The Thing Is with Steve Canavan
I was going to write about Christmas and its true meaning: visiting relatives you're not particularly fond of.
But then something happened at work that I feel duty-bound to report.
My day job is lecturer at a university, which is hard to believe I know as, after all, I still can’t change channel on the TV because I haven’t worked out how to use the remote control.
I share my university office with a man who, though a very nice person, has for his dinner every single day a microwave meal such as seafood risotto or prawn curry.
The problem with this is that it makes our office smell horrific and so, to combat the issue, I purchased some scented candles that emit the gentle aroma of elderflower or cranberry and other such slightly pretentious smells (obviously when I say I purchased some scented candles, I mean Mrs Canavan purchased them on my behalf; I know of no man who would willingly purchase a scented candle).
Anyway I’ve been lighting these things for the last couple of weeks without incident and it’s worked a treat.
Instead of dodgy fishy smells, we’ve been breathing in the sweet pong of satsuma and kumquat.
But then, on Tuesday, one of the candles burnt itself out and the result was that a surprisingly thick plume of smoke wafted into the air.
I remarked to my colleague about the amount of smoke produced and then moments later the women in the adjoining office popped her head in to say she could smell burning.
As she said the word ‘burning’, a loud siren suddenly sounded. It was the fire alarm.
Now let me paint the scene here: I work in a four-storey building, which houses about300 staff and has dozens of teaching rooms, so there were hundreds of students in lessons at that very moment.
Feeling a sharp sense of panic, and wearing the look of a man who has just been caught shoplifting a duffel coat from Marks and Spencer, I traipsed out of the building and into the car park (the official place to congregate when the fire alarm sounds) and stood among, at a rough estimate, 1,000 other people.
To make matters worse it was absolutely freezing and tipping down with rain.
Everyone looked furious and were saying things like, ‘this better not be a practice’ or ‘which clown has set off the fire alarm?’
I shifted slightly uncomfortably and decided – pretty much for the first time in my life – that I should do the right, grown-up thing and own up.
I approached a woman in a hi-viz vest with FIRE OFFICER written dramatically on the back and said, “erm, excuse me, I’m awfully sorry about this but it was me who set off the fire alarm.”
‘You did what?’ she barked back, jerking her head towards me so sharply that her glasses fell down her nose (which was some feat because her nose was quite big). ‘Why did you do that?’ she growled.
“Well, I was in my office and a lit a candle…”
‘Candle? CANDLE? You lit a candle in your office? Have you any idea what a fire hazard that is?’
“Well, I’d never thought of that,” I replied, while suddenly realising for the first time that, yes, it probably is quite dangerous to light a candle in a four-storey building.
“But in my defence my work colleague had just eaten a really smelly chicken tikka masala.”
I expected sympathy but she looked at me with all the charm of Eva Braun and, pointing at a man in an even more important-looking luminous jacket on the far side of the car park, said, ‘you’d better go and tell Derek. Immediately.’
I was now feeling utterly humiliated and pretty certain I was not only going to get sacked but also arrested and imprisoned for use of a candle in an enclosed space.
As I approached Derek, I could see he was exactly the type of man who would volunteer to be a work fire warden – he was in his late 50s, had a moustache, wore a brown suit, and no doubt had a static caravan in Rhyl.
I then went through the same routine I had moments before, confessing to Derek that I was the reason some 1,000 university staff and students were huddled, shivering and soaking wet, in a car park.
As I spoke, Derek took a notepad out of his jacket pocket and began writing the words candle and smoke and – I think, though I may have misread this – cretin.
He began to verbally dress me down – ‘I just don’t understand why someone would light a…’ – when he suddenly halted and said, ‘hang on, did you say your office is on the second floor?’
I told him it was.
‘Oh, well the fire alarm that went off was on the ground floor so it wasn’t you.’
If Derek hadn’t been so ugly and had his breath not had the slight aroma of stale coffee and flapjack, I’d have kissed him there and then.
I was in the clear.
I felt like a new man and skipped back to my colleagues, stopping off at the first fire warden to gleefully tell her I was innocent.
On the downside I received an email later the same day telling me if I used candles again I would face disciplinary action.
Swings and roundabouts.
Bowled over by my own stupidity
I think I may be going slightly mad.
The other night I was getting undressed to go in the shower and nipped to the toilet first.
Now don’t dwell on this image but I was naked and holding my underpants in my left hand.
After I urinated, I went to rip off some toilet tissue to blow my nose but after doing that – and somehow getting mixed up about the toilet paper and the underpants and which one to throw down the toilet and flush away – I threw my own underpants into the toilet bowl.
I had just urinated and hadn’t yet flushed so my undergarments were now sitting in my own wee.
I stood for a moment, stunned at my own stupidity, then had to put my hand into the toilet bowl and gingerly retrieve my sopping, urine-smelling underpants.
‘What are you doing?’ said a voice behind me, which I correctly identified as Mrs Canavan on account of the fact that I live with her and so it was unlikely to be another woman’s voice; well, not unless my luck was in.
“I’m retrieving my underpants from the toilet,” I replied nonchalantly.
After attempting to explain the situation – which resulted in Mrs Canavan, not for the first time, looking at me as though she had been dealt the worst possible hand in life – I hand-washed my underpants under the tap and hung them on the side of the bath, where they dangled forlornly for the remainder of the evening.
Such is life.