“Flushed Away”- Trials, Tribulations and Toilets in Chicago¬†

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You’ve got to keep looking up! Millennium Mile, Chicago
Are you worried about life? Do you think it’s all going belly up and/or down the tubes? Are you looking for help and a clear answer amidst the unfolding chaos? Yes? Well you won’t find one here BUT you will find some stories that might just  make you feel better about your own life, even if it is at my expense!

So it started like this; here we were staying in a fancy big house for our opening number in Chicago. I’d like to say that we were happy and cheery and embracing change but that would be a huge false positive and my current mood embraces honesty. So we were moaning, homesick and having adjustment issues. In desperation, Leo decided to fly in my sister Gemma and her son George to help us settle in. She has a soothing and gentle personality and laughs joyfully at ridiculous things, which is deeply infectious- so yes, her presence was an immediate and very gratefully received tonic.

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Cloud Gate, Chicago
Chicago, through her eyes, sparkled and shone and we all felt hopeful again. We took ourselves off to the lake, swam, frolicked on the beaches, hired bikes and ate in the elegant Lincoln Park cafe near the famous Chicago zoo. We spent hours in the incredible Art Institute, admired the sculptures in Millenium Park and wandered around our neighbourhood feeling happy and jolly.

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Striking architecture in downtown Chicago
We noted how smiley and friendly the people of Chicago were and our spirits lifted. We could make something of this time here! It was ok. Then they left and we fell into doom and despair. When would we see them again? We didn’t  know and our hearts bleeted like lost lambs looking for safety.

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Art inspection time at the Chicago Art Institute
A few sullen days later, I heard a huge shout from the scarily stylish sitting room in our air B and B house. “Mummy” screamed Anoushka “there’s water pouring through the ceiling” I ran in and there it was pouring all over the yellow velvet chairs. We dragged them to one side and found a bucket, but not before it had throughly soaked me.

I sprinted up the stairs to find the dastardly culprit, imagining it was an overflowing sink but to my horror it was the toilet-yes toilet! It poured all over my feet and wooshed and flowed like a tsunami over the floor and down the expensive polished wooden stairs, heading for the sitting room rugs with a horrid determination. I felt my insides flip over with fear and mild disgust. I found a plunger and whacked it up and down in the toilet like Superwoman (it’s remarkable the strength you have when in “fight or flight mode!) and thankfully the water resided.

I inspected the damage and saw a large crack beginning to appear on the sitting room ceiling. I would have to call the owners. I felt sick. I mustered up the courage and got on with it and was surprised by their very relaxed response.  Leo’s work were paying a very large amount of cash to them each week so I presumed that accounted for it! I managed to clear up the house and the ceiling didn’t cave in – we had had a lucky escape!

A few months later, when we had moved into a more permanent rental, I was woken up on a Saturday morning at 6am by enormous shrieks and shouts. I came flying out of bed in my nightdress, hair squashed to my head, glasses left beside the bed so the world was slightly out of focus and found my feet drenched as I ran up the recently cleaned, carpeted stairs.

There was my husband looking seriously stressed by the small ground floor bathroom and there was that water yet again pouring out of another toilet. Even without my glasses I could see he was wearing a frantic expression. “Plunge that thing down it!” I shouted “What thing?” I pushed past and grabbed the toilet brush “This!” I screamed, whilst bashing it up and down inside the toilet bowl. “Oh no!” I cried “What?” shouted Leo “the brush has got stuck!” There was nothing I could do – I plunged my arm down into the bowl to retrieve it. This was too awful. I handed the brush to my husband -“You do it!” I shouted again, this time adding a string of colourful expletives (well wouldn’t you? I hadn’t even had a cup of tea and my feet were soaked in wee!) He took charge (hooray!) and with enough pummelling the water finally retreated- the battle was won!

The kids by this time were standing watching us in bewildered bemusement. “Go back to bed!” I shouted at them too. It was a very shouty morning. “Where are you going?” Leo asked “I am going right back to bed myself. You can sort this out! That was the most disgusting start to my day ever!”

We recounted the story to our lovely upstairs neighbours “But” noted Andrew, a Pilot and all round brilliant and practical human with great cooking and gardening skills “Why didn’t you just turn off the valve?” Yes dear friends, next to the toilet was a little tap and if turned, the water stopped. Well you live and learn!

About six months later (yes, there’s more) just before we were due to move into our new and just decorated house,  I noticed that water was pouring through the bathroom ceiling. I rushed upstairs and knew immediately that it was the devilish toilet but this time I was too quick for it –  I reached down, turned off the valve and defeated it! Under advice we replaced all the malicious toilets, thereby averting any future potential catastrophes – what a relief.

The moral of this story is that sometimes life throws a pile of filth your way (in our case, literally!) but once it’s faced and washed away, things start to look a lot brighter. I’ve learnt from experience that there is normally a silver lining in most situations and if in doubt – laugh it out!

Madrid -The Story begins

After three days of travelling by car from London to Spain, we finally arrived at our destination. There was Madrid on the horizon; it was time to open the first page in the opening chapter of our new life.

As we pulled up in front of the air b and b, Xavier, my seven year old, leant out of the window, “Look Mummy, Sex is easy!” he shouted in his booming voice. “What Xavier? Why are you shouting that?” I shouted back to him, “It’s there Mummy, on that sign, the one right next to our apartment! Why does it say that Mummy?” Yes, why indeed. Well there it was in big, bold letters – a sex toy shop, with a huge photograph of a lady sucking suggestively on cherries to illustrate the point. 

Oh no, I thought, why on earth had the owner of the property told us that this was a fun but family friendly area? Her idea of family friendly and mine were obviously quite different! The sex shop just happened to be next to a night club, advertised with a large poster of a bare chested oily man with his hand placed down his underpants. I was beginning to worry but I pushed it aside and thought positive, happy thoughts to cover my brewing inner screams.

After unloading our huge amounts of luggage, we all stepped out to explore the neighbourhood. Right next door was a fruit and vegetable shop, which was a relief, and opposite a shop run by a Chinese family who sold everything you could possibly need in any event whatsoever, and never closed – so that was good too. Just a bit further up the street were some shoe stores and boutiques and then there, nestled between them, was an S & M Dungeon. Yes, dungeon and just in case it wasn’t clear enough, there was a list posted on the door of “services provided” and “special rooms”. This would have been fine if it was in Spanish, but no, there it was, in English. As I pushed my children fast past the door, I noticed the “Leather Club” on the opposite side of the road. “What’s a leather club Mummy?” asked Anoushka, “A club where people go who like cows” I answered – well, you have to get creative in these situations! I turned to Leo, “I thought you said that Madrid was conservative!” I was trying not to screech, “It is! I’ve never been to this area before!” he answered, slightly screechy himself.

Yes, here we were, our first day in Madrid and we were living in the “red light” district, right in the thriving, bustling centre of it. What do you do in a situation like this? Well, you embrace it, that’s what you do. 

It turns out that this little hub was Chueca, the trendiest and hippest part of Madrid and actually, apart from these small, seedy establishments, it was a great area, packed to the brim with coffee shops, cafes, boutiques and bars and cool, stylish people. It certainly wasn’t a family area, but we weren’t going to be there long so we decided to make the most of it. It’s not everyday you get to live next door to a nightclub with a very tall transvestite as a host.  This was all part of the colour of life. These stories would become the pages in our family’s history.

That first night we found a perfect restaurant only two minutes from our apartment. Skyla lay down by my feet and we feasted happily on delicious paella. Sipping on white wine, I sat back, watched my family with quiet pride and took a deep breath – we will be ok, I thought, we can do this; and here began our great big adventure.

Pic: Xavier leaning against a tree, Chueca, Madrid