Street Life: Horror that lurked in my dream kitchen

SAMOTECHNY LANE

I SHOULD have known better than to let him in. For, as the old Flanders and Swann song warns, once you let a workman into your home, you can expect a disaster that will require corrective measures from another clumsy workman and so on ad infinitum.

I was not thinking of this when the doorbell rang and a bearded dwarf in a fluorescent orange jacket announced that he was a safety inspector from Mosgaz, the Moscow branch of the gas board. Rather, my initial reaction was to be pleased that someone was paying attention to safety in a country where buildings regularly collapse in gas explosions. I was even ready to forgive him for tramping across my hall carpet in filthy boots.

"Tut, tut, tut," he said after glancing cursorily around the kitchen, "I am going to have to fine you." The on-off switch for the gas mains was not immediately visible and he accused me of having walled it up behind my "Euro-remont", as the Russians call any fitted kitchen or other home improvement executed to West European standards. "A lot of people do this when they have their fancy kitchens put in," he said, sneering. "Well, let me tell you, it's illegal. The switch should be accessible."

I was reasonably confident that my switch was accessible, only I could not immediately put my finger on it. Before I managed to find it, tactfully hidden at the back of a cupboard, the poisonous little man was unscrewing the white panels that make up the washable walls of my "Finnish-style" kitchen.

Now I must admit that I have had the odd cockroach in my home. In Britain, this would be as bad as admitting that I never wash or have some other disgusting personal habits but in Russia everybody suffers from cockroaches. When one person poisons them, they crawl to the neighbouring flat and seek asylum there.

However, when the panels came off, it became clear that here were more than one or two cockroaches. My "hygienic" kitchen was just a Potemkin Euro-remont, a facade like the cardboard villages that Potemkin built for Catherine the Great to convince her that the provinces were flourishing.

In the gap between the facade and the original wall, there was a heaving nest of cockroaches, as in the film Alien. Just as I made this discovery, the gas man satisfied himself that the on-off switch at the back of the cupboard was in order and announced: "Everything's fine then, sorry to have troubled you, I'll be off." As he exited, leaving more dusty footprints on the carpet and the liberated insects to overrun the kitchen, he added: "That's a nasty cockroach problem you've got there."

In the past, I have tried various products to get rid of cockroaches. I bought some white powder from the market but my cat only rolled in it and went crazy, as if he had snorted cocaine, while the intended victims multiplied. A friend gave me some special Chinese chalk, with which I was supposed to mark the walls, but the impudent cockroaches were so indifferent to this that they actually nested inside the chalk box.

Now matters were serious and I was going to have to call in a professional exterminator. My husband suggested "Vicious Vlad", a punk rock singer whose day job is vanquishing vermin. He arrived with canisters of highly poisonous chemical spray and said that, after I had emptied the cupboards, it would be advisable if the cat and I stayed the night somewhere else.

Dr Death did his job but, like all workmen, he failed to clean up after himself. When I came home the next morning, the kitchen floor looked like a battlefield, strewn with corpses and a few limply struggling survivors. It was so foul, it was fascinating.

"Die, die," I intoned as I crushed the last of the living and swept up all the bodies into a bin-liner. The grim thought struck me that, in just the same way, the gods will deal with all of us.

I was satisfied. My kitchen was clean. The cockroaches would be back, of course, to make a sequel to the horror film. But the surviving insects would escape now to the neighbours and it was they who would have to cope with the endless consequences of the gasman coming to call.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Barn owls are among species that could be affected
charity appeal
News
Sarah Silverman (middle) with sister Reform Rabbi Susan Silverman (right) and sister actress Laura Silverman (left) at Jerusalem's Western Wall for feminist Hanuka candle-lighting ceremony
peopleControversial comedian stages pro-equality Hanukkah lighting during a protest at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Sport
After another poor series in Sri Lanka, Alastair Cook claimed all players go through a lean period
cricketEoin Morgan reportedly to take over ODI captaincy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas