23 June 2012

Bad Smells in the Stairwell

There’s something quietly rotting in the fridge today – and suddenly my mind is transported back to the college where I used to work.

I’m not suggesting that the illustrious establishment which once gave me employment smelt anything other than pleasant, most of the time.  Indeed, so heavenly were the aromas emanating from the catering department as students baked doughnuts, breads and Danish pastries that it was pure torture to wander anywhere in the vicinity on an empty stomach.  And even the tang of fresh-paint and sweat hanging about the new Sports Hall, coupled with the peppery scent of overwork pervading the staffroom, formed a familiar and welcoming backdrop.

But there was that one autumn of the weird stench in the principal’s stairwell.  The stairwell in question was a critical entrance for the tutors in my department.  It provided an essential shortcut on mornings when the A3 had meted out horrible vengeance on drivers, and left teachers with one minute spare to race to their desks, rummage for a lesson plan and take thirty copies of textual material from the moody photocopier.

But it was also lethally steep, each step rising from the next at a dizzying gradient, each tread not much wider than a goat’s hoof. 

And thus began the suspicions and murmurings.  How exactly to explain the nasty whiff that offended your nostrils on the lower steps?  At first it was hard to define but, if you stuck with it, there was the unmistakable pong of Munster cheese with hints of festering cabbage.  Then coming through were clear tones of railway-station urinal.  And finally an unmissable top note of decomposing meat.  Who had sprinted too unathletically up the stairs or, more probably, had miscalculated the treads while making a bid for escape at the end of the teaching day?  Who had got buried under paperwork, forgotten the time and got locked in?  Who had camped - hungrily, thirstily and finally fatally - on the bottom step during the long vacation?

The stairwell, worthy of assault course training, is still there, though I’m told the smell is gone…

…which thought leaves me no recourse but to break from these musings and take swift remedial action on the contents of the fridge before the health inspectors come calling.

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