Friday, 28 August 2009

Reflections on Communal Eating and Living

This weekend we hand the keys to our flat back to the landlord. This marks the end of my time as a student, and the end of my time living in flats where you get to argue about who left the bathroom in such a mess and who didn't pay their share of the gas bill.

One of the most stressful things I've found with communal living is the upkeep of the kitchen. I never thought I would find this as difficult as I have. Neither of my parents are massively in to cooking, and neither of them are particularly houseproud. I grew up in a house where tidying and cleaning were usually done in a massive hygiene binge the day before visitors were due. We were never candidates for "How Clean is Your House", but at the same time the mantelpiece could have used dusting.

However, the kitchen was always pretty clean. Surfaces were wiped down after dinner, and the washing up done and put away. The fridge was regularly checked for anything that had gone bad, and the bins taken out. My only memory of dirt in the kitchen was the floor, as the kitchen door led out to the back garden, so it would often have muddy footprints or bits of stray grass cuttings here and there. Given that I was quite happy with this approach to cleanliness (surfaces and equipment clean, floor less important), I thought I'd be ok in shared flats.

I was wrong. Over the past 4 years, I lived with people who thought the best place to make their toast was directly on the counter, and then left a pile of crumbs with a smear of butter and jam as a reminder. Or the person who insisted on lining every baking tray with tin foil to minimise washing up, but then tearing the foil and deciding they couldn't be bothered to clear up the layer of grease that stuck the foil to the pan. Even more extreme, there was one person who refused to even use baking trays, reheating their ready meals solely in a tin foil cradle. Which burst all over the floor on several occasions, once infuriating the aforementioned flatmate so much they headbutted the fridge. There are people who use 12 saucepans to make spaghetti bolognese, and those that use wire wool on the non-stick pans. People who leave all their washing up in the sink, and then act surprised that you didn't do it for them. Or wash up under running water, so that when you pull the frying pan out of the cupboard the next day, you notice that while the inside is clean, the outside has half a fried egg stuck to it.

Sometimes the spice rack looks likes this.

Note the broken glass and intended recycling

It's also common for the worktop to look like this.

So close to the sink, yet so far from clean.

I'm looking forward to living somewhere you only have to clean after dinner, not before as well.

I'm also pretty sad to move out. Although some of my past flatmates have been hilariously incompetent in the kitchen, having 3 or 4 other people under the same roof makes for great communal meals. This year alone we've had Thanksgiving, Christmas dinner, Anti-Valentines, a mexican night, a tapas night and a chilli cook off. We had a chocolate fondue party, and baked a 2 foot long custard cream. We celebrated Burn's Night with the biggest haggis you've ever seen. There's always willing mouths to tuck in to the latest thing I've baked, usually just because I felt like it.

I've lost count the number of times I've bought too much dinner and managed to offload the leftovers on to one of my flatmates. This year particularly, I've had several texts and calls offering me a communal dinner. There's something great about coming home to a roast dinner and a table populated by some of your best friends, when an hour ago your dinner plans involved a can of baked beans and a serious iPlayer session.

While I won't miss communal cleaning (I've spent the last two days trying to scrape a year's worth of grease out the oven) I will definitely miss the communal eating.


Lizzie said...

Now I remember why I decided not to go to uni... I wish I did more communal eating, as I only have one flatmate but the stress of getting up in the morning and digging around the kitchen for a mug would turn me into a grumpy( cow.

Jules said...

Ah the joys of communal living. In my final year I lived with 6 others and it was hell for exactly the reasons you mention!

Chele said...

Oh how I remember those days! I don't miss them at all lol. Good luck with the move.

Jenny said...

Flatsharing certainly has its ups and downs, 5 of us this year was pretty tough, don't know if I would have coped with 6!

I think I will be a lot more cheerful now, there is a unique grumpiness associated with dealing with someone else's mess/ineptitude constantly!

Adeline said...

Aah communal cleaning! We're currently looking for a 5th person for our flat, and all I care about is whether the person will help with the cleaning, not if he's an axe-murderer.. I've accepted the fact if I don't want a greasy kitchen, I'll have to clean for 4 other people.
Good luck with the move!

Anonymous said...

I lived with five boys when I was at university, it was hellish. I like communal eating but I'd rather invite people over than have to live with them full-time!

Su-Lin said...

I'm definitely quite happy I'm no longer sharing a place with others! Having one's own kitchen is heaven in comparison!