SMOKE: The Baddest Sink
Originally published: 4 August 2004
You think you got sink problems? You think the dishes are piling up a little? Got a strange odour coming from your drainhole? You filthy amateur.
I don't mean to be nasty, but don't come around here with your big talk of dirty dishes and uncouth sinks. It's like busting into the Pope's inner sanctum and letting rip about the evils of contraception, or sending an email to Michael Schumacher with advice on how to drive.
It's very rude.
See - you're talking to someone who once went a record 78 days without washing the dishes in the sink, and I've met few who can compete at such an intense level.
One person who has always understood the true horrors of a sink gone bad is Bruce Robinson, author of the greatest movie of all time - Withnail and I.
The "I" in the title is Marwood, who - just like his flatmate Withnail - is a starving, unemployed actor. Here follows an extract from the sink scene in the movie.
Marwood has just accused Withnail of being lazy, and Withnail has responded by rushing through to the kitchen to do the washing up, while Marwood attempts to pacify him.
Marwood: No, no, you can't. It's impossible, I swear to you. I've looked into it. Listen to me, listen to me. There are things in there, there's a tea bag growing. You haven't slept in sixty hours, you're in no state to tackle it. Wait until the morning and we'll go in together.
Withnail: This is the morning. Stand aside!
Marwood [restraining Withnail]: You don't understand. I think there may be something alive.
Withnail: What do you mean? A rat?
Marwood: It's possible, it's possible.
Withnail [brandishing his comb]: Then the fucker will rue the day!
[He rushes to the sink and is immediately repelled by the horrific reality that confronts him.]
Withnail: Oh Christ Almighty. Sinew in nicotine base. Keep back, keep back. The entire sink's gone rotten. I don't know what's in here.
[He picks up the white-hot kettle from the stove and hurls it immediately into the sink.]
Marwood: I told you. You've been bitten!
Withnail: Burnt, burnt, the fucking kettle's on fire!
Marwood [transfixed by the contents of the sink]: There's something floating up.
Withnail [wielding cutlery]: Fork it!
Marwood: No, no. I don't want to touch it.
Withnail: You must, you must. That poop will bore through the glaze. We'll never be able to use the dinner service again. [Rummaging through a drawer] Here, get it with the pliers.
Marwood: No, no. Give me the gloves.
Withnail: That's right, put on the gloves. Don't attempt anything without the gloves.
[Marwood moves things about in the sink about. Naso-visual horror.]
Withnail: What is it? What have you found?
Withnail: Matter? Where's it coming from?
Marwood: Don't look, don't look. I'm dealing with it.
Withnail [surrendering to the situation and walking away]: I think we've been in here too long. I feel unusual. I think we should go outside.
Excellent. Of course - the above wouldn't be as funny for someone who has never had a filthy sink, but for professionals like myself it's all good, baby. Maybe it's a syndrome particular to starving actors? I don't know.
All I know is that back in the summer of '93 I had the baddest sink south of the Orange River, and I'm here to tell you all about it.
I was staying in a place called Prince Court in Gardens, Cape Town - one of the most picturesque places to live on planet Earth. It was my first year out of varsity and the first acting job I got was only in May, which meant I spent the first four months of the year unemployed - and starving.
I lived pretty much off the leftover scraps of flatmates (I never let them know that I had no money and once they'd chucked their pizza boxes away I'd raid the boxes for leftover bits), but shortly into the year my flatmates moved out and I was left to fend for myself.
I'd never been much of a cook and bottle-washer, so once I was done with something it would end up in the sink and stay there.
Once I'd let the coffee in the bottom of cups get hard and start to mould over, or the grease on plates had spread over all the dishes, I could never attempt to clean them, so the problem in my sink continued to escalate.
This went on for 78 days - I kept one cup clean for tea, and one teaspoon, but for the rest my cupboards were bare and my sink piled right up to the window pane.
I had four black bags stuffed with rotting waste piled in the corner of the kitchen, and the floor hadn't been washed for well over a year.
The fridge wasn't too bad because I had nothing in it, but right at the back was the obvious Enclosed Tupperware, the contents of which were always a mystery. Nobody ever had the balls to open it up - I must have had it for nigh on two years.
But back to the sink - the day finally arrived when I had to clean it, because an agent was coming around to show prospective buyers the place (I was given my marching orders).
My first thought was simply to throw all the dishes away, but they were the only dishes I had and I had the sense to realise that one day my life would be different and I would actually need them.
So I started working my way down from the top.
At some stage someone had seen fit to use the sink as an ashtray, and everything - from plates, to cups, to cutlery - was covered in a fine film of oil mixed with cigarette ash and butts; dried, green egg yolk; the solidified mush from countless breadcrumbs and hard old grated cheese bits, sour milk and rust.
The bottom was an inch thick in ooze and slime and a burst teabag blocked up the drain perfectly.
The stench was overpowering and thoroughly nauseating and the thin film of oil covered my fingers, making everything I touched greasy.
It was appalling. I spent about three hours cleaning and recleaning that sink with boiling water from the kettle. Cockroaches swarmed up the side of the sink, scrabbling frantically to get purchase on the oily surface and I felt like a knight in a tower, scalding the swines from above.
Eventually I beat that sink down like the dog that it was, and I still have the scars today to prove it.
I emptied out the trash, scrubbed the floor, put a hat on my head and left quietly down the drainpipe, ne'er to return.
These days my sink isn't too bad - I like to keep on top of it as often as possible. And whenever it looks like the dishes are piling up I am reminded of that renegade sink of mine, and preventative measures are taken.
Years later a friend in the police force told me how my old sink was eventually arrested for armed robbery, battery and assault, extortion and indecent exposure, and is now doing 20-to-life in a maximum security prison in Barberton.
It really was the baddest sink of all.
All Smoked Out,