Sunday, January 23, 2011

Of Fires and Floods

Oh, readers... remember when I said that I probably wouldn't write this weekend, as it would mostly be spent doing homework? Oh, how wrong I was.

The other day, Adrienne pointed out that we had not actually been shopping. What a crime- especially since I had been given permission by my mom to get something "London-esque" for my birthday. So we decided to meet Laura and Drew at ten this morning and go to Covent Garden and High Street Kensington.

I had planned to go to bed semi-early, but suddenly started making headway on some writing and kept typing and typing until two a.m. So I didn't get up on time, and when the fire alarm went off at 9:40, I was still in bed. My alarm hadn't woken me up, but the terrible, drawn-out screech of the fire alarm definitely did. It was worse than the one back at my home school, which I didn't think possible, because there was no break in the sound- it was just one loud, long noise.

But as I had never heard the fire alarm here, I wasn't sure that that was even what it was. I know you're thinking, 'Well, what else would it be?' But something you have to realise about me is that it takes a good ten minutes after I wake up for me to start thinking clearly. I have no common sense when I'm half-awake. So I grabbed my coat, shoved my feet into shoes, and ran out into the hallway. I saw no one. Maybe I was wrong. Or maybe I was crazy and there really was no alarm sounding. A few seconds later, Adrienne came out of her room and we both stood there. Rest uneasily in the fact that, if there is a fire, we will both probably die :p Finally, Emmie emerged from her room and said that it was, in fact, the fire alarm, and the three of us made our way to the door of our flat. We opened it... and found that the lobby was flooded with water.

Now, when the fire alarm goes off, even if it is a drill, the last thing you expect to find behind any door is a waterfall. But my building is apparently the building of disappointed expectations... or perhaps just surprising discoveries. There was water pouring from the ceiling, quickly forming puddles and rivers in our tiny can't-even-be-called-a-lobby. We picked our way through it and outside.

It was cold. Especially in pajamas, which Emmie and I were both wearing. Adrienne had actually gotten up on time, so she was dressed; Emmie had been doing homework. It wasn't any warmer forty-five minutes later when we were still waiting outside. We stood outside of our building and watched as the firetruck arrived, the firemen dash to the door... and pull up short as they saw, not flames, but water. They kept looking at each other like, "What do we do with this? We've never had to fight water before..." For the next twenty minutes, we watched firemen and QMUL security walked in and out of the building, looking confused and occasionally walking out with dripping-wet tools. The ceiling outside of the building, as well as inside, was now steadily leaking water.
Eventually, they said that there was a good chance that we wouldn't be able to get in for at least another hour, but that they would unlock the cafeteria (which is not open on the weekends) so we could sit in there and stay warm.

Let me paint a picture for you. Swarming the cafeteria were fifty (lots of people weren't there this weekend) grumpy international and English students, most of which are still in pajamas. Add to that that most of us had not eaten breakfast- even those who were awake when the alarm went off- and it was now about eleven. They made it very clear that they would not be giving us free food (which would have been crueler if there was actually breakfast being made in the caf.)

I sat in the caf with Adrienne, Laura, Emmie, Megan, Deanna, and Drew. None of us were very happy, especially when it was announced that it would most likely be another hour before we could get in because they weren't sure about the electricity. Eventually, they announced that everyone could go back in... everyone who didn't live in the east flats, which was my flat. Yay. They tried to placate us with the promise of food, but when they did get some food, it was fancy assorted chocolate cookies, Coke, and Sprite. I enjoy all of these things, but not in the morning when I haven't anything else to eat. I ate two cookies because I was hungry, but decided that to make that my breakfast would mean seeing it later that day. We all refused the soda.

I was grumpy; I figured that if we left for shopping at ten, we'd be back around two and I would clean, do laundry, and finish up some homework. Well, now it was noon and they were saying it would be another hour. They gave us vouchers for an Asian place so we could go there for lunch. Besides the fact that the thought of Asian food, just like the idea of fancy cookies and Coke for breakfast, made us all want to throw up, they asked, "Who does not feel adequately dressed to go to an eating establishment?" I looked down at my QMUL t-shirt and pink plaid pajama bottoms. Maybe if I said I felt this way, they'd let me change and then, instead of going to the restaurant, we'd leave campus to go shopping. But after we answered the question, they left it at that in a "well, that's nice, sucks to be you" way. Thanks.

Because of the schedule train wreck, I thought it would be smarter not to go shopping. But the thing was... we couldn't do anything else. I could stay on campus all I wanted, but without my books and computer, I couldn't do anything.

Oh, my God- my computer. How much water had gotten into our flat? What if the ceilings in the rest of the flat had opened up and even now, all of my stuff was getting soaked?!

We couldn't do anything about this, but we could try to leave campus and actually do something. figured that for clothes, I could maybe borrow something of Laura's, even if it was yoga pants. I was wearing normal shoes and an acceptable shirt. But here was the big problem- I couldn't see. I had left the flat without my glasses, thinking we were going to get back in soon, and I have terrible vision. It could be worse- I'm nearsighted, so at least I could see people I was talking to. But I knew walking the streets and going on the tube without my far vision would be a bad idea. Also, neither Adrienne or I had our Oyster cards. At this point, all I wanted was real breakfast food, my Oyster card, and a pair of pants that weren't bright pink plaid.

Adrienne is much more assertive than I am. She went up to the woman in charge and asked if the two of us might sneak in and grab our things- her bag and my glasses. The woman waffled a bit, so Adrienne exaggerated my condition to legal blindness. Finally, she talked our way into the building and we were allowed in with an escort.

Inside the flat, they were busy water-vacuuming up the large puddles that stretched from the "lobby", past the kitchen, to about the third dorm room. They were removing some things from the first two rooms- soaked. But the four or five rooms at the end of the hall- including mine, Adrienne's and Emmie's- were completely dry. Phew! Once in our rooms, we got the things we begged for- her, bag; me, glasses- and I also grabbed my bag and a pair of jeans. We went up to Laura's room, I changed into normal clothes, and we were off (after stopping by the caf to let Emmie know that her stuff was all right.)

Because we got started so late, we only did Covent Garden today, but I got a dress marked down by forty pounds (I paid fifteen) and a pair of Oxford shoes, which Laura and I have been pining for. We're probably going to do High Street Kensington sometime this week.

When we got back, we walked through a mostly-dry hallway and talked to Emmie; they hadn't allowed people back into the flat until two. I'm glad we left- it would have been a lot of wasted time.

Now to a lot of boring- cleaning, laundry, homework.

Quote of the Day:

"When you've made a life of theatre, you know what it's like to work hard. You know what it's like to feel the triumph of a standing ovation. And you know how close you always are to disaster. When your life is dancing on the edge of a cliff, you tend to believe in gravity." -Stephen Tobolowsky


Mrs. Flury said...

Oh, my, Rachel! I'm trying to think of something positive and encouraging to say. I'm happy you opted for retail therapy--always a plus. But, I'm REALLY glad you had your distance vision and Oyster card before you attempted the tube.

Do you think this experience will allow you to appreciate why Mimi was singing about her warm mittens? Maybe she had to stand outside in her jammie pants during a fire alarm? I hope it was warmer for you than it has been here--highs in the low twenties, lows in the single digits with a wind chill in the negative numbers. I think I could be moved to sing about warm mittens . . . .

Captain Stennous said...

You could turn this into a beautiful drama in which the main characters use their circumstances to questions their identity and the nature of reality in a way that allows them to better appreciate their shopping trip and lives thereafter. To top it off, the protagonist (Rachel), learns a very important lesson about why it's always a bad idea to wear pink plaid pants.

My big question concerning this whole story: What actually set off the fire alarm?


PS Retail therapy is not a real solution for problems like this, especially if the problems involve filming or at least one male.

Rachel said...

Haha, I will never give up my pink plaid pants!

We think the thing that set off the alarm was steam- a lot of the third floor windows (where the pipe burst) were steamed up, and apparently when you get enough steam it can be sensed as smoke by the detectors.

Retail therapy is a solution for all. And the male who came with us was warned :p

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