Since getting back to “normality” after a mental summer of Edinburgh Fringe and touring Australia in a pair of shoes that let in water, I’ve been hoping for some kind of – well – rest.
It hasn’t quite worked out like that. Firstly because I was thrown into the necessary but stressful experience of moving house, then because no sooner had I assembled my bed when I was thrown into teaching forty-six Cambridge undergraduates in a variety of musical skills. And of course, being my own worst enemy, I have continued to impose an impossible schedule upon myself as far as my “free time” is concerned; keen followers of my activites will already know that I’ve been writing a musical, and amazingly in two months have managed to assemble about half of the words and music for it.
I’m not complaining, I’m just saying things have been generally quite demanding. And what with the approach of Christmas (always a taxing time if you work for the church) there hasn’t been much of a let-up.
All of which has culminated in this week.
We’ve been having a few issues with our plumbing. Essentially the problem appears to be that our toilet was installed in such a way that it was pumping sewage underneath the lino on the floor of the bathroom; it had also started to occasionally flood the bathroom. Naturally we haven’t been altogether delighted with this arrangement, but letting agencies being what they are, we’ve generally been told that something will be done about it next week.
This week, I was having my lunch in front of “A Magical Musical Reunion” with Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke and Richard Sherman (and rather enjoying it), when I heard a steady dripping in the hallway. My investigations revealed that half of the bathroom seemed to be on the verge of crashing through into the hallway.
And this was indeed the case. Essentially, owing to the eccentric arrangement of our plumbing, we had shit dripping through the hallway ceiling. And whenever we flushed the toilet or took a shower, the shit would not so much drip through the ceiling as sluice through the ceiling.
If you think I might be exaggerating for the sake of an interesting story, I can assure you that it was every bit as hideous as it sounds.
Chris and myself have mostly laid the blame on Alastair; bad things happen to him, as demonstrated every time he sings with my church choir and God strikes down an old lady in full view of the congregation. (Alastair’s theory is that the thunderbolts are aimed at him, he just moves out of the way at the wrong moment.)
So this week we have been forced to go swimming in order to take showers, and to go to Starbucks if we want to take a leak, as we listen to the steady drip of raw human excrement in our hallway. You’d be surprised how many phone calls you have to make to a letting agency before they realise the urgency of such a situation.
Last night we tried to forget our troubles and relax for an evening by going to the Selwyn Snowball. Except that this turned out to be less relaxing than we’d hoped. It would make fine dramatic sense to say at this point “I’d forgotten how stressful Cambridge balls can be,” only it would be a lie – I’ve been to very few balls where I haven’t felt obliged to squeeze as much fun into the night as possible to get my money’s worth, constantly rushing around because of the nagging suspicion that something much better is happening in a different part of the ball. Selwyn had successfully exacerbated this feeling by ensuring that there was pretty much nothing to do at their ball except hunt for things that might be happening – a kind of night-long impossible quest in the manner of The Crysal Maze. Central to this effect was a distressing one way system whereby if you actually managed to find a door you were allowed to go through, there would be somebody there to ensure that on no account you went back through it the other way. A simple trip to the toilet necessitated a circuit of the entire ball to get back to your friends, who would inevitably have moved on by the time you made it back to the spot where you’d left them.
I whiled away an hour by queueing for a massage, which was an anticlimactic hand massage because I was told men weren’t allowed to have shoulders done (apparently the sight of my naked torso was liable to make the female guests faint); towards the end of the evening I got so bored I offered to help carry some boxes of empty bottles, but even there the system contrived to get the better of me, and I was halted at the last moment by a burly security man who said I couldn’t lift things because I’d been drinking. The ball organisers smiled at me and said “well, thank you for offering,” which was also a let down because they clearly hadn’t noticed that offering to carry things was the ultimate insult towards the ball they had put together.
The theme of the ball was “The Beauty of the Orient”, but if they’d called it “Red Tape and Bureaucracy” I might have seen the point. As it was, it just fuelled an immensely frustrating evening, where the best thing to do was enjoy the atmosphere of Selwyn College and chat to friends. Something, need I point out, you can usually do without paying Â£52 for the privilege.