The bathtub is falling through the ceiling of my flat right now; and that is a pretty good analogy for how I feel.
It has fallen through the ceiling before – the lounge is large and light and clean and airy and all the things that so many London living spaces are not, but there are spider cracks across the ceiling, telling patches of fresher, shinier paint and one small black hole, puckered like a sphincter, through which, again, water is dripping.
My flatmate put a bowl under it to catch the water, and we collectively stopped using that bathroom. In a flat which houses six people and four bathrooms and three bathtubs, this is, for now, a solution.
My landlord called the plumber and he came to my London flat on a Saturday afternoon when nobody else was home. Tall and Russian, he spoke in single words. He checked out each of our four bathrooms, led me by the wrist into one of them, where he rapped on each tile on the wall, testing for damp, testing for whether the squares had come away from the rotting, hidden plasterboard behind. “Well”, he said cheerily, rapping on the tiles by the door, listening for the hard resulting sound, like rapping on rock. “Sick”, he said ruefully, to the majority of the tiles with sang back to him with a thin and hollow ring, speaking to the gaps beneath, the holes that shouldn’t have been there.
I showed him the small dark ominous hole in the ceiling. He asked me why we still had our Christmas tree up, small white lights still flaring amongst the fake pine needles, even though it’s the middle of January, even though it’s the middle of the day. I shook my head. He laughed at the silver bowl, half filled with water, perched on the couch cushion. “No baking?” he asked. I shook my head.
I showed him the bath upstairs that no one was allowed to use, and he held up four fingers. Four days of work, to pull out this bath and fix the pipes below, to repatch the ceiling, to repaint. To pull off all the sick tiles in the downstairs bathroom. I explained to him that the decision is not mine but the landlords, and he shook his head. “Landlord fix one, two tiles. Landlord will not fix everything wrong”.
At the door he gave me his card and pointed at my face. “Nice eyes”.
When I tell people the story about the bathtub which may or may not fall through the ceiling of my living room and onto the couch where someone may or may not be sitting, for the second time, they invariably ask me if I’ve seen Breaking Bad. This is because everybody has seen Breaking Bad, and because in Breaking Bad a bathtub falls through the ceiling, filled with the broke-down sludge of a decomposing person, the liters of acid having eaten through the floor.
It’s not always a murder scene, though. It’s not always dramatic, or violent, or awful. Houses get old, weak. Bathtubs are heavy things, ancient really, not suited at all to a modern life of convenient and quick, plasterboard and the quick fix. Things fall apart, things fall through – not to be too literal about it, but bathtubs fall through ceilings.
Always have and always will, and it’s not enough to catch the water.