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The great National Geographic bathwater disaster

This post by Matt reminded me of the worst book (magazines actually, but they are as precious to me an any of my books) disaster ever to befall chez Bibliophile.

I was living in the first apartment that I owned, a large one-bedroom place with a huge south-facing balcony and a stunning view of Skagafjörður. My apartment was on the first floor of a three-storey apartment building and one Sunday morning my upstairs neighbour decided to take a bath. As people will do, she left the tap running and went to do something else while the tub filled. The water must have been running pretty fast, because the bathtub overflow drain couldn’t handle the flow, and the water filled the tub and flowed over the side and continued to do so for some time while my neighbour was busy elsewhere in the apartment.

The first anyone knew about the accident was when water started dribbling, flowing, and finally gushing, through the outlet in my ceiling where the hall light was connected to the electricity supply, which by some miracle didn't short out. Then it started raining down through the top of the bedroom door-frame. By this time I had alerted my neighbour, who quickly turned off the water, but the damage was done.

I mopped up several litres of water from the floor and gave a silent prayer directed at any passing deity that the ceiling paint wouldn’t develop water blisters and the water wouldn’t get under the parquet.

As I was finishing the mop-up, I got an evil suspicion and went to check the built-in wardrobe in my bedroom. Yep, water was coming in from the top – as far away from the upstairs bathroom as possible, and into the southern end of the wardrobe where I was storing 10 years worth of National Geographics. Cue lots of swearing and a panicked retrieval of the damp magazines. Fortunately I had been storing some old clothes up there as well, and most of the water had been absorbed by those, but water had got into about 30 issues of the glossy magazines. As anyone knows who has had to deal with this kind of disaster, glossy paper is the worst for getting wet, because the substance used to coat the paper and make it so smooth and glossy turns gluey when wet. It is therefore imperative to separate all the pages before they dry together into a fused lump.

I went to work with bath towels, dish-rags, paper towels and a hair-dryer. First I spread out all the damp magazines on the towels, and then leafed through each of them, drying off the surface moisture from between the pages, and going to work on each individual magazine with the hair-dryer, until they were dry enough for the pages not to stick together. Then it was just a matter of letting them air-dry completely. I got out more dry towels and spent the rest of that Sunday turning the pages every 30 minutes or so, to let them dry evenly. I still ended up with buckled and wrinkly pages, but these have smoothed out somewhat over time, through being stuffed tightly into bookcases. Amazingly, there were a hardly any pages that stuck together.

In retrospect I should have just dumped the whole pile in the trash and had my neighbour’s insurance pay for the damages, but it didn’t even occur to me at the time. As it was, I was just glad it didn’t happen on one of my frequent weekends away from home, because the magazines would have been unsalvageable by the time I got back.

If this happened to me today, I would use this method.


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