groaning with stuff.

So we arrive at the narrow Victorian house on the narrow Victorian street, not designed for cars but parked up both sides.  Across the road, other harried-looking parents were lugging boxes and duvets into similar houses, accompanied by similar, grumpy-looking teens.  Our boy had not complained at all about getting up at 9am but was clearly suffering in the sleep department.   We waddled up the road, laden with all the stuff and he opened the front door.  And then it hit me.


I was instantly transported back thirty years to all the rented dumps I ever lived in.  It was that mixture of musty carpet, damp and old cooking smells.  It reminded me of the various shitheaps I inhabited in North London....boy – the memories!

In one flat I shared in Stoke Newington, we had a combi boiler which was so unpredictable that you had to turn on the hot tap in the kitchen, then run out of the room until the boiler had ignited with an almighty BANG.  How none of us were ever killed or poisoned is a miracle.  Snails got in under the back door and slithered their way across the kitchen and into the living room to leave luminescent sticky trails across the carpet.  The garden was full of dog poo from the Alsatian called Randy who lived next door and used to jump over the fence purely (it seemed to us) for the pleasure of shitting in our garden.  He belonged to a West Indian family who used to incessantly shout at him.  It got to the point where we would hear Mr Randy (as we called him) shout “Rayunday!” and we would all chorus “Git in yo box!” to save him the trouble.

There was no central heating.  We had convector heaters which were hopelessly inadequate.  One day, whilst on duty at the local A&E, I got a phone call from one of my flatmates.  Annie announced laconically– “Hi it’s me – H burnt the flat down.”  Our third flatmate had wanted to dry a towel and had draped it over the heater, forgetting to remove it and causing a small conflagration.  Their memories of the whole incident may be different from mine, but I remember the culprit incurring further ire from both of us by mooning over the hunky firemen who came to sort it out rather than expressing any sort of apology.  As we stood regarding the blown-out windows and the smoke and water damaged mess that had been a double bedroom, Mr Randy appeared from next door.  He was carrying some huge sheets of hardboard.  He said nothing – it would have been difficult anyway because he had a mouth full of nails.  He simply strolled over to the broken windows and calmly nailed the wood into place, humming all the while.  As we stuttered our thanks, he simply said “no problem” and strolled out again.  I doubt my boy will have neighbours as good as him.


  1. What great memories - and so brilliantly described. My favourite line "He said nothing - it would have been difficult anyway becasue he had a mouth full of nails" :-)

  2. Wow, funny how smells can launch you back with such an impact. I hope your boy survives his time in his current shithole.

    I think he might find more of the same crap he left halls for though. Using other people's stuff and not cleaning/replacing it is pretty par for the course. In the house they'll have to do housework too - another source of contention, unless they want to swim through the dust balls, à la Texas...

  3. Which Uni., is he at? maybe he is across the road from my beautiful daughter. Luckily at that age they don't really care about the crappy furniture and smelly rooms...they are so excited about playing house and being let loose in the world. Great stories of your flat sharing days......and you survived!

  4. ooh my daughter is in a smelly house too

  5. Thank you Trish - glad you enjoyed it!

    Sarah - You're so right about smells - they can be so evocative - and this one was so unexpected - it really took me back. There are 5 boys and two girls in his house and I'm hoping that the girls will have a civilising effect on the boys....hmm...

    Libby - he's at Reading. I think the whole street is populated by students! I survived okay - no such thing as Gas Safety Certificates in those days!

    AG - I think they're all smelly, aren't they? I'd hate to get too close to the carpet in his about grim!

  6. You see you never noticed the smell of musty carpets in my student flats - because it was all masked by the stink cigarette smoke. Somehow I always ended up sharing with a crowd of chain smokers...
    Funny how that one turned out....

  7. Ah Macy - the days of chain smoking...We were quite dedicated smokers too - it just added to the ambience. Not too good for a crowd of nurses and doctors. We were also very capable drinkers. One day I will tell the story of the Sunday morning Orthopaedic operation when the entire operating team had been at the same party the night before. Not good...

  8. Sounds like we all had that experience of living in a grotty hole as students. I don't think it bothered me at the time, it was just too exciting being independant of grown-ups. But you're quite right about the damp smell!

  9. HF - I remember being really affronted when my parents came to visit and were unimpressed with my little palace. Somewhere along the line, I've turned into them!


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