A question of drains

A question of drains

A question of drains

…tales from Reading Uni, part two…

During my time at Reading University in the early-1990’s, I had the pleasure to share a house with some truly wonderful people, most of whom remain good friends of mine to this day. Unfortunately, because of a problem with the landlords, who suddenly decided to come back from India after a fifteen-year absence right at the start of the new term, the beautiful, four-bedroom, detached house, in a fantastic suburb of Reading that we had arranged to rent many months in advance was brutally snatched away from us and we ended up in something far less glamorous.

The house in question, was your typical mid-terrace, semi-detached affair, with a living room and kitchen on the ground floor and two bedrooms, one front, one back, on the first floor. However, our particular house had some unusual and I suspect, not completely legal modifications, in order to maximise the amount of space available to house poor unsuspecting students. So, from the top down, we had:

  • A loft conversion, yielding two bedrooms (one biggish, one small) in the attic space.
  • Two bedrooms (both large) on the first floor. I had one of those, so was rather smug.
  • A living room on the ground floor (no surprises there).
  • A bedroom (mid-sized) on the ground floor where the kitchen should have been.
  • A small and damp cellar space for storage that was excellent for cultivating mould… one of which, a botanist friend identified as Aspergillus niger, a potentially toxic fungus.
  • An extension containing a small kitchen and thankfully, a separate bathroom and toilet.

A question of drains - The house of horror. Rob Gregory Author

Our house, in the middle of the street.

It is on this last area, the extension, that I will concentrate because this is where most of the action took place. For those not in the know, most, if not all houses, in the UK at the time were required to have walls two bricks thick, with a gap (cavity) between them to provide insulation and protection from the damp. In our case, the walls of the extension were only a single brick thick, with the result that not only were the kitchen and bathroom extremely damp, they were also bitterly cold during the winter months. This meant that while cooking was generally tolerable, as long as you stayed close to the burners, visits to the bathroom and toilet were excruciating experiences that would have been more at home on a Japanese game show, rather than in suburban England.

A question of drains - Leaning tower of Reading. Rob Gregory Author

There’s something not quite right with this extension.

As I mentioned above, there was some shared suspicion among my fellow housemates and I that the extension was not totally legal. The single-skin walls were one clue and the fact that the extension was not square with the rest of the house was another slight give away. However, it was not until later in the year, when our solitary toilet became blocked, that our suspicions were confirmed.

At first, the problem was minor and as all good students would, we simply ignored it. Okay, so it took a bit longer for the toilet to flush, but well, that was just part of being in student digs. However, over a period of weeks, the situation worsened to the point where action was required, so we called the landlord… who wasn’t interested, despite his legal obligations. Stuck on our own, we resorted to employing a plumber to unblock the drains… who failed spectacularly and then the local chap from ‘Dyno-Rod’, who even with his special, flexible drill-thingy, was unable to clear the blockage. Finally, in desperation and with photographic evidence of the scale of the problem, just in case we should get the brush off, we called the city council.

A question of drains - The problem. Blocked toilet. Rob Gregory Author

Spot the ball? Note, lovely well-cared for skirting board.

Wow! Talk about action. Just one mention of blocked drains and a possible public health issue, and the very next day, a whole team of sanitation workers arrived on the doorstep, complete with the biggest water tanker I have ever seen. As they marched into the house, one of them unfolded a map of the drains running under the house and began looking for the toilet. Initially, I think that they assumed that it was just a bunch of students getting up to no good, but after a few minutes of fruitless searching, one of the guys came up and asked where the toilet was. When he was finally shown the offending article, there was much scratching of heads amongst the council workers, as they compared the map with the reality before them. After a significant pause, the map holder turned to us and said: “Your drain and rodding eye have been concreted over. This thing shouldn’t be here,” referring to the bathroom and by extension, the extension itself (excuse the pun, sorry).

A questin of drains - Map of the drains. Rob Gregory Author

Unofficial map of the house and drainage system.

There then followed a brief but very serious sounding conference between the workers crammed into the tiny bathroom space, before one of them left and returned with a sledgehammer, which he used to smash the toilet off the soil pipe below. Having secured an access point for himself, a thick rubber hose was brought through the house and shoved unceremoniously down the drain. Other rubber mats were put down around it to prevent splash-back and the whole system was abruptly pressurised using water from the tanker. It took several goes, but I have to say, the council got the job done and in less than forty-five minutes they were packing away and for the first time in ages, we had unblocked drains again.

There was only one small problem and that was where we once had a toilet, there was now just a hole in the ground. While I have since found out that this is an entirely acceptable solution in some countries, in England in the early nineties it was not. Thankfully, one of the neighbours had called the landlord, obviously out of concern for the commotion that we were causing in the street outside and he came marching in, demanding to know what was going on. He honestly couldn’t have done it better if he were Basil Fawlty himself. After being informed about the situation and the need to buy a new toilet by the foreman of the group, he point-blank refused, at which point, the said foreman pinned him up against the living room wall and made it extremely clear, using words of one syllable, that if there wasn’t a new toilet put in the bathroom, free of charge to the tenants, by the end of the day, then the following day the entire extension would be pulled down by him and his workers. Needless to say, that settled the argument and we did indeed get a nice, shiny, new (albeit cut-price) toilet fitted in place before the sun went down that day.

A question of drains - Outdoor toilet anybody? Rob Gregory Author

Outdoor toilet anyone?

As for the old toilet, well, being students, we simply put it into the back garden, resting against one of the walls to make it look as if it was plumbed in. And you can imagine the hubbub it caused among the neighbours and visitors alike when we invited them to use our ‘outside loo’!

A question of drains - Outdoor toilet! Rob Gregory Author

The outdoor loo in close up.


Enjoyed this story? The why not check out ‘tales from Reading Uni, part one’.

Drone bring me down

Drone bring me down

Drone bring me down

… Police announce new weapon in the fight against crime…

Forget the drone! At a lavish ceremony held today in the Merseyside Hitlon Hotel, Greater Manchester’s Chief of Police, Randy McKeetod, unveiled the latest weapon in the North East’s ongoing war on crime. Standing a little over five feet high, Mrs Doris Umberly, aged 72, greeted the crowd with a smile and wave of her umbrella, before coughing violently and launching her false teeth into the press gallery, much to the delight of onlookers.

Drone bring me down - Supergran image. Rob Gregory Author

Doris Umberly – The new face of crimefighting in the North East of England.

“Over the years we’ve wasted millions on new technologies to combat crime, including Stingers, hand-held tasers, high-speed pursuit vehicles and helicopters, only to find that the solution was right on our back doorsteps all along,” said McKeetod, patting Mrs Umberly proudly on the back and helping her clear her throat at the same time. “Starting next month, Mrs Umberly and dozens like her will begin patrolling city streets around the region, providing vital assistance to regular coppers, like myself, in the fight against naughtiness.”

Photoshopped policeman - Randy McKeetod. Rob Gregory Author

Top Cop, Randy McKeetod.

When questioned about the specific functions of the so-called ‘Granny Brigade’, McKeetod, replied: “Their main function will be surveillance: hanging around bus stops, public parks, suburban streets and shopping centres, keeping an eye out for trouble and reporting it to the Police. We may also deploy them in crowd control situations, utilising their screechy, high-pitched voices and worn out anecdotes about what they did when they were young, to disorientate and demotivate would be rioters. Finally, they may, under certain specific situations be called in to assist armed police units, either acting as a low-cost human shield or more probably using their walking sticks and umbrellas to trip up unsuspecting bank robbers, gangsters and terrorists. Frankly, the potential applications of ‘Little Old Ladies’ or LOLs as a crimefighting asset are limitless and we’re only just beginning to scratch the surface.”

During the launch event, Mrs Umberly demonstrated several of the skills that made her and those like her such an obvious choice for the role, including yelling out “It was him! He done it! I seen everything, Officer!” at 120dB, wandering aimlessly along a pavement, thus slowing down escaping shoplifters and whacking a would-be mugger repeatedly over the head with a special, police issue handbag until an arrest could be made, a process which took just over two and a half hours.

Drone bring me down - Liverpool roadsign. Rob Gregory Author

Crime – It’s everywhere, man.

“We did look at drone technology,” admitted McKeetod after the event, “but to be honest, it just wasn’t worth it. Mrs Umberly and the rest of the Granny Brigade will work for only a modest increase in their £1.49 a decade State Pensions and free bus rides, thus making them the most cost-effective and taxpayer-friendly option available.”

So, there you have it. Starting next month, the North East should be a much safer place to be, thanks to the efforts of Mrs Umberly and her friends. And to paraphrase the old crimefighting adage: ‘Watch out! There’s a granny about.”

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London Lost

London Lost

London Lost

… images of a time gone by…

Back in late April, when I was flicking through some of my old photos, searching for shots of Reading University to support my blog ‘A peek down memory lane’, I came across upon a small box of 35mm slides, which was given to me by my Uncle many years ago, along with a portable, battery operated slide viewer. Amazingly, the slide viewer was still in working condition, courtesy of a new battery, and I spent the best part of an hour completely diverted from my original task, flicking through the slides instead.

London lost - Battery operated slide viewer. Rob Gregory Author

They don’t make them like that anymore!

Most of them were old family photos from the 1960’s, you know the kind of thing: camping holidays, day trips, photos of children (now grandparents) playing in the garden and of course, Christmas. Others were part of a series of a more astronomical bent that was apparently never finished, including pictures of Apollo 9, Apollo 11 and the Gemini missions (more on that in a future blog).

London lost - County Hall. Rob Gregory Author

County Hall

However, the subject of today’s story is a series of slides, also part of an unfinished ‘instalment’ collection, covering London in the 1950’s. Now, I’m not sure if the original slides were deliberately meant to look like this. In fact, I’m pretty certain that they weren’t, but for whatever reason, over time only the red, white and black hues have remained, which I think gives the images a wonderfully arty and almost eerie feel.

London lost - Tower Bridge. Rob Gregory Author

Tower Bridge

Most of the locations are, in some way or other, iconic. But while some have remained unchanged, others have undergone various facelifts in the intervening years and some, because of changes that have taken place around them are now almost unrecognisable.

London lost - Shell Mex House. Rob Gregory Author

Shell Mex House, The Embankment

Anyway, why not take a moment or two to flick through London as you’ve probably never seen it before and lose yourself in the warm, fuzzy glow of nostalgia for a simpler time, now long since past… Enjoy!

London lost - Royal Festival Hall. Rob Gregory Author

The Royal Festival Hall


London lost - Big Ben. Rob Gregory Author

Big Ben


London lost - Admiralty Arch. Rob Gregory Author

Admiralty Arch


London lost - The Tower of London. Rob Gregory Author

The Tower of London

One of my favourite images here is of ‘The Pool of London’ (below), because it was taken looking away from Tower Bridge, not facing it. You can find out more about it here.

London lost - The Pool of London. Rob Gregory Author

The Pool of London

For more rants, ramblings and reminiscences, please feel free to have a good old rummage through the rest of my blog and if you fancy something more substantial, then please do check out my books. Thank you.

That was the week that was – 25 May 2018

That was the week that was – 25 May 2018

That was the week that was

… 25th of May, 2018…

It’s been a funny old week here in Writing Land. My son’s second week back at school should have heralded the beginning of a fantastic writing streak for yours truly on my new novel, Yogol’s Gold… more about that in a later blog. And indeed, the week did begin with an encouraging run of 2,000 words on Monday, followed by 2,500 on Tuesday and 3,000 on Wednesday. However, excited Tweets early in the week, including one featuring Christopher Walken’s fabulous dance from Fatboy Slim’s ‘Weapon of Choice’ video, proved to be somewhat premature, with Thursday’s output dwindling to a meagre 1,500 words and at time of writing on Friday, absolutely nothing. I’m reminded of Mick Hucknall’s character in Viz’s ‘Billy the Fish Football Yearbook’, who starts off the game with a blistering goal, only to fumble every subsequent chance that he gets. And the most frustrating part of it for me is that I know what I want to say, it’s just that I can’t seem to find the right words for the characters at the moment. Oh well, there’s always next week, I suppose.

Week that was. Billy the Fish yearbook cover. Rob Gregory Author

An essential part of any library, in my opinion.

In other news, I shipped a few bits and bobs out from the UK to Asia a couple of months ago, including a pile of old records from the 1950’s and 60’s. Around the middle of the week, in amongst all of the other interruptions that I was fielding, I found out that the shipment had arrived and was going through Customs clearance. So, with a bit of luck, fingers crossed, knock on a dead man’s head and all that, I might be able to get it delivered next week. And if that’s the case, then as soon as they’re unpacked, I’ll be firing up the record decks and having myself the mother of all ‘Rock and Roll’ discos. Come on over if you’re in the area, it’s going to be good!

Week that was. Rolling Stones album cover. Rob Gregory Author

Stone me, that’s some haircut!

Oh, and don’t forget that ‘Icon Amazed’, Goy Kankanakul’s latest (and dare I say greatest) exhibition, featuring an installation of ‘Drynwideon’ by a chap called R.A. Gregory, is still on at the Meeting Room Art Café until next Thursday, 31 March. If you haven’t had a chance to see it yet, then pop along before it finishes and if you’re in another country or unable to get there in person, then have a look at www.exhiblitz.com or www.cannonballgallery.org

Week that was. R.A. Gregory and Goy Kankanakul. Rob Gregory Author

Me again… and Goy, of course!

Finally, today is a very special day… for me at least. On this day every year, I try to celebrate one of Liverpool’s forgotten treasures, the band known simply as ‘The 25th of May’. Short-lived and controversial, they only made one album, entitled ‘Lenin and McCarthy’, but made an indelible mark on me with their song ‘F*** The Right To Vote (II)’, which I first came across on one of those free tapes that were stuck on the front cover of ‘Select’ magazine, or some such, back in the 1990’s. I have no idea what the boys are up to these days, but whatever they’re doing, I hope that like Jello Biafra, they’re still blowing minds! Peace!

Week that was. 25th of May single cover. Rob Gregory Author

A nice little song about shoplifting.

My first book signing at Icon Amazed!

My first book signing at Icon Amazed!

My first book signing!

… At the opening of ‘Icon Amazed’ in Chiang Mai, Thailand…

Wednesday 16 May 2018, saw the opening of ‘Icon Amazed’, the latest exhibition by talented Thai artist, Goy Kankanakul, at the Meeting Room Art Café, in Chiang Mai. Goy first hit the headlines in 2017 with ‘Exhiblitz’, a novel art concept involving simultaneous exhibitions in five locations across Thailand.

The event was the chance to see a range of fifteen new pieces by Goy, all using her unique fine-liner technique, known as ‘mazing’. Among them were interpretations of classic masters and pop-art icons alike, including Marylin Monroe and ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’, as well as a range of captivating studies of well-known Thai temples.

Icon Amazed - Marylin Monroe. Rob Gregory Author

Pop-Art and Cubism fused together in Goy’s homage to Marylin Monroe.

And standing loyally next to a table (not the one with the drinks on it, you’ll be surprised to hear) was yours truly, doing his first official book signing of ‘Drynwideon, The Sword of Destiny – Yeah, Right’, the artwork for which, was done by Goy back in late 2017.

Icon Amazed - R.A. Gregory and Goy Kankanakul with Drynwideon. Rob Gregory Author

Books need openings too!

The ‘Icon Amazed’ opening event was a huge success, with over one hundred people passing through the doors of Joe’s fantastic gallery space during the three and half hours that it ran for. And in case you missed it, while the book signing is sadly over, Goy’s pictures, as well as a limited number of copies of Drynwideon, are still on display at the Meeting Room Art Café until May 31.

For more information about ‘Icon Amazed’, Goy’s artwork or to purchase pictures online, please visit www.exhiblitz.com or www.cannonballgallery.org (the online home of the Meeting Room Art Café, physical location: 89 Charoen Rat Road, Chiang Mai, opposite Wat Ket Karam).

Icon Amazed -R.A. Gregory, Goy Kankanakul and friends. Rob Gregory Author

Surrounded by Goy’s wonderful artwork.

Special thanks to Brian and Joe for organising the event, to Rob Brown for the fantastic photographs and Aydan from Chiang Mai City Life for the post-event coverage.

Watch this space to find out what Goy will be up to next. It’s bound to be interesting!