I write occasionally about my friend who lives next door to me. We are very close, a fact physically represented by our respective front doors being only a metre apart. People have noted that we act like a married couple, and there is some merit to that – we love each other, we argue regularly, and there is no sex. When I asked if she was happy with that statement she said, “No, I hate you,” which I think sums it up well.
She popped in to see me today, and when she went home she thought she could smell gas in her hall. I crossed over our thresholds to check, initially not picking up on it. Eventually the odour hit me, and she insisted that we call the emergency helpline. I read the number off her meter, she dialled and then handed me the phone. I explained the issue to the operator, who asked me a series of basic questions before agreeing to send an engineer out. She provided safety instructions, and I listened as I walked from the living room into the bathroom – where the meter is located.
I obeyed the woman’s command, cutting the supply by giving the handle on the pipe a quarter-turn. As I pulled it from the vertical to the horizontal, my friend appeared in the hallway before me. “Don’t turn on any lights or use any switches” the call handler said into my ear, at the precise second when my friend switched the overhead light on. Timing, as they say, is everything. As I tried in vain to prevent the action, by making a cut-throat gesture, she instinctively and immediately turned the light off again.
I went home, and the gas van arrived quickly. The way it was reported on Facebook, “Scottish Gas guys arrived, checked my gas meter and said: “Girl. Glad you phoned us, cos you would probably die overnight from gas poisoning!! There was a serious gas leak.”
She texted me to say they were changing the meter, adding “that’s why I couldn’t breathe properly and my stomach hurt for a couple of days.” This was news to me, and I remembered that there is a carbon monoxide detector in the bedroom beside her boiler. I had looked at the boiler when I went in, but neglected to check the alarm. It is a safety device I have meant to buy for my own flat, and never quite got round to.
“Did the gas alarm in your bedroom not go off?” I asked.
She checked it. “The light changes from green to red. I had red for a few days, but I ignored that.”
Sometimes she terrifies me. She elaborated “I thought it must be like that,” adding further “but I was being sick every day, and my stomach hurt at night, and the breathing difficulties – now I know why!”
We had spoken today about her possibly leaving Glasgow. I am in no way ready for her to permanently leave the world.
The consensus online is that gas is dodgy, and any hint of a smell should be investigated and reported. This evening, especially, I am happy that she insisted on notifying the authority. Once the seriousness had passed, humour took over. One of my comedy acquaintances publicly admired her “strive for efficiency” in trying to blow the whole street up, and not just me.
She replied – in a way you would understand if you knew her – by saying that she enjoys group sex, and group death too. This incident happened to coincide with the gas main being replaced over the road, and it was nearly the perfect crime – they would have blamed the workmen.
Tonight, online, I bought a carbon monoxide detector and two smoke alarms. I like to feel I have learned something from this experience, besides having my nerves shaken when I read the Gas Safe information about poisoning symptoms and fatalities. It is disconcerting to know that someone I care so deeply about has been breathing in toxic fumes for a few days.
She always claims to be unlucky, and I will now forever disagree. Borrowing her trademark phrase of “face>desk”, the only real method of taking the edge off was to make further light of the situation. There is no other way. I doubt we were poised to annihilate ourselves in an explosion, but it is generally best to avoid inhaling noxious vapours for any length of time. At the risk of coming across all Michael Buerk in the 1990s emergency re-enactment series 999, it does not cost much to protect yourself.
I maintain that life is absurd, and this is never better demonstrated than when it comes to death.
A one-time colleague of mine died recently. We were not close, despite working reasonably closely on a short project nine or ten years ago, yet – unlike some others I have worked with before and since – he was memorable. When I read of his death I recognised his name immediately and could instantly picture his face. Given that I freelance and meet a lot of people, the same is not true of everybody I have worked with.
I was sorry to read of his passing, always figuring that our paths would cross again some day – socially, if not professionally. Instead, I am left with a memory of that project which has been blurred by time and events that have happened since. While it did not seem appropriate to share my faint half-recollections alongside the tributes being paid on his Facebook page, I went through and read many of them. The public outpouring of love and affection was touching.
What struck me, generally speaking, is this: it seems really sad that you have to die before most people are prepared to reveal the extent of their love for you.
The old adage is true, everyone loves you when you are dead. To my mind that appears a little late to express it. If someone matters that much to you, is it not worth letting them know while they can fully appreciate it?
This world makes no sense. At the risk of being facetious while trying to illustrate this point, next time I am feeling low I might kill myself, just so people say nice things about me.