Sunday, April 11, 2004

Enforced religious observance? (Or, “keeping it bracing”)

Something mysterious has happened to our hot water service over the Easter long weekend. As a matter of Murphy’s law, I wouldn’t be surprised if it had just died. But no, it alternates between providing only cold showers, and providing (if the hot tap is jammed fully open) just bearably tepid showers.

So, being a good graduate student I checked the circuit breakers (all fuses were intact), I checked the hot water service (still warm and clearly still working in some fashion) and I glanced at its electronic control panel (“override”, “extra hour”, “set heating”, “run program”) and then promptly gave up. Being a diligent collection of graduate students, no-one has reported this to college.

I thought we were victims of our own negligence, until at a dinner party last night, someone else told me at their house the hot water was almost off and the electronic timer was in a cupboard locked against their interfering with it.

The conclusion? College logic: “The undergraduates have gone home for Easter, who needs to waste electricity on hot water?”

Um, grad students? Maybe? Foreigners, trapped in Cambridge for the break? No?

We could, of course, monkey with the control panel ourselves. How many degrees could it take to fix an electronic timer? Unfortunately, given my fundamental theory of home maintenance (the more degrees, the more helpless) I think we have more chance of turning it into a light-water fusion reactor.

Anyway, cold showers are certainly proving bracing.

Leading me to a short history of the word “bracing” in my recent life. Rob (also known in these pages as “Mad Rob”, “Madness Boy” or “that awesome flatmate from Coogee”) was something of a man-seal. It was never too soon in the season for him to get down to Coogee Beach and fling himself in Syndey’s still minty Antarctic-fresh early-Spring currents.

He once lured me out on one such quick dip. I retreated (possibly hours ahead of him) to the comparatively warm sand once I’d lost all feeling in my toes and fingers, and the pink flesh under my nails had turned a convincing blue.

“How’d you like them apples?” said Rob, eventually returning from the surf.

(This was nothing unusual. Our conversation slowly accreted enough weird phrases to become its own inter-flatmate patois.)

“It was certainly bracing.”

Bracing?” snorted Rob, possibly launching into a “The Fast Show” sketch.

Some days later, in the kitchen (why are my weirdest flatmate discussions always in the kitchen?) I found Rob going through one of his muesli-eating phases. Rob could subsist weeks seemingly on a single food type – sometimes salad, sometimes jelly snakes, that week, muesli.

“That high-bran content keeping you regular?” I asked.

Bracingly so,” he replied.

Bracingly regular? Wow. Really? Think we should we install a bar-grip in the toilet?”

And then we descended helplessly into giggles at the mention of “bracing” ever after. Ah, potty humour.

But then this was the flat where the weird stuff I said eventually went up on “Doug’s wall of quotes”, including the superbly out-of-context: “If I had any more caffeine today you’d come home to find me naked, licking the wallpaper.”

Actually, I don’t now recall if that had any context, but the talk of muesli and coffee may mean it’s time for breakfast. It is noon, after all.

PS The landlord has been round. Apparently it was a valve all along ...

PPS Naylor is up, for devotees of crime fiction.

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