I went to the seaside and left my husband at home, swimming in sewage | Zoe Williams

He wanted me to stay when the drains backed up and left the garden submerged in a foul pond. Obviously I still went

I had four teenagers all packed and ready to go to Ramsgate, and I was doing a quick final scout around the house for where the terrible smell was coming from. I love seeing a teenager with an overnight bag. You just know they’ve forgotten the real stuff (toothbrush, pants) and remembered the dumb stuff (crochet hooks, spare headphone case). And they look so proud and independent.

In fact, the smell was outside the house, a backed-up drain that had made a zen-looking but appallingly foul pond of the garden. Mr Z came back from work and identified this, just as we were all leaving. “Do you want me to stay?” I said, with a lot of heavy upwards inflection to indicate that no way on earth was I going to. “Well, yes,” he replied.

“You think I’m joking,” he said. There should be some pre-nuptial course on when not to laugh. “I’m not joking.” But this was one drain, and one terrible odour: it wasn’t a two-man job, I reasoned. Besides, I had all these teenagers with their little bags.

In fact, it turned out to be a five-man, three-day job. The first day was the simple but unlovely task of shovelling eight sacks of shit and getting rid of it. Really, the only way it could have been more like an aphorism brought to life is if Mr Z had had to eat it. It was unbelievably disgusting work, obviously considerably worsened if your helpmeet was motoring down the M2 and one had had to call a longsuffering handyman and spend all afternoon apologising to him.

The second day was spent waiting for the drains experts, who are in incredibly high demand, since, apparently, this problem is London-wide. The heatwave compacted the detritus and then the heavy rain dislodged it all. Or something. To make matters worse, I wasn’t even properly listening when I phoned. The third day was the experts arriving. They had never seen older pipes, they said. They estimated that they hadn’t been cleaned since 1821. “Does that mean there were 200-year-old turds in there?” I asked, genuinely curious. “You think this is a joke,” Mr Z said. “This is not a joke.” It was all finally resolved about five minutes before we walked back in the door, having spent 72 hours pinballing between the arcade and Spoons. I mean, I did some ironing. But I’m not sure how I come back from this.

  • Zoe Williams is a Guardian columnist

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Zoe Williams

The GuardianTramp

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