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» How clean is your house?

I thought I had expunged these memories...
...and yet, they return to haunt me, thirty years, and three continents, later.

Cue wavy lines.

October 1980, and I presented myself, bright-eyed and bushy-bollocked, at Imperial College, to read engineering. Four of us white guys had struck up a friendship during our year out working, and so we ended up renting rooms above a travel agents on Wandsworth Bridge Road. Renting the two other rooms were two Hong Kong Chinese guys, studying at Chelsea College.

I liked them well enough, and we all seemed to get on ok. They'd often lapse into high-speed Cantonese, occasionally throwing out English words, like "tea towel" or "emitter follower." But holy mackerel, when they got going with the wok a fine mist of cooking oil vapour would cover every horizontal surface as well as the vertical surfaces adjacent to the stove. At the end of the year, they just buggered off, and we impoverished British guys (not having everything paid for by our government) had to strip to the waist and expend vast quantities of elbow grease and no little amount of noxious chemicals in order to get back our security deposit.

But the event I want to describe to you is the Pancake Party we held one Shrove Tuesday. Now we were (and remain) far from observant in any religion, but it seemed like a great excuse - as if we needed one - for a gathering at which we'd eat pancakes and quaff gallons of ale. Wags that we were, pancake batter was prepared, divided into different containers, and coloured with food dye. A roaring success, everyone ate and drank huge amounts, and we called time somewhere between 2 and 3, as 9:30 lectures were looming large.

At 5am the travel agent's alarm went off, dragging us back into consciousness. One of us saw the criminal leg it down Wandsworth Bridge Road, so we called the rozzers (none of us were in a particularly cogent frame of mind at the time), and two of London's finest dutifully turned up. We invited them into the kitchen, a scene of utter devastation; frying pans, half-emptied pancake batter containers, empty beer cans, scotch bottles, paper plates bearing bizarrely-coloured pancake remnants, and overflowing big black garbage bags. I'm reminded of the Spike Milligan line in one of his books about a place looking "like it had been bombed by unemptied Arab dustbins." And yes I've lived and traveled in the Middle East. It was Armageddon in that kitchen.

I still remember the senior of the two coppers looking around, licking the end of his pencil and saying in a very understated way, "so, students are we, lads?"

Thank heavens they never went beyond the kitchen. Passed out on the upstairs landing was a guest (hi Mike!) who had drunk of his fill, and passed out while urinating, falling backwards out of the tiny toilet, landing face-up and continuing to urinate, all over himself and the hall carpet. And sitting in the toilet bowl was something that I had been too proud to flush, fecal matter so brightly coloured (think neon green and bright yellow in equal measure) that I wanted to share it with all in the house.

And that place was nowhere near as bad as Philbeach Gardens, our home during our second year. A damp, rat-infested basement in Earls Court, land of murders (two in our year there), Australians, prostitutes and homosexuals. I'm still not sure which were the worst.

Long-time reader. First time contributor. Be gentle.
(Tue 30th Mar 2010, 5:38, More)

» My Arch-nemesis

As I leaned over...
... and felt the gorge rising, I knew this one was going to be a stonker. Sure enough, from the tips of my toes it started, the spasms rising relentlessly from the ground up, increasing in magnitude as they passed my rugby-toned thighs, and pausing only for the merest moment to induce cramps in my gut, they continued their journey, worsening as they rose.

Chin falling to my chest, there was nothing I could do as the bitter bile, squeezed by a thousand well-ordered muscle clenches, rose in my throat, signaling the inevitability of what was to come. Neck stretching, I hurled the contents of my stomach high into the air, where its arc-like path hung, glistening and dewy-like in the early evening sun.

That was my arched emesis.

What? Arch-nemesis? Oh, never mind. I'll get me coat.
(Sun 2nd May 2010, 3:51, More)

» Cars

So many stories...
... here's the first, and by chance the most recent.

Living in Boulder, Colorado, has much to recommend it. The weather is (we're at 5300 ft) for the vast majority of time, damn near perfect, and even in mid-winter, when it snows, it rarely lasts more than a day or two. The catch is that immediately to the west of the city begin the Rockies, rising fairly steeply and consistently to 10,000ft, peaking out at the odd 14,000ft summit. Snow stays up here a lot longer, and it snows a lot more frequently.

Couple of weeks ago we were coming down off the mountains in the wife's all-wheel drive Town & Country soccer-mom mobile, and the local plod turned us back; a bad multiple-vehicle accident had blocked the road, and we'd have to take a different route. Off we toddled, just as the snow started to fall. We were about 8500ft, and there was still snow on the ground. New snow falling. Graded and gravel road, not asphalt. Nightmare. The Flatlanders were also out in force - people who haven't got a clue how to drive in conditions like these. Shit-box pieces of tin, so lightweight that on standard tyres they couldn't negotiate a mild incline, and gracefully pirouetted down the hill, engine racing, wheels spinning, until they came to a stop against a tree. A huge Ford Expedition (seriously, it's freakin' huge) losing grip and fishtailing up the hill (I saw him a little later, pulled over and putting on snow chains).

But my favorite is this. Good lady wife lived in upstate New York for many years; a place so cold that the US Army moved their cold-weather training there. From Alaska. I lived in Norway and Sweden for a while (though I remain a loyal citizen of the UK.) We're no Flatlanders, and know how to get through. Low gear, low speed, stop for nothing. 20mph all the way, we're doing great.

From behind, at ramming speed, comes a twunt in an LR3. He overtakes at, I'm guessing, between 40 and 50mph. Gestures at us in a non-too friendly manner. Not 5 minutes later we pass him, huge skid-furrows in the snow leading to the vehicle, front-end concertina-like, in the ditch. He was standing alongside it, scratching his head, wondering how to get it out. As we passed, I waved at him in a very friendly way. I must say, he had a very poor attitude and got quite angry.

25 minute journey took 4 hours. But we made it home without incident.
(Thu 22nd Apr 2010, 21:12, More)

» Narrow Escapes

I can still hear you!
Between 1969 and 1974, I lived in Cyprus when my father was posted over there to listen to all of the naughty enemy military and diplomatic signals traffic, and try to decode it. We lived in Famagusta (more correctly, Varosha, I believe - where we lived is no longer accessible to humans, as it's full of unexploded munitions from the Turk's 1974 invasion. More of which perhaps anon.) I was about 11 when this incident occurred, a year or so before the 74 invasion.

We were keen members of the ex-pat sailing community, and a couple of times a year would commandeer a Z craft (a bit like www.ww2talk.com/forum/war-sea/28085-z-lighter.html but shorter in length and with taller structure above deck) and we'd convoy a little north to a deserted beach, drop anchor, bbq and have a great fun day out. Paradise for kids, let me say.

I was in the water, having leapt off the top of the Z craft into the clear, blue, still Med, when a Turkish military boat sped into the cove in a "brave show of farce[sic]". British adults were pulling kids out of the water as the Turks started lobbing grenades into the sea. I was swimming at warp factor 10 for the Z craft while this was going on, proper front crawl, leaving a tsunami-sized wake (rapidly filling with excreta) behind me.

I heard the bangs, of course, and felt the percussion, so I can't have been too far away from the grenades. My dad and his mate leapt into the water to get my head into the air. They were shit-scared, and it was only when safely on deck as they calmly explained what could have happened that I realized how dangerous it was. It was unlikely I'd have been hit by shrapnel they said (inverse square law, and all), but the chances of ear damage were significant. I think much of the blast was deflected by the rocky bottom (not mine! the sea), but I was always pretty careful whenever the "enormously professional and highly-trained" Turkish military were about.
(Sat 21st Aug 2010, 23:33, More)

» Cars

The M5, South of Bristol
Several years ago, my aged father was hacking with the speed of many antelopes down the M5, around Clevedon/Weston-super-Mare. It was, according to him, a clear road with good visibility and he wanted to see what his car could do. I forget what it was - some Japanese saloon/sedan, ISTR. Sure enough, at around a ton, he saw in his rear view mirror the sparkly blue lights that the constabulary turn on in moments of distress (well, they sure cause me to become distressed.)

Aged parent pulls onto the shoulder, puts on hazard lights, opens the window and waits for his ticking off. Motorcycle officer parks up, dismounts and slowly walks to the car. It seems to have taken an age, if you listen to the AP tell the story.

First words out of the police officer's mouth were "are you having trouble taking off, sir?" before telling my Dad what a naughty boy he was, and letting him off with a warning. I've heard from a couple of other people to whom this happened that, about 15 years ago, this police officer would approach anyone he pulled over in the same way.

Sadly, I never met him. I only ever got caught speeding in Geordieland somewhere (93 in a rat-box escort, downhill with the wind behind me, racing to a wedding for which I was late), and outside Gila Bend in Arizona. Maybe I'll write the latter one up. It was quite an experience.
(Tue 27th Apr 2010, 20:02, More)
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