Two girls, one cup (of caustic soda) – and the overzealous fire brigade


Woop woop, it’s the sound of the police. Or is it the sound of the fire brigade coming to rescue two girls from a caustic disaster?

Last night my housemate was doing a bit of spring-cleaning. We’ve had a bit of a pongy drain, so we came to the conclusion that the best way to sort it out was to pour caustic soda down it.

This seemed like a great idea until I heard sounds of panic from the kitchen. I ran in and the sink appeared to be melting away as if Mount Vesuvius had shed lava onto it. There were fumes everywhere and our beloved kitchen stank.

I was a bit alarmed about this because once I read a poster someone in my old office wrote about bleach. It was called ‘THE DANGERS OF BLEACH’ and had all sorts of scary facts about what it can do to you. And I know caustic soda isn’t bleach but it is quite a potent chemical, and also the Sainsbury’s bottle said things like if we tried to pour cold water onto the caustic soda it might blow up in flames!

I didn’t want to explode anyway, so I phoned 999.

Which might have been dramatic, but I wanted advice. Sort of like the NHS Help Direct number, but for caustic soda emergencies. I was genuinely concerned my housemate and I might combust.

Anyway, I got put through to the fire department and I spoke to someone who – with hindsight – was a bit of a moron. I only wanted to chat to her about how to deal with the caustic soda eruption – sort of like I had done with a plumber last year, who had taken me through the process of unblocking the sink as if helping me to deliver my own baby.

I explained the sitch to the phone person. I told her about the pongy room, the flames of –industrial – fury and the crumbling sink.

But instead of just telling me we probs would survive to tell our grandchildren about our caustic misadventure, she said: “I think we should send the firemen round.”

NOOOO, I insisted several times – explaining that such course of action would be too dramatic. I started thinking about cats in trees that might be rescued more than us in our house (and burning people. I know… ARGH).

Yet she told us she now had no choice but to send the fireman round.

For two excruciating minutes we waited for the firemen to arrive. I did think that they’d be arriving in a little car… but as I went outside in my pyjamas and crop top that no one should ever see, there it was.


The lights were flashing and out came four big men in uniform. It was like a mildly erotic nightmare. I could see in their faces how excited they were to come and put out the blaze. And I was going to have to tell them that there was no blaze. Nothing, but a very clean sink!

They marched towards us, and I just stood there in my pyjamas and mumbled: “Urm, there was like some caustic soda in our sink, and it was bubbling, and we were scared.”

I’ve never seen someone look at me like I was so thick, then look to their colleagues like ‘oh my God, she’s so thick’.

A couple of them came into the house to make sure there really was no fire, and we all stood there and looked at the sink for some time, and I felt a bit like my dog when he eats something he shouldn’t have eaten.

“Yeah, that’s caustic soda for you,” said one of the firemen.

And we apologised and said that we had never wanted four strapping firemen at our house, and they were on their way.

As they left we felt ever so mortified and had to console ourselves with cups of tea and bad television.

I thought I wouldn’t want to tell anyone about this traumatic experience, but then it got me thinking all about emergency services. In recent weeks I’ve read loads of posts by people complaining about increased working hours for doctors, and how many people waste time on the NHS yada yada yah.

So much so that I now have ‘waste guilt’. I made this term up myself and it basically explains how one feels a bit bad if you accidentally waste the emergency services time and they send a massive fucking truck to your house. You worry about the people who might have really needed the service, and also if there will be karmic consequences.

But then I’m writing this because:

1) I have noticed that fire services do not seem to have a non-emergency service. What we could have really done with in that time is a ‘101’/’111’-esque number to allay our neuroticism.

2) I feel like the phone person was really at blame. We explained the situation to her in the same way to her as we did to the firemen, yet she sent them out. If the firemen could work out they weren’t really needed, surely she could have too?

The sink is ok now. I’ve never seen it look so clean, in fact.

But my conscience feels as dirty as a student mug.

Still, I console myself that we were just two girls, with one cup (of caustic soda) – who experienced a slightly overzealous emergency service.


Young, Free & Single: not more singleton tele!

Mega Awks!
Mega Awks! The classy contestants of Channel 4’s latest romance show

Young, Free & Single – aka ‘People with Reproductive Organs Living in a House’ – is the latest show to treat singles as a tragic species

If you’re twentysomething, you may remember in the nineties a certain distinctive toy: the goo aliens. They were slimy and weird, and if you rubbed two of them ever they would magically produce a baby.

Channel 4 would like to make goo aliens out of unattached people in its latest offering: Young, Free & Single. Hosted by Steve ‘I snogged Angelina Jolie once’ Jones, the show shoves six love-hungry individuals into a ‘dating house’ in the hope that they’ll rub up and down together like, well, goo aliens.

Similar to most romance TV, its participants seem to come from a relatively small pool. In fact, I would guess that the producers of Take Me Out, Dinner Date and Love Island stole their stars from a Wetherspoons dancefloor – one night shoving them into a van and wheeling them into a studio. “Fancy copping off with some people you’ve never met before?” they asked their victims.

Luckily for the programme makers, they found participants who were not only happy to go on dates on television, but would also bump and grind their compadres at the first sip of a pina colada. The dates ranged in success: one couple had sex (or something resembling it), the other an argument and there was also some eating.

The show is live, which makes for gruelling, social-media friendly television. As each participant goes on a date, audiences can vote on Twitter – using a hashtag – whether they should ‘Ditch’ or ‘Date’ their companion. I felt a bit sorry for the datees – in particular, an angry scouser called Jazz and a guy who looked a bit like a foetus in a Lankester Merrin hat, who were both rejected for very shallow reasons indeed.

Despite its digital-savvy and interactive format, Young, Free and Single hasn’t done much to reinvigorate the desperately oversubscribed ‘romance television’ market. The problem is that only thick people want to do dating television. And maybe that’s because the more intelligent of us have worked out that shoving two people together on a reality dating show isn’t really conducive to true love, however open-minded you are.

Mostly, such a system results in excruciatingly awkward outings, that neither party has the diplomacy skills to extract themselves from. Instead they end up like animals in a zoo, gawped at – across a screen – by their more romantically-successful counterparts.

Fundamentally most of these shows reflect the trials and tribulations of modern day dating. My Granny recently told me how sorry she felt for young people that we don’t have dances in which to meet a partner, which she had in her day. And she’s right: so difficult has it become to meet people in authentic settings, that many of us are now reduced to using apps such as Tinder and Happn, and religiously following shows that promote the idea that forcing two strangers together with similar interests or looks will somehow create romance.

Unfortunately, people are not goo aliens and so this formula rarely works (see Married at First Sight, Blind Date and Take Me Out) – thus resulting in very disappointing television.

Bore off, Bake Off

bake off

AS IF we’re on season six of this mind-numbingly dull show 

The Great British Bake Off is back, and I want to celebrate.

But I’m feeling as deflated as Victoria Sponge that didn’t rise. I find this one of the dullest television shows ever, and it’s got me all worried about my fellow species. I’m asking serious questions, like: ‘when did the British public become so hypnotised by baking?’

My theory is that it happened during the recession. No one had any money to do anything exciting like buy a car or house or Burberry handbag. So instead we all purchased flour, and cookbooks, and revelled in food porn, jizzing ourselves to sleep over people using a frying pan.

Slowly the Bake Off came into the public’s consciousness, and we met the dream team that is Mary the sexy skeleton and Paul the blue-eyed perve. Six series later – six series later! – they’re here again in a show that has acquired legendary status among the Brits.

It’s nice that GBBO has bound us together as a nation, but I also think its cult appeal is a legacy of the 2008 financial crisis and our subsequent watered-down aspirations. So tricky has it become to be anything these days that we have had to collectively reduce our ambitions. So much so that we now get emotionally involved in the creation of an apple crumble.

On Wednesday night 12 new hopefuls tried their luck at specialities including chocolate gateau and Madeira cakes. Some of these participants were doctors and nurses; people who had invested hours, days, weeks and perhaps years of their leisure time – and intelligence – into understanding the chemistry of something that could be gobbled in no less than five minutes. It seems like such a waste of human productivity when we have Greggs, and even the M&S cake section.

At points in the show Paul and Mary enlighten audiences on the exact science of the bakes, and I’ve never seen such trivial entities so heavily intellectualised. If we spent half as much energy learning about science, arts or law as we did about cutting up walnuts who knows what mankind could have achieved.

In one scene, one contestant had a minor breakdown when her chocolate gateau ended up looking like what I saw down the loo at Reading Festival circa 2007. Sue Perkins reassured her “it’s just a cake”, to which the contestant dramatically replied: “it’s not just a cake.”

Had I been there, I would have chucked the cake on the floor (or probably eaten it). And then I would have said, “look, you – choose life, not cakes”. Baking was never meant to be a channel for aspirations – it is a functional profession, and GBBO has only served to put it on a ridiculous pedestal.

As the economy improves I hope we’ll be getting back to proper inspiring TV, where people do stuff that is actually challenging, mentally and physically. I can understand why in this day and age people want to turn to the kitchen. Baking is an attainable dream; we can win when we’re battling against cakes, and so we find it easy to invest in GBBO. But there are far more tastier things to achieve in life than the perfect pie. This piece of recession tele is setting the nation’s sights too short.