“Two reception rooms!” shrilled Kim, in the manner of an enthusiastic estate agent – she spun around in what I called the living room but probably had a different name that I’d know if you hadn’t just found a rented house advertised in the back of the local paper.  She continued, pointing out ‘shabby chic’ features – for that you could read ‘old, never been replaced’.  My ‘stoic, no-nonsense hippy landlady’ who refused to investigate draughts as she thought the house needed to ‘breathe’ had little patience for keeping decor up-to-date or replacing broken skirting boards.  I looked over at AJ to raise my eyebrows in mock-alarm at Kim’s transformation when she met my gaze “and such fantastic natural light!” she joined in.  Not for the first time amongst my more settled, grown-up friends I felt a little adrift.  “What the fuck is a reception room??”  I asked, my tone firmly rhetorical and aimed at bringing this little interlude to a close.  The house was ok, it was nice to have my own space, especially since the French boy moved out.  It was old though, dingy and definitely shabby – not so much chic.  Kim and AJ laughed and sat on the sofas, both of which were covered with bright pink stripy throws.  When people sank into the sofa, the throws rode up, revealing the cushions underneath; a bit of a Frankensteined mismatch of fabric and clunky sewing.  Reminded me of a dress I once wore that rode up when I sat down, revealing far too much leg and varicose vein to be comfortable.  I pulled the throws down a bit on the sofas to protect their modesty.

I carried the supplies into the kitchen shouting ‘tea, coffee, or something stronger?’ I could have killed for some of the Prosecco AJ had bought but it was only 5pm and hadn’t yet been refrigerated; not something that would have bothered me too much if i was on my own but polite company keeps me in line.  They opted for tea – i stored everything away, retrieved the milk from the fridge and that’s when it hit me.

“Can you smell something?” I asked. “Something a bit…sour?” Kim said.

“Yep…sour”. I smelled the milk but to be honest, milk always smells disgusting to me.  It wasn’t that, though.  I opened the kitchen door to let some air in.

Over a pot of tea and some of the biscuits that AJ had bought during a pre-visit supermarket shop. we updated each other on our lives; work, jobs, love-lives.  Kim had just come back from marrying her man-mountain boyfriend in Vegas; it was meant to be a secret but he got drunk and told everyone.  I watched it via webcam on my computer; I liked the bit where Elvis asked if they took each other to be their lawful wedded whatever and they said ‘uh-huh’ then danced around a bit.  They had their wedding breakfast at Wendy’s.  AJ was trying to sell her flat in Wolverhampton after getting in a job in London, but apparently at that time it just wasn’t a seller’s market.  Having no love life or property portfolio to speak of, I told them about André; the16 year old French boy my landlady rented the smaller room of the house out to without my knowledge.  He was in England for 6 weeks for reasons I never fully gathered, I suspect he was supposed to be improving his English.  He sulked about the house, refusing to clean up ‘I am here to get AWAY from my mother!’ he scowled when I asked him to put away the ironing board i’d just fallen over. He had to leave at 5am every morning to go and work at the local motorway service station, where people gave him instructions he didn’t understand then scolded him for not following them.  He then came home and pan fried fish until the house filled with smoke and I had to go for a walk along the canal.  It must have been a terrible experience of England for him, but I wasn’t all that sorry about it.  It was what my old PE teacher would have called ‘character building’ and from what I could tell, he needed it.  Anyway, one day, he disappeared – his 6 weeks was up and he was on his way back to his mother and having to clean up.  The duvet he borrowed from me (impolitely demanding his bedclothes…looking back i suppose he thought me his landlady?) was screwed up in a ball on the bed and the fridge was still full of fish and milk.  I threw everything away.

Kim and AJ howled with laughter – it’s the kind of thing that’s funny in hindsight I guess but at the time makes you re-evaluate your life and think in an overdramatic fashion ‘WHY must i live like this?!’  I’m heartened that it’s not just me that has these kinds of crazy stories, though. AJ tells us about her latest holiday to France, when she went to the wrong airport in the UK and then, when actually in France, found she’d booked the hotel for different dates.  “I just felt like I had to keep telling people I was good at my job, i’m not a TOTAL failure” she giggled.  I went into the kitchen to get the now nicely chilled Prosecco and put on some music.  Despite the door being open, the smell was still there.  It may have even been stronger.

“Is that smell stronger?” I shouted.  I could hear exaggerated sniffing.  “I think so…” said Kim, padding into the kitchen to come and help me locate the source.  In about 5 minutes we were all in the kitchen and ‘second reception room’, sniffing around, under and over everything.  The door to the cellar; nope.  Inside the fridge; nope. Down the sink; nope.  Following the disgusting odour like bisto kids was getting us nowhere, so we opened the kitchen window too, brought through the bottle and some crisps and decided to pretend there wasn’t a kitchen.

As the evening wore on, the smell got stronger.  I didn’t know what to do – we couldn’t find out where the smell was from and it was definitely having an impact on the overall mood.  Maybe it was me…we’d be chatting and i’d just think ‘OH, maybe it’s…’ and run off into the kitchen to smell under the sink.  So we decided to tackle it once and for all.  The plan was to remove everything from the kitchen and put it into the garden.

After a while, we attracted the attention of my landlady, whose best friend lived a few doors down.  She came to help us and, clearly having a better sense of smell identified that it was coming from behind the fridge.

Bloody André.

He’d bought one of those plastic containers of milk that wouldn’t fit in the fridge door, so it lay on it’s side.  It leaked, of course.  And because his mother wasn’t here to make him, he didn’t clean it up.

Bloody fridge manufacturers.

There’s a hole in the fridge at the back and little drip-tray at the back, on the outside all helpfully out of reach, where debris collects and gets all warm;  Milk, bits of fish and meat.  I still can’t think about it too much.  I discovered this tray by prodding it.  Then throwing up on it.  My stoic, no-nonsense hippy landlady threw us out while she dealt with it.  “I can’t be dealing with you adding to this” she growled, shoving us out of the door.

“WHY must I live like this” I wailed over-dramatically, as the other’s laughter rang in my ears.