Noxious odours aren't always so bad

To hell with the smells. Indeed the more it pongs, the more efficient it is

Share

If, at the risk of getting hate mail, I tell you that we live in Flood Street, just off the Thames Embankment by Albert Bridge, you will not be surprised to learn that I haven't set foot outside my front door since Wednesday morning. Last Tuesday night, we had a mother of a thunderstorm with monsoon rain which, apart from bringing the Underground to a halt, caused some sort of blockage in the city's drainage system resulting in 600,000 tonnes of raw sewage being pumped into the river. Presumably there's a very good reason why Flood Street got its name. Until I hear the all clear, I'm staying well and truly put.

If, at the risk of getting hate mail, I tell you that we live in Flood Street, just off the Thames Embankment by Albert Bridge, you will not be surprised to learn that I haven't set foot outside my front door since Wednesday morning. Last Tuesday night, we had a mother of a thunderstorm with monsoon rain which, apart from bringing the Underground to a halt, caused some sort of blockage in the city's drainage system resulting in 600,000 tonnes of raw sewage being pumped into the river. Presumably there's a very good reason why Flood Street got its name. Until I hear the all clear, I'm staying well and truly put.

This morning, I heard a report from an intrepid correspondent on a boat not far from Chelsea Harbour. He said that the sides of his boat were being bumped by the dead bodies of bloated carp, that the stench from the river was horrific, and that the colour and consistency of the water was - I won't elaborate. I'm glad my daughter has ditched the boyfriend with a houseboat near Chelsea Bridge. She loved being on it in the summer when, she said, they could sunbathe on deck. I doubt they'll be doing much sunbathing right now, even though it is sweltering outside, unless they had a couple of handy gas masks.

Maybe I'm being over-sensitive. We have become so fastidious and deodorised, we rarely come into contact with the sort of natural earthy smells our Elizabethan ancestors, strolling along the embankment, took for granted. Given the choice in terms of fuel between exhaust fumes and horse droppings, I settle for the latter every time, despite Peter Ackroyd's lurid descriptions of the capital's principal thoroughfares during Victorian times in his biography of London.

Admittedly there's all the difference in the world between the smell of a stable and the stench of a public lavatory or even a beautifully appointed ladies' powder room, as I discovered some years ago. I was working in Tehran, and a colleague invited me for the weekend to her parents' house in Isfahan.

It was more like a palace, all marbled floors, mosaic tiles and solid gold taps in the downstairs cloakroom. No one but me appeared to notice the gut-wrenching whiff that hit you when you opened the door, which got steadily worse as you headed for the footprints on either side of the dark hole in the floor. I'm terrified of falling into Asian lavatories, though I'm reliably informed they are both more ergonomic and hygienic than our pedestal variety. Squatting is more natural than sitting, and there are no S bends in which the stuff can get trapped.

If this is all becoming a bit basic I apologise, but if you had 600,000 tonnes of raw sewage floating sluggishly about less than 200 yards from your front door your thoughts, too, might tend towards the basic. I should be used to the scenario. My mother's cottage isn't on mains drainage, and has its own septic tank which is always going wrong. When plumbers and sewage experts come to advise us, they usually end up telling us to shove whole cheeses and bits of rotting meat down it to provide more bacteria. It's all these hygienic cleaning fluids that are making it go wrong; to hell with the smells, indeed the more it pongs, the more efficient it is.

For a long time, the bottom flat in our block was rented by a pretty air-hostess called Charlene from Philadelphia who worked for Pan Am. When she was on long hauls, she might be away for up to two weeks at a stretch.

I shall never forget the morning she flew in from Bangkok to discover that, like Tuesday night's débâcle, except on a smaller domestic level, something had gone wrong with the drainage system in our block and all our lavatories had backed up into hers for a fortnight, and the overflow was now leaking into the rest of her flat. Poor Charlene was whey-faced and quivering when she came upstairs to break the news. All she could say was: "Oh my God, my God."

Here's an appropriate Billy Connolly story to end with on a cheerier note. A television crew was making a documentary about Glasgow's oldest public lavatory attendant.

It was a job with its ups and downs, said Mac. People took liberties in public lavatories. They covered the walls with graffiti, they left litter everywhere, they injected themselves with God-knows-what, they threw up.

"When someone just uses the place for a dump it's like a breath of fresh air," he said.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst- Desktop Support, Helpdesk, ITIL

£20000 - £27000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Service Desk Analyst - (Active Directory, Support, London)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst - (Active Di...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, VBA)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letters: The West flounders in the Middle East morass

Independent Voices
David Tennant as Hamlet  

To vote no or not to vote no, that is the question... Although do celebrities really have the answer?

David Lister
All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition