My favourite day of the month has rolled around again. Yes, it’s time to read my gas, electricity and water meters, send the results to my landlady and then wait for the invoice that will add a few more grey hairs to my ever-growing collection.
The gas and electricity meters are easy but thanks to the miracles of Latvian engineering, the water meter involves a rather tricky process that I’ve just about perfected after six months of living here.
As it’s conveniently located in a little cupboard between the base of the sink and a wall, it involves getting into a sort of crouching tiger, hidden pretzel position as I wedge my upper body into the foot-wide space. Then I produce my camera and with one hand underneath to prevent it from falling into the abyss, I try to angle it to capture the numbers on the meter. This usually takes two or three attempts. Then I untangle myself, check that I have all six numbers in the picture and wait for the tile imprint to fade from my face.
Using electrical appliances in my kitchen is also quite an experience. I have eight sockets, divided into two banks of four. The only problem is that you can’t use more than two of them at a time. The first time I tried to make tea and toast simultaneously (asking a lot I know), the fuse kept flipping up so I had to keep walking back and forth to the fuse box to push it back down again. After almost wearing a path in my kitchen floor, I had the bright idea to move the kettle to the other bank of sockets over the washing machine – bingo, it worked! Then I tried to use the grill at the same time and the problems started again. If I’m ever feeling adventurous, I might just plug in the kettle, toaster, microwave and washing machine all at the same time, sit back and watch the fireworks.
Despite these little quirks, my flat is actually very nice. Unfortunately, as seems to be the case with most Rigan blocks of flats, you have to walk through what looks like a war zone to get to it. First of all, the rusty gate requires a flying kick to open it, leading you into the yard/car park. Making it from here to the front door, involves a delicate hopping-dancing manoeuvre over the crater-size cracks in the asphalt, the puddles and the sheets of ice.
Finally, you reach the front door. There is a code but it seems to be more of a suggestion as if you give the handle a good yank, you’re in. The hallway is adorned with cracked tiles, a shock-giving light switch and graffiti that proclaims ‘Rap is coo’ while others prefer ‘East 17’ and ‘Space Girls’.
But, believe it or not, this is a huge step up from my old place. When I first arrived here, the school I was working for at the time provided me with a flat as part of my contract. For the previous six years, it had housed male teachers, the last of whom assured me that he had cleaned it thoroughly before moving out.
You can imagine my surprise at walking in and instantly sticking to the spot. A bucket of what looked like tar stood to the right of the door with a tired-looking mop sticking out of it. After detaching my feet from whatever gunk was coating the floor, I decided to check out the rest of the flat. I was greeted by peeling wallpaper, wobbly stools, leaky pipes and a food-encrusted sofa that lurched dangerously towards the floor when you sat on it.
I couldn’t tell what colour the cooker had originally been but if you can imagine what colour six years of grease looks like, that about sums it up. I moved a kitchen stool and one of the legs fell off. I opened the fridge and the freezer door fell off and hit my forearm. After peering inside, it was time to call the previous tenant. The conversation went something like this…
Me: So, I’m in the flat.
Me: I thought you said you’d cleaned it.
Him: I did. Princess.
Me: Did you clean the fridge?
Him: Yeah, why?
Me: I was just wondering how you missed the hairy green egg sitting in the back of it…
After a phone call to my boss and a hissy fit unbecoming a princess, he dispatched his mother (also a part-time cleaner) to inspect the place. She took one look, called her friend and the two of them got down to business. Six hours later, I got a call from the poor woman telling me that the place was just about habitable. And so I moved in.
After a couple of months of being bruised by the freezer door, being driven almost round the bend by the water that kept pooling on my kitchen floor and having to put the now super-glued stool against the oven door to keep it closed, my boss sent his handyman to my aid. In breach of most health and safety laws, he sellotaped the leaky pipe and put a nail through the freezer door. But thankfully, neither sellotape nor nails could save the cooker, and a few weeks later I got a new one.
Life moved on rather uneventfully – until summer arrived. One particularly hot night, I was woken by a chunk of wallpaper slapping me in the face. I discovered that it had been held up by blu-tac which had clearly melted in the heat. After a rather comical trolley-bus ride with a step-ladder under my arm, I got to work. And after weeks of wishing I had never started, I finally finished stripping and repainting the walls.
Unfortunately, a few months later, I changed jobs and moved out. My replacement is living there now. Male. And so, despite my best efforts, the next chapter in the never-ending story of green eggs and grease continues…