I moved in with friends Damien and Polly (who had had student household experience at the Animal Farm) and excitement turned to frustration once we discovered how crappy landlords and estate agents can be. But hold on a moment - some of you may be wondering at these household names. What is with that?
It is a kind of convenience. Rather than say "there is a video night at the home of X and Y and Z" you simply say "video night at Cesspool!" The better household names are ones suggested by the house itself or some aspect of the experience of living there. A line from the old Queen song Death On Two Legs ("decaying in a cesspool of pride") summarized how we felt of our landlord once we discovered the twin horrors of that house.
The Cesspool may have once been a nice house. It was solid brick (rather than brick veneer) and possibly as much as a half-century old. The problem however is that it had a lack of ventilation under the floor and this (combined with owner neglect) produced two nasty characteristics.
One was rising damp in a corner of the living room. It smelled. We utilized products that mask smell - in other words we became accustomed to one smell layered over another. This affectionately named Slime Mould was the lesser of the twin horrors. The greater was the dampness under the floor would rot the floors over time. In the kitchen at some past time proper (if rotted) timber floors had been replaced by chipboard. Yes - as we walked in the kitchen we were walking on a laminate of linoleum, newspaper, chipboard, and a foot of empty space above the ground.
By the time we moved in the chipboard was getting decidedly soggy. Then holes formed. In parts of the kitchen the lino was like a trampoline! Chair legs punctured holes in the lino. Then...
Hold on. I have to backtrack a bit because there is an amusing notion forming here - the Curse of Cesspool.
See Cesspool was on Dandenong Road close to Monash Univeristy in Clayton. I was walking home one night and I may have been somewhat absent-minded because as I was crossing the service lane a slow-moving car hit me. The driver - who may also have been absent-minded to overlook me even in my dark Melburnian attire - stopped and helped me. By chance he was a nurse so gave me a quick evaluation then drove me home. I had only been hit by the bumper at slow speed on my calves and then fallen onto the tar on my hands. A bit of grazing and bruising was the result. Nonetheless the driver even visited the next day to check I was still okay.
So here was the start of the Curse. Now we can return to the kitchen floor...
Polly was cooking in the kitchen or possibly just getting herself her nth coffee for the day and suddenly fell into the gaping abyss! We had gotten pretty good and knowing the safe paths across the room but that pattern changed over time and so there Polly was with one leg in the floor and resulting injury that lasted many weeks as compared with my recovery time of a few minutes.
I got hit by a car across the road from Cesspool and got a few scratches. Polly fell into the floor of the Cesspool kitchen getting a more significant injury. We discerned a pattern forming and, like all those under stress, imposed dark intent upon our fortunes and speculated that Damien would be found one morning decapitated in his bedroom! Fortunately the Curse of Cesspool was never fulfilled.
What did we do about all this hardship? Well we asked the estate agent (which I will name if anyone asks me directly) for help. We got lots of excuses and time-wasting and finally we had to call on the Office Of Fair Trading to intervene for us. Legal action was never taken but the mere act of having contacted an authority motivated the landlord to take final action by filling the entire space below the kitchen floor with dirt and gravel then a layer of concrete. Whomever moved in next got the benefit of this change because we moved to better accommodation as soon as we could.
The next home - Flea Circus - was far better. Yes there were fleas in the carpet at the start but that was fixed by flea-bombs set off while we were away one weekend at a FOME camp. Otherwise it was a lovely weatherboard house round the corner in a backstreet and we had a direct relationship with the landlord who worked at Monash so we could visit her to communicate any issues at our convenience.
The Cesspool experience made all of us in our future and separate house-hunting actions much more wary and discerning. I will say this, however, Cesspool had a lovely wide hallway which was fantastic for hall-crams during parties, and we hosted some fantastic parties there. Partying made our twelve months there go so much quicker.