On the nose

10th July 2015 at 01:00

It is Sunday morning and we should be on our way to Whitby for the day. Instead, we have been held up by an unpleasant odour emanating from what used to be the garage until my wife decided we were more in need of a utility room. We noticed it about a week ago and it has been getting progressively worse since. Now it stinks to high heaven and there is no way we can go anywhere until it's been dealt with.

Like a pair of sniffer dogs on a drugs bust, we carry out a detailed search of the crime scene. My wife, who has a very acute sense of smell, heads the investigation. A severe nasal infection 15 years ago left me with an olfactory system that is about as efficient as a 1975 Trabant. The fact that I'm forced to hold a handkerchief to my mouth and make gagging noises indicates just how bad the stench is.

Sometimes I miss having a keen sense of smell, especially at this time of year when an old man's thoughts turn to a day out at the coast. There is nothing quite like breathing in ozone-rich sea air perfumed with the scent of shellfish, hot dogs, waffles, candyfloss and fish and chips from the Magpie Cafe. To me, these are the smells of summer.

They should not be confused with the smells of the summer classroom, which are something entirely different. "Who do these bags of PE kit - which have been festering in the cloakroom since last September - belong to?" I sniff one and pretend to choke. "If their owners don't take them to be washed soon, the contents will climb out and go home by themselves."

"If they stink they must be Seth's," cries Nathan. He points to the child sitting alone by an open window, waiting for Mrs Cheery. A few laughs break cover and loiter with intent until my fiercest gaze sends them crawling underground again. Nathan shrugs, apologises and goes back to testing the flexibility of his ruler.

There are other malodorous children in our classroom, but on hot days we grow accustomed to the smell of neglect. It's Seth's determination not to use our school toilets that makes him stand out from the rest. "A hot shower, a clean set of clothes and a bit of TLC will soon fix things," whispers Mrs Cheery as she leads him down the corridor.

"It's coming from behind the freezer," says my wife. "You're going to have to pull it out and look." A mental image takes up squatter's rights in my brain and refuses to budge. It is of a partially decomposed rat crawling with maggots. By some miracle, the creature is still alive and is poised to spring.

I am relieved to find nothing more than the putrefying remains of an escaped cod fillet. My wife is less relieved. Suddenly she is overcome by the idea that squalor lurks behind every domestic appliance. "Forget Whitby," she says. "We're going to give this utility room a thorough clean instead; I've never seen anything in such a sorry state."

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield

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