SUZANNE HARRINGTON: Strange smell is a whiff of my unglamorous life

THERE’S a saying in the recovery community — that is, the ex-drunks and ex-drug fiends who walk among us — to watch out for bunny rabbits.

It means be careful of the small stuff. People are good in a disaster — hurricanes, pestilence, plagues of frogs — but crack like faulty eggs when they lose their keys, forget an online password, or get a parking ticket.

So, if a mysterious smell wafts into the kitchen, you are relaxed. ‘Ew’, you might say. ‘Something’s a bit whiffy’. You do what people do when there’s a peculiar smell: you take the rubbish out, check your shoes, make sure the cat hasn’t been sick. All clear. Never mind. You open the windows and presume it will go away.

It doesn’t. You light incense, and speak to the cleaner if you have one, and bleach the place if you don’t. It’s odd. You narrow it down. It seems to be coming from behind a kitchen cupboard. You know this because you have crawled on the kitchen floor, sniffing, like a dog, at corners, as the actual dogs lie nearby, heads on paws, watching you and wondering if they should call the emergency mental-health services. Except they can’t, because they’re dogs.

‘Sniff sniff’, you go. ‘Sniff sniff’. It’s starting to drive you insane. The dogs look worried, but they’re useless. Friends offer ridiculous advice, from calling a millionaire plumber to getting a feng shui person to realign everything so that the bad smell is cosmically diverted.

You ring environmental health. ‘There’s a weird smell in my kitchen,’ you say. The man on the other end of the phone sighs. It’s as if he’s heard this sentence many times before. You have a detailed and graphic conversation about the nature of the smell, and ask if he can send someone over to stand in the kitchen, inhale deeply, and offer diagnosis. ‘Not really,’ he says. They do not offer a stand ’n’ sniff service.

He explains your choices. You can (a) pay a builder to come over and rip up your floorboards, and smash your kitchen to pieces, or (b) do nothing and hope it goes away.

Doing some quick mental calculations, you choose (b). The environmental health man applauds your choice, and lets slip that his team has recently visited a house a few doors up to “treat” a “problem.” Data protection prevents further disclosure. The words “crawl away and die” slip indiscreetly from his lips.

This is probably the first time in your life that you are hoping for a dead rat rotting under your floorboards. A dead rat will decompose. A demolished kitchen will not.

And you take a moment to reflect upon the unending glamour of your life.


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