Me & My Life, University, Wankery, You Had To Be There

My 9 Months in House 11

House 11 in May

This post is one of the most difficult that I’ve written, and I want to explain why before I dive in. For a while it has laid untouched as a collection of rough notes and photos, gathering dust in my drafts folder. I was unsure where to take it or whether to continue at all.

This post is about my troubles and annoyances living with my first-year housemates. In the past I’ve not had a problem writing harshly about people I know, but this feels a little different. I’ve lived with these guys. You see, had they not been housemates but perhaps neighbours, I would have considered my so-called house”mates” (now ex-housemates) as being decent people. They’re not generally noisy, they’re not violent or into hard drugs, and they seem to be quite bright. But you see a different side to people when you live with them, and it doesn’t seem to be their best side.

By the end of first year I was anxious to be leaving them – domestic life was not fun, and at times frustrating and disgusting.

I was going to write this when I was still living with them. Although I don’t deliberately publicise this website, and few people that I know actually read it, I didn’t want to risk having them find out during the semester. I was still spending the majority of my time in the same house as them, and that would have made things awkward, more awkward than I could handle. You can’t avoid someone when you share a house (try as they might – more on that later), especially a house that only has one shower and one kitchen.

Now, first year is over and we’re all home for the summer. I’m not living with any of my housemates next year (only 1 will even be living in the same Halls of Residence, and he’ll be in a different house from me), and I’m not friends with any of them on Facebook. I was friends with one of them for a while, but I de-friended him late in the second semester after he started locking his door all the time – more on this later. Yup, I’m that kind of guy. I have a pending friend request from another of them, but I’m ignoring it. Permanently.

Therefore my ties with my housemates are now mostly broken,, and whilst I still don’t want them to find out (I won’t use their real names, instead I’ll just use offensive nicknames!), I feel it’s the right time to let the world know of the suffering I endured.

Future housemates and people that I will live with: take this as a warning. The behaviour I am about to document is not cool, and if you piss me off you too may be at risk of a swift de-friending.

Let me introduce you to my first-year house. It was my home for 9 months: House 11 of Albany Park, in sexy St Andrews. This is a picture that I took of it on the day I moved in, 18th September 2010:

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It was a good day for many reasons. It was the day I first moved away from home, and the day when I met many of (what I hope will be) my friends for life. And it was a sunny day. The aesthetics of my house, however, was not one of those reasons.

It doesn’t look too bad on a sunny day like that Saturday. In the cold dead grey of winter… not so much. But I don’t care what it looks like on the outside, I’m more interested about the inside, and about my housemates in particular.

There were 6 of us, all male. I lived in room 6, clearly the best room in any normal Albany house. 3 bedrooms (rooms 1-3), the kitchen and the shower room were on the ground floor, and the other three bedrooms (rooms 4-6), the living room/common room and an additional toilet were upstairs. As an aside: here is a picture which I took of my room on the day I moved in:

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The 6 of us never had any chemistry, not as a house. We never once all went out together. We never had a meal together, either in town or at home. We never hosted any parties, we never just spent a day hanging out.

That’s a real shame, and I take as much blame for it as anyone else. We had little in common except for the attribute of being fairly quiet people – pro tip: when applying for accommodation, don’t describe yourself as a quiet person.

Of the 6 of us, there was a sole Scottish guy, which is probably a representative proportion of the university population at large. He studies theology. There were two Chinese students, here as international students. One of them, studying mathematics, could not understand whatever version of English it is that I speak and this made any sort of conversation with him impossible. He must have been able to speak English to have been accepted into the university, but for whatever reason there was a language barrier there that I couldn’t seem to breach. The other studied economics. There were two English guys too, one a Muslim medic, the other an atheistic chemist. And then there was yours truly.

Quite a mix, don’t you think?

Our main source of problems was simply a lack of communication. There was no way to speak to everyone at once. No house meetings. No just hanging around with people when you could bring something up. I remember all 6 of us being in the same room together only twice. The first time was a couple of days into our tenancy, when we met in the kitchen to sort out how life together would work. I don’t remember the other time.

We devised a cleaning rota, well, I did, but we did all agree to it. There were 6 of us and we identified 4 tasks that needed doing every week: the kitchen, the upstairs bathroom, the downstairs bathroom, and the corridors and stairs. Every week we’d either clean one of those things or have the week off. We’d be responsible for cleaning our own rooms, of course. That way we’d clean for 2 weekends and then have a weekend off, with a rota that repeated every 6 weeks. Simple? I thought so. Unfortunately a lack of accountability, oversight, and a reluctance to confront each other rendered it useless at times and led to a disgusting house. We also made a list of items which we’d need. Cleaning supplies, a toaster, a bath mat, that kind of thing. I bought it all and collected £3 each for my troubles (I did not profit from this). This went surprisingly well.

Alright, who am I kidding, this is boring. I’m just going to list the things that pissed me off.

Let’s start in the kitchen, the main source of friction in the house. After my bedroom, it was the place I spent the majority of my time in St Andrews.

The fridge situation. There was one fridge between the 6 of us. This would’ve been at least workable if there were 6 shelves. Unfortunately there were only 5 shelves. Now, I enjoy to cook, and was by far the most prolific and adventurous cook of the house (this is something they said to me, I’m not making it up), so I took permanent control of one of the shelves, and I kept it full of my stuff. I took good care of my shelf, keeping it clean and using everything, so nothing went off or smelly or disgusting.

The others weren’t so careful. One time this spring, after the fridge had been smelling progressively worse and worse for a month or so, I finally went through everything to find the culprit. Amongst months-old packs of chicken, and eggs, and bags of carrots that had become frothy and smelly, I found a packet of beef burgers in the fridge that had been in there for months. What’s more: they were frozen burgers. To be kept in the freezer. At -22ºC. Not in the fridge at +4ºC where it turns out that meat will go white and juicy and frothy and mouldy and incredibly smelly after a few months. That was possibly the worst thing I’ve ever held in my hands and I am amazed I didn’t spew.

Our fridge. Rotten milk? Check. Rotten bacon? Check. Rotten broccoli? Check. Rotten carrots? Check. Rotten chicken? Check. Rotten eggs? Check. Rotten ready meals? Check. Crazy unidentified Chinese food and ingredients that had clearly gone off? Check. Rotten burgers? Check check CHECK.

We had it all, and none of it was me.

Fermented carrots

The Chemist was partial to drinking milk that was more than 2 weeks past its use by date.

And by the way, if you move my food around the fridge? Straight on my enemies list you go.

The freezer situation. For the first couple of months, the smallness of the freezer was not an issue. This was because people hadn’t noticed it, I think, and so I could basically dominate the top drawer with my Ben & Jerry’s, frozen prawns, frozen pizzas, fish fingers, and frozen portions of the food that I cook, like curries. I am used to cooking for a large number of people, and that’s what I do, so when it’s just me eating the rest has to be frozen if it’s not to be wasted.

However, after a while things began to change, and the Economist told me that we’d need to have a talk about fair use of the freezer. Fair enough. I made room for him. But others? Huge packs of frozen chinese dumplings. 8 packs of bacon. Oven chips. Oven chips. Scampi. Oven chips. More oven chips. Loads of ice cream. Pizzas. My problem with most of this is that it was completely unnecessary – most of the food stayed frozen all year and was never touched until we all moved out, when I took home the goodies (including 6 packs of bacon that had been in there since January). So, I was economising space and freezing less stuff so that my housemates could waste the freezer on food that they would never even eat.

This next thing ties in with both the fridge and the freezer situation. A couple of the guys weren’t the biggest fans of exercise and shopping, so they’d do their shopping by Tesco direct. Or, in the case of the Chemist, their Mum would place and pay for a Tesco direct order. The problem with this is that it makes most sense when doing this to place a large order all at once, whereas when shopping in person you just buy a little at a time. A small fridge/freezer can not accommodate your £110 Tesco direct order which will last you a few weeks, sorry mate. Please stop.

I had a quite lot of food in at once but that was because it was fresh and I like to cook and eat fresh food. The turnaround time for my shelf was very quick. I would also cook for other people (friends, not housemates) and so I used my space. Still, I never had nearly as much food as what came in with a Tesco direct order. That would dominate the fridge.

It got to the point where I would leave non-perishable foods on my fridge shelf whilst I was away to save my space, and return home a couple of days before the end of a holiday so that I could restock my part of the fridge and claim a spot for my milk carton before everyone else returned home and swamped the place with their frivolous and over-large purchases. Yes, I really was that guy. I’m sorry. But I don’t feel that I was taking more than my fair share, only guaranteeing it.

Next year I have a similarly sized fridge but with only 3 other housemates. You can’t believe how excited I am about this. What’s more, I’m on good terms with all 3 of them.

Washing up. One particular housemate, the Theologian, had an awful diet that made me cringe. He was fat, and probably still is. He had oven pie and chips or similar every day with some boiled frozen vegetables, or maybe he’d sometimes fry something. He didn’t know how to cook properly, and afterwards food was burnt or otherwise stuck onto the communal pots and pans, which he’d then just dump in the kitchen sink… and leave there, usually until dinner time the next day, when he’d wash and use them again. Afterwards? He’d just dump them straight back in the sink.

Shitted up stuff

Shitted up pan

This is not cool for a number of reasons. Firstly, this was communal stuff, provided to the house, and so we should have been able to use it. We could have used it if we really wanted, but that would have involved us cleaning all his ridiculous amounts of shit off it, and then cleaning it afterwards ourselves because we’re decent people, people who clean up after ourselves.

Overflowing Sink

Secondly, this blocks up the sink. How can we do our own washing up when the sink is full of his shit? We could wash his stuff up first – no way – or we could move his shit away to somewhere else in the kitchen. This is what I ended up doing, but it was always filthy, and touching it was disgusting.

Sponge-fest, also known as washing-up liquid fest. Yes, we didn’t share sponges. I, for one, because I didn’t trust the hygiene of my housemates. So, we’d have 6 kitchen sponges by the sink? Wrong. We had about 15 sponges by the sink, because people would forget which sponge is their own, or simply just start using a new one without throwing away the old one.

We each had our own washing-up liquid too. What annoyed me about the Theologian is that his Fairy liquid ran out about 2 months before the end of the year, and yet he didn’t get any new stuff. If I was in the kitchen when he was washing up, I would see him squirting his empty bottle into the sink, but I bet he stole other people’s stuff when I wasn’t there. I bet.

A small example of the problem

For what it’s worth: I kept my sponge in my cupboard. Washing-up liquid too. Weird, I know, but I have issues myself too.

One time I left my washing-up liquid out by the sink, and to my horror the Medic used it right in front of my eyes. The horror.

Drying rack. One thing that really fucking pissed me off was use of the drying rack. Do you know what a drying rack is? It’s the plastic holder thing where you put your wet dishes etc once you’ve washed them, for them to dry.

My housemates loved leaving their stuff in there permanently, leaving little room for actual use.

Drying rack

And what’s worse: a couple of my housemates clearly didn’t know how to use it properly. You know those little slats that you get in them to stand up your plates? Yeah? Well, you would think that you slot your plate into those slats wouldn’t you? That’s not what my housemates would do. They preferred perpendicular stowage, rendering the 15 plate capacity of the rack only capable of holding about 3 things. For example, see the bowl in the above photo. This happened every day.

The cooker. On the whole, the standard of cleanliness in the kitchen was poor, but the cooker top was especially bad. Every single cleaning inspection would note the poor state of the rings. This is a picture of it after one of my housemates had cleaned it.

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I just want to point out that the Chinese housemates who fried like crazy didn’t give a fucking shit about keeping the cooker top clean. They were happy to just let all of the spillages and bits of oil that spit everywhere just accumulate and bake on and harden for ages. When it came time to clean the top, I was the only one whose cleaning ever seemed to have any effect (I used bleach), and it was 100 times more difficult than sorting out the problem as it happened. Learning how to cook and avoiding messing up in the first place would have been better.

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I even saw people spilling stuff directly onto the rings… and they’d just leave it. Mother fuckers. Once I saw it happen and told the guy, the Chemist, to clean it up. To his face. He got a wet cloth and put it straight on the hot ring. Of course, the cloth burnt onto the ring and left fabric residue that would slowly burn off over the next few days. He actually thought he’d done a good job, when it fact it was worse than before. That really surprised me as I thought he was a clean guy.

If you’d just clean up any mess that you make after you make it, it’s so much easier than letting it accumulate. You’re living with other people guys, it’s not your own place so it’s not for you to fuck it up. Selfish.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m no clean freak. But there should be standards.

One time I came down from my bedroom to find that one of the rings had been left on for ages. Note the mess also:

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Once, the Economist’s rice cooker (don’t get me started on rice cookers) overflowed and he cleaned that up very poorly. There was starchy water everywhere.

Rice cooker and toaster

Tap water. I discovered that my Chinese housemates never drank the tap water. Apparently, despite being soft water that leaves little to no residue on the kettle’s heating element, it was ‘too minerally’ for them, and they couldn’t stand to drink it. Weird.

This ties in with boiling the kettle. I never worked this out. Often my Chinese housemates would boil the kettle before bed, fill up a container with the water, and take it to their rooms. But if they weren’t drinking it, what were they doing?

The kettle

More often than not, someone (I don’t know who) would fill up the kettle full (way over the maximum line), boil it, and just leave it. What a waste. That concludes my kettle rant.

Recycling box. Oh fuck. Firstly my housemates can’t read signs. After living in the same place for 9 months and each of us (at least supposedly) taking the recycling out every 6 weeks, you would have thought that we’d all learn what is acceptable for recycling and what is not. Nope.

The worst problem was milk cartons. Milk cartons are fine to recycle, but only if they’ve been rinsed out and had their lids removed, as the instructions say on the skip. But that’s just common sense. If you leave a milk carton out in the open in the recycling box, lid on, with the last tiny bits of milk in the bottle: that milk will rot and ferment and smell DISGUSTING. It will literally turn to cheese.

As well as that, I’d find all sort of things in the box which aren’t supposed to be there (notably tetra-packs which aren’t recyclable in Fife) like weird plastics and shit, and loads of recyclables in the bin – like empty tins of tuna and loads of cardboard.

The kitchen bin. This was a delight. The bin was supposed to be emptied every week by whoever was due to clean the kitchen. The problem is that the bin filled up more quickly than every week, and sometimes people wouldn’t clean the kitchen. This meant that the bin was almost always full, and that caused problems.

What would you do if the bin was full? Cram it all down? Yeah, fine, if there’s still cramming space. Just dump it on top? In and on and around the lid? Sure, why not, thought my housemates. And so the bin became one of the most disgusting things in the house. Food and crap all around the bin and the floor near it, and it smelled bad.

The worst occasion was once when we’d run out of bin-liners. One of my housemates used the bin regardless. I saw him throwing raw egg shells into a bin without a liner. And he knew it. Not cool.

The dirty bin

I’m getting quite bored of writing this. That’s enough about the kitchen.

How about the bathroom? I once made this note:

“The smells are FUCKING AWFUL. Today: it’s like being in a sewer in the bathroom. Piss smell everywhere. Also eugh. Upstairs bathroom is shit too.”

Do you remember the bathmat that I bought? That quickly went mouldy and was always so soaking wet that it was worse than having nothing there. When it was removed, the floor outside the shower door was always wet and filthy.

My housemates were filthy when it came to toilet use, some of them at least. On a couple of occasions the Theologian blocked the toilet with his shit. Pro tip: check if you’ve blocked the toilet if you’re prone to it. That’s not too the worst thing. What is bad is leaving the toilet in a state like this:

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These were both soon after being cleaned too. Disgusting. I think a couple of my housemates never cleaned the toilets.

Also, the Mathematician smelled so bad. Whenever he’d been in the bathroom and I walked by the open door of it a while later… I felt ill.

My housemates were shit at getting things fixed too. When something breaks, you’re supposed to alert management so that they can get it sorted, which they do very promptly. Everyone knows this, and knows how to do it. To give you an idea of the situation, read this email which I sent to one of my dear friends:

“Throughout the year I’ve been the one to report problems with the house – except once when [the Chemist] couldn’t work the oven, and I ordered him to report it. Every other time, when the light broke in the upstairs toilet, when I discovered that there should be a working light above the cooker but that ours didn’t work, when the showerhead fell off the wall when I was showering, when the kettle stopped working… all of these times I’ve sent an email off to Albany and got it fixed. And they fixed it.

(Note: the instructions for what to do in case of a fault are printed on a laminated piece of paper on the kitchen wall; I just followed them)

This all came to a head back in March [2 months before] when one of the lights in the downstairs bathroom stopped working. There are two lights in the bathroom, so it’s still possible to shower with one broken, just with much more difficulty, using only reflected light. This time, not being urgent, I thought I’d give the others a chance to get it fixed. Because, maybe they’re not completely lazy fuckholes after all  – perhaps I was always too quick to take the initiative myself and they never had a chance to do the bit. Maybe they’re not clueless. Maybe they aren’t awful people. Maybe they do care.

So, I stepped back and didn’t report the fault. This, finally, could be their hour to shine. Their finest hour.

Do me proud, housemates.

I sat back and I waited. And waited. And waited some more.

Today, I finally gave up. At about 1am I sent an email to the Albany reception, and by 10am it was fixed.”

That just frustrated me and it sums up my housemates quite well.

My housemates were experts at avoidance. For a while I hadn’t realised this, but eventually it dawned on me. Whenever I was in the kitchen, almost always, no one would enter for the entire time. Even if I was in there for hours just cooking. And then, when I’d leave and they’d hear me entering my room, right then I’d hear someone going into the kitchen. This kind of thing happened all the fucking time, people clearly deliberately avoiding each other. Creepy.

It was annoying with the shower in the morning too. I would get up at 7.30 for my 9 o’clock lecture and go straight into the shower. Afterwards I’d get out and make my breakfast and then eat it in my room. I would be in my room about 5 minutes after leaving the shower. One of my other housemates also had 9 o’clock lectures, and he showered after me, but he wouldn’t go into the shower straight away. When I was in the kitchen making breakfast, the shower lay empty. Instead, he’d wait until I was back in my own room before leaving his. Hmm.

Another thing which annoyed me was the Theologian, again. Part way through the year he started to lock his door every single time he went into his room. It really creeped me out. What was he up to? Does he have trust issues? Does he really so mistrust us that he thinks he’s safer behind a locked door? It’s just a really creepy thing to do, and for this I defriended him. I can’t be friends with someone like that. I thought about raising the issue with him but the chance never occurred.

This guy also regularly got out of bed at 5pm at weekends and on some weekdays, though not during holidays. He didn’t even drink much. Whenever there was some time off, he’d always go straight home: from the first possible opportunity to leave and returning at the very last moment. He’d take his suitcases to his final lecture and leave straight from there, returning either the night before or the actual morning of class restarting. So anti-social.

He also doesn’t keep any of his own soap in the bathroom, and when I confronted him about this (how does he wash his hands?), he told me that he keeps soap in his room and brings it with him whenever he goes to the toilet. So weird!

Here is another moaning email which I sent to the same friend once:

“The other day, I had just finished cooking, and was in the kitchen, plates etc in hand, walking toward the sink to wash up. At that moment, who else but [the Theologian] entered the kitchen and dived straight to the sink area to wash up his stuff. Clearly I was already on my way there – I even had my pink rubber gloves on – but he just didn’t care.

P.S. He’s just entered his room again and locked the door.”

One time the same guy, who does very smelly poos, didn’t clean the corridors and stairs during a snowy week when the floors had got very dirty. I always was due to clean the week after he did his cleaning, which meant that if he skipped his cleaning, I had to bear the brunt of it. I told the story to my friend in an email like this:

“I asked [the Theologian] why he hadn’t cleaned the floors last week: ‘Because of the snow and ice. It was just going to get messy again’. I wasn’t happy with that and told him off for not letting me know. We could have worked something out, you know. Instead I end up doing 2 weeks of the worst floor cleaning.”

Dick. He often would skip his cleaning, clearly, but when I confronted him about it he always lied to my face. What can I do about that?

Moving out. This was a tricky time. After all of my housemates independently told me that they’d be moving out in Saturday 28th May, the final day they could and the same day as me – it turned out that this wasn’t true. The first to leave, of course, was the Theologian, leaving almost a week before me. Not only did he do ZERO cleaning, he did not even say goodbye to a single one of us.

Slowly the 2 chinese students left, again having cleaned only their own rooms. This left 3 of us to do the cleaning of the whole house. I ended up doing the bulk of it because I said I’d clean the kitchen – it was in a horrific state, especially the fridge. Oh God. I don’t want to think about it. The thing is we risked a cleaning fine if the house was not up to scratch, and the way that it was, a fine was definitely justified. So we cleaned it, begrudgingly. And avoided a fine.

A bonus then: seeing as I live close to St Andrews, I was able take stuff home all abandoned stuff from the freezer. Which, as you might expect, was a shitload of stuff, including 6 packs of bacon from the Theologian.

6 Bacons

On the final morning, I did have a nice goodbye chat with both the Medic and the Chemist. That was cool. Just to be clear, most of the problems through the year were down to one guy (Theologian).

The worst thing of all? I found my housemates boring. Sorry guys, it’s nothing personal. We just weren’t right for each other 🙁

That’s enough for one post.

P.S. The Economist asked me on one of the final nights of the year if I wanted to go to the New Inn to eat dinner with him. I was actually touched by that but I said no – I’d made plans with Adam1 already. The Economist was, on the whole, a good guy, as were most of my housemates. Unfortunately their habits weren’t always agreeable.

P.P.S. This is my house next year, and a general shot of the bike shed:

House 46 and others.

Bike shed

I love you.



Footnotes:
  1. The recipient of those emails. 

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