I Lick My Cheese and Other Notes

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I Lick My Cheese and Other Notes: From the Frontline of Flatsharing, Oonagh O'Hagan, book reviewWe Brits are famously bad at confronting people and notorious for pussy-footing around a problem rather than coming straight to the point and telling people they’re annoying us. For many people the idea of looking someone in the eye and telling them “Your behaviour is unacceptable” is about as likely as wrapping themselves in bacon and wrestling with a lion. But resentments build up, tempers get frayed and then your average Brit does something drastic – gets out the Post-it note and leaves a strongly worded reprimand. And if you’re looking for something that’s guaranteed to wind up the most mild-mannered of passive Brit, then look no further than flat sharing. As the author tells us “It’s not for the fainthearted”.

I was a student for a very long time – eight years in total. I wasn’t thick, I just got a lot of qualifications and along the way I lived with some mostly very nice but occasionally really irritating people. OK, let’s be more direct – MEN. Did I ever resort to the post it note? Probably not but only because they were expensive. The odd back of an envelope got scrawled on – let’s be honest, we’ve almost all done it. With quite so many years of living with people I wouldn’t have entirely have chosen to be around, I was a sucker for a book like “I Lick My Cheese” by Oonagh O’Hagan, a woman who’s been collecting notes that illustrate the pitfalls of communal living.

In just under 250 pages and with a total of 120 facsimiles of the ‘notes’ she’s collected, some of them clearly balled up and binned then rescued and photographed, O’Hagan offers a fast track to the dark underbelly of life with people you thought you liked but can no longer bear. “I hate you more than life itself” was one of my favourites – succinctly cutting to the nub of the matter without any need to dress up the problem. Some of the notes are funny, some sad, and rather a lot suggesting a need for psychiatric help. A few are friendly, many apologetic but most of them offer cautionary tales about confrontation.

The notes are split into four chapters grouped by the rooms they refer to. “I pay the rent, what do you do?” offers notes from the Living Room. “You stink like a big fat stinker” has notes from the bathroom. “I lick my cheese” has scary food and kitchen related threats, whilst “Why is my bed damp” refers to bedroom (and relationship) stuff. Personally I loved the kitchen ones – anyone who’s ever shared with someone who puts their name on their food or leaves baked beans under cling film until they grow fur will know what I mean.

“…Oonagh O’Hagan alerts us to things we might have done or been tempted to do.”

Some of the notes are self explanatory – “Whatever you do, NEVER let the bailiffs in” is pretty clear. Others need pages of explanation – “Stop butt flicking in my garden” is a classic that’s all the more scary when written in capitals. I actually thought it said something much more scary than ‘flicking’ and was relieved that it related to people chucking their cigarette end into their neighbour’s garden. Some are extremely obtuse such as “You know that I know that you know that I know you took it” (Life is surely too short to work out something like that)

It’s not only dealing with your flat mates that stinks – their friends and family can be a challenge too. One note is written on a packet of stamps and tells the recipient “Here’s a stamp. Write to you your mum, she keeps calling”. Then there’s the thorny issue of people’s brothers/cousins/best friends moving into the living room and annexing the couch or – even worse – moving the boyfriend in without consulting the other inhabitants. “Your brother is really lovely but how long is he going to be staying in our living room” asks one frustrated flat mate very politely.

Some note writers resort to poetry, others to artistic drawing (explaining how to use the toilet in graphic detail). Some even get religious or sacrilegious, pointing out their lack of interest in being converted.

The secret to a happy marriage is almost certainly separate bathrooms. The quick route to flat share trauma is the shared bathroom and differing ideas about the importance of hygiene. One writer berates their flat mate for their weak bladder that leads to lots of flushing and ask for only number twos to be flushed so they don’t wake her up. Another points out that their flat mates should be able to tell the difference between the ashtray and the bath – apparently by the difference in their size. Just think of finding butts in the bath (as well as the neighbour’s garden).

Division of chores is always a fertile battleground for flatmates. Someone will always martyr themselves for the moral high ground, generally failing to notice that nobody’s giving them any competition for that position. “The washing-up you didn’t do is in your bed” writes one frustrated domestic goddess. Personally I think a few years of filth in your student days probably prepares you for any germs that later life might every throw at you – a sort of inoculation on a par with mums taking their kids round to other people’s houses to get them to catch measles or mumps

Some of the note writers are geniuses. “I can’t believe there’s no butter” and “Has anyone seen the kitchen?” both had me in stitches. My husband got really really fed up with me reading this book. “Listen to this one ………..and this one……….and this one”. It’s a wonder I didn’t find him sitting on the sofa with a Post It on his forehead saying “Don’t mistake me for someone who’s actually interested”

I picked up my hardback copy – complete with its title on a post it note on the cover – in a charity shop for £1.50. It’s not a book I’d want to read more than once, other than to dip in now and then and bore those around me with a few choice quips but I’d strongly recommend it as a gift for anyone embarking on their first flat share. By holding a mirror up to our less attractive habits – both the ones that have been criticised and the habit of writing notes – Oonagh O’Hagan alerts us to things we might have done or been tempted to do. Perhaps after reading this, the next time you feel the urge to leave a note on a colleague’s coffee cup that’s growing penicillin or to put an old envelope through your neighbour’s door to thank him for letting his cat use your flower bed as a toilet, a quick recollection of what you thought of the writers of the notes in ‘I Lick My Cheese’ might just stop you making a complete fool of yourself.

Finally I’d like to leave you with my personal favourite Post It which I found stuck to the bathroom wall of the house where one of my friends lived with a bunch of filthy rugby players. It was left by a girl what one of the boys had brought home and said simply “ A few words of advice Kevin, Twenty minutes of begging does NOT constitute foreplay”.

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I Lick My Cheese and Other Notes: From the Frontline of Flatsharing
by Oonagh O'Hagan

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Written by koshkha

Koshkha has a busy international job that gives her lots of time sitting on planes and in hotel rooms reading books. Despite averaging about 3 books a week, she probably has enough on her ‘to be read’ shelves to keep her going for a good few years and that still doesn’t stop her scouring the second hand books shops and boot-fairs of the land for more. At weekends she lives with her very lovely husband and three cats, but during the week she lives alone like a mad spinster aunt. She will read just about anything about or set in India, despises chick-lit, doesn’t ‘get’ sci fi and vampire ‘stuff’ and has just ordered a Kindle despite swearing blind that she never would.

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