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Toilet training: the unexpected troubles of living out

It started with a whining. A soft, barely discernible purring every time we flushed the toilet or turned the taps. “Character”, we called it. This house was built in the 1920s after all, and didn’t we move out of college precisely because we hated living in soulless institutional newbuilds? Didn’t we want to live somewhere with a mind of its own?

After a while, we noticed that the soft gurgling noise coming from the shower drain every time we used the toilet was accompanied by an eddy of water bubbling out onto the shower floor. A little quirk, we thought. It’s probably just getting used to us. When we realised what was coming out of the shower looked suspiciously like what was going into the toilet, the regurgitations became harder to defend. Still, we knew it would only be a temporary issue, probably relating to the new bathroom that had been put in downstairs over the summer, which had delayed our move-in date by two months. A quick email to the letting agent and all would be resolved, we were sure. 

Two days later, a plumber, professionally known as “The Drain Doctor”, was shaking his head at our new bathroom. His diagnosis? “Piss poor” – delivered without a trace of irony (I suppose once you’ve been in the drain game for a few years the puns start to lose their potency). This came after the agent’s first two attempts at solving our problem, which took the form of a mysterious cleaner who poured bleach down the drain, and a silent builder who bailed ten buckets of water out of our garden. We decided it was time for a good old strongly-worded email in the hope that we might be taken a bit more seriously. After a heated housemate discussion over whether “squelching underfoot” was a technical term, the email was sent, and we were told an appointment with the Doctor had been arranged.

The Doctor’s diagnostic approach and recommendations were drip-fed to me through the house group-chat whilst I was at work, beginning with the tantalising fact that I wouldn’t be able to put my bike away in the garden as it is currently a pit of open sewage. During the full debrief I received when I got home, it transpired that this was because the builders who were in over the summer had decided to cover the drainage trench in the garden with a sheet of plywood and a layer of gravel rather than filling it in. This meant that on any occasion  which we had used the garden in the last two weeks we could have come to a particularly sticky end. The Doctor was able to successfully perform some emergency surgery on the bathroom, but prescribed at least another month of building work to get the garden back to its former self. The letting agent informed us that this is not their responsibility, but the landlord’s, who, it turns out, lives in California, so isn’t what you’d call the hands-on type. As of now, our garden resembles a crime scene – only with red spray paint outlining a sewage dump rather than a dead body.

Much like new parents, the house is all my housemates and I can talk about – so much so that I am considering imposing a ‘no house talk’ rule during meals. Just like those couples who think they’re the first people in the world to have a baby, I’m probably documenting something that has happened in some iteration to every first-time tenant, especially if they’re renting as a student. I’m not even particularly trying to offer any advice: as far as I’m concerned, we did everything by the book, taking over a contract from friends who lived in the house before and had absolutely no issues with the house or the landlord.

The message, if any, that I’m trying to deliver to anyone who is considering moving out of college or is about to move into their house, is that it’s not your fault. You can do everything right, you can do all your research, you can show the house all the love and care it deserves (one of my housemates has recently taken to stroking the boiler every time he passes in case it’s feeling neglected), and your beloved house can still turn around and throw it back in your face. 

Oh well. They say the first few months are the hardest. How long does the toilet toilet training stage usually take?

Image credit: Jan Antonin Kolar via Unsplash.

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