Victoria Summerley: Town Life

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The Independent Online

There have been dozens of scientific studies devoted to the difference in olfactory perception between men and women. I'm not going to bore you by quoting examples. You'll just have to take my word for it: women have a keener sense of smell than men. What the research programmes don't tell you, however, is that men respond to this by making out that you're undergoing some sort of odoriferous hallucination. "I can't smell anything," they say, indignantly, "you must be imagining it."

For more than a year, I've been complaining to my husband that there was a nasty smell in our bathroom. It seemed to be coming from the loo, which is boxed in behind tiling that would defy a jackhammer, let alone an ordinary domestic Black and Decker. This presented a nightmare equation that will be familiar to female readers: a smell undetected by the male nose, plus a demanding bit of DIY equals zero chance of getting anything done.

In fact, my husband's insistence on his hallucination theory was so convincing, I found myself Googling information on hyperosmia and other olfactory disorders. Apparently, if you have a disturbed sense of smell, you tend to smell frying onions all the time. I concluded there was nothing wrong with my nose, but there was something very wrong with the loo.

After about, oh, six months of nagging, my husband agreed that perhaps someone ought to look at the loo to see if it was leaking. (Our loft extension builders were still here at the time, so I suspect he felt reassured by the fact there would be someone around to put the bathroom back together if it fell apart.) A plumber came round and replaced some bit of rubber on the cistern. The smell continued. It got worse.

It got so bad, in fact, that endless scented candles and room fragrance sprays failed to mask it. In the end, there came the magical day when my husband suddenly said, in a rather accusatory tone: "There's a terrible smell in the bathroom. What's causing that?" At which point, I wept with relief.

After poking about behind the tiling (some of which had been dislodged by the plumbing work), I noticed that there was a hole in the tube that connects the loo with the soil pipe. We have what's called a flexible pan connector - a flimsy bit of ribbed plastic - as our loo is in an awkward position for a conventional, straight-into-the-floor rigid soil pipe. After a bit more investigation, I discovered several more small holes. And after persuading my husband to remove all the tiled boxed-in bit round the loo, we found the end of the tube that connected to the rigid soil pipe had been reduced to a lace doily by some creature. Rats! Somehow, they'd made their way up through the soil pipe and thanks to their handiwork - or rather, teethwork - the stench of the household's outgoings was slowly filling our house.

I swear, the words: "I told you so" never crossed my lips. (I was too busy holding my nose.) Instead, I listened demurely as my husband explained that we would have to get someone in to fix it, and he would go to the plumbers' merchant and get a new pan connector as it was unlikely the emergency plumber would have one.

Coward that I am, I would rather live in a sewer than face the plumbers' merchant, where you state your demand across a counter to some bored operative who looks at you as if you've just crawled out from under a soil pipe. There are no glossy pictures to help you and you are expected to know the esoteric plumbing name for what you want, not to mention its precise length and diameter in both metric and imperial. Requests such as: "You know, the thing that goes from the loo to the water thing" are met with a curl of the lip before you're shouldered out of the way by some burly builder's mate with a roll-up who wants industrial quantities of copper piping.

Half an hour later, my husband was back with a flexible pan connector and an air of triumph. "They tried to charge me £45 but I beat them down to ten quid," he says triumphantly. "Honestly. £45 for a bit of flimsy plastic. They're having a laugh." Bless. He may struggle to discern the stench of raw sewage, but he can smell bullshit a mile off.