Sharing a kitchen and bathroom with the other hotel guests in Barcelona turns out to be not so bad after all. In fact, to my surprise, I rather like it. It brings back happy memories from 30 years ago. When I was at university, the communal kitchens encouraged students to befriend each other and to develop their social skills, although these sometimes manifested themselves in curious ways. Most fridges, for example, included at least one bottle that bore the legend “I have spat in this milk” to discourage unauthorised borrowing.
The shared kitchens brought out the best in people. If somebody looked depressed, the others in the kitchen would try to cheer them up. If anyone was too broke to buy groceries, they’d be given a bit of someone else’s meal. We’d often sit up around the kitchen table until the early hours, solving the world’s problems with the confidence that only youth can bring.
I remember one night, on returning to our hall of residence, my boyfriend and I thought we’d spotted a suicide in a third floor kitchen. Neither of us had ever seen a dead body and our hearts pounded at the thought, but we know where our duty lay. We ran up the four flights of stairs two at a time. It was an overwhelming relief to find it was just an empty lab coat hung up in the window, drying in the post-teatime heat.
In my three years at university, I had only two truly bad experiences of shared kitchen living. Once was when my friend Dave went home for the weekend, leaving a bag of sprouts locked in his kitchen cupboard. They must have been past their best before he’d even boarded the London coach. As a chemistry student, he might have anticipated the unutterable stench that would develop as they decayed. Never mind the old prawns behind the radiator trick, the urban mythical revenge of wronged wives against their husband’s mistress – a net of aging sprouts would be my weapon of choice any day. This smell of rotting brussels has a Proustian Madeleine effect for me even now, though not in a good way.
The second kitchen trauma also left a scar for life. It occurred one December morning in 1980, when I was looking forward to a special breakfast treat. I put my frying pan on the Baby Belling to heat up and crossed the room to the fridge. The news was playing on the radio in the background. I took no notice of it until an anguished cry went up from my boyfriend. John Lennon had been shot dead by a stranger outside his apartment in New York. Only if it had been his favourite Beatle, Paul McCartney, could Peter have been more devastated. As for me, my tragedy was far greater: some bastard had stolen my bacon.