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Investigative Journalism

We Figured Out What the Smell in Our Office Is and Are No Longer Taking Internship Applications

Just the worst ever smell.

by Joel Golby
05 July 2017, 3:54am

(Foto via 'It's Always Sunny / FXX)

So for a while now there has been this looming smell in the VICE UK office, over the editorial desk. Office smells, especially in summer and early summer climates, are a hard subject to broach with your colleagues, because initially when you notice the smell a small part of you suspects it might be you, or related to something you did.

So maybe your breath is now just so bad doctors need to rebuild your mouth and throat from the inside out. Maybe you stepped in a whole mess of dog shit on the way in today and did not notice it until the smell started wafting up. Maybe your personal hygiene has just decayed to such an extent that you smell like a dog died a long time ago in a cold bath, that sort of thing. I don't know! But it's a very human reaction, I think, to take one go on a smell and slightly suspect it might be emanating from you.

We figured after it had been running for a few days that it wasn't any of us.

THE SMELL

So anyway, this smell. I am going to try and describe to you the smell: have you ever smelled a dead rat that has bloated and decayed behind a radiator? Cat owners are normally quite familiar with this smell: cats, bless them, are very good at catching rats and bringing them to the house but not actually killing them, just mortally wounding them, and the rat manages to sprint away from the cat – cats, bless them, are very, very dumb, and easily tricked by rats – and then goes and dies and bloats behind a radiator, and that death/bloating combination smells really, really bad. Okay? So the smell was worse than that.

Or: have you ever just smelled sort of stale water? I once worked in an office with another smell – not as bad as this smell, nowhere near as bad as this smell – and when we finally identified what it was we traced it back to a water-based air conditioning unit, where the unit had to be refilled with a tray of water each day, then a slowly roving sponge wheel would pick the water up and, while rotating, cool it by blowing air thru it, which would humidify the room; only, the sponge wheel was now ancient, and so while it did function to humidify the room it also worked as a sort of enormous machine created only to produce the smell of vomit – like someone vomited in a tray of water and left that to just sort of settle in a room, and that smell just spread and then settled. Someone in the office once described the smell as being very "raw", and that has stuck with me ever since: like a plughole, full of old wet pieces of sliced carrots and other vegetable debris, little globs of bread, peas, detritus. Raw. Okay? So the smell was worse than that.

If I were to say "the smell smelled like shit", I would be correct. But if I were to say "the smell smelled like dead bodies or a carcass", I would also be correct. It was a very odd, particular smell. A very odd bad smell.

THE IMPACT OF THE SMELL

Here are some assorted Slack™ messages sent about the smell in the last month or so of smell, just to give you an idea of the smell, and the disruption to our lives wrought by the smell:

The first noticing of the smell (dated June 2)
("The smell" already has a name; first attempts to describe it)
(Blame is assigned to the pipe)
(The smell returns. A note about the smell: it did seem to get worse at times when the air conditioner was really flying, with the overriding theory being the agitated air and circulation caused more smell particles to circulate and spread. This was one of those times.)
(Staff members switch seats to avoid the smell; speculate the smell may be an interior conspiracy)
(The final stage of grief is acceptance)

We have wasted a lot of our Office Manager's time with the smell, because for a long while we thought the smell was coming from the air con unit above our desk, and sent lots of complaining emails pertaining to that fact, which she duly investigated. I mean, at one point this involved tracing the whole air-con system out back to where it exits through a vent in the building, and talking to the builders on a nearby building site that happen to be working there, asking them sincerely if their work could possibly be causing a sort of shit-cum-corpse smell to waft up through the system onto our desk, where we could smell it. They said no. A lot of time has been spent on this smell. A lot of resources have gone into this smell.

Reader: today we identified the source of the smell.

It was a three-month-old bag of chicken slices left to rot under an intern's desk.

WHAT IN THE FUCK

Annie was our intern for a three-month period from March until the start of June – a truly fantastic intern who did A+ transcription, was a delightfully cheery presence in an office full of long-soured media types and had a real eye for a metaphor. She's currently looking for work and you would do well to hire her.

BUT COULD ANNIE HAVE LEFT THE CHICKEN UNDER THE DESK DELIBERATELY, THE SAME WAY YOU MIGHT PUT FROZEN PRAWNS INSIDE A CURTAIN RAIL WHEN YOU MOVE OUT OF A HOUSE WHERE YOU PARTICULARLY DESPISED THE LANDLORD, THE SLOW ROTTING SMELL BEING ALMOST IMPOSSIBLE TO EVER IDENTIFY, TO THE LANDLORD, WHO WILL BE DRIVEN INSANE BY THIS PRANK AND POSSIBLY SELL THE HOME AT BELOW MARKET RATE, MARKET RATE OF COURSE BEING A FAKE IDEA

No, because Annie's not like that.

THEN HOW HAVE YOU COME TO THIS CONCLUSION

In April a new Veggie Pret opened around the corner from our office and Annie went down to offer chicken slices to the people queuing up outside there as they stood and hankered for vegetables. It was a fun and lighthearted photo-led piece that many online vegetarians and vegans took an enormous amount of offence to. To those vegans and vegetarians, I say: karma, through the medium of smell, has well and truly served us back for this one. Annie interviewed various members of the queue about vegetables. You can read the piece here.

AND HERE IS A PHOTO OF HER LITERALLY HOLDING THE CHICKEN SLICES WE DISCOVERED TODAY, A PHOTO THAT WAS TAKEN ON APRIL THE 4TH, 2017, THREE MONTHS EXACTLY BEFORE WE DISCOVERED THEM, WRAPPED IN TWO PROMOTIONAL VEGGIE PRET TOTE BAGS AND STUCK WITH SOME INDEFINED CHICKEN JUICE GLUE TO A CARDBOARD TOKEN OFFERING US A FREE HOT DRINK AT THE VEGGIE PRET OF OUR CHOICE:

HERE IS A PHOTO OF ME GETTING THE CHICKEN OUT OF A BIN WHERE VICE STAFF WRITER JOE BISH HAD PUT IT THIS MORNING WHEN HE DISCOVERED THE CHICKEN SLICES AND WE ALL DECIDED WE HAD TO GET PHOTOS OF THIS FOR POSTERITY

HERE ARE WHAT THE CHICKEN SLICES NOW LOOK LIKE: SORT OF LIKE CHICKEN SLICES, YES, BUT ALSO SORT OF MELTED, IN A WAY I FIND VERY UNPLEASANT TO BEHOLD INDEED

HERE IS A PHOTO OF THE SELL-BY DATE OF THE AFOREMENTIONED BAD CHICKEN WHICH THE EAGLE-EYED AMONGST YOU WILL NOTE WAS 82 DAYS AGO

HERE IS A GOO PIC, JUST TO GIVE YOU AN IDEA OF THE GOO

HERE IS A SCREENSHOT OF VICE EDITOR HANNAH EWENS, WHO MOST ACCURATELY DESCRIBED THE EXACT SCENT AND INDEED TEXTURE OF THE SMELL DURING OUR MANY ATTEMPTS TO DESCRIBE THE SMELL

HERE IS A TRANSCRIPT OF A CONVERSATION WE HAD WITH DAVID GRAY AT THE FOOD STANDARDS AGENCY, AFTER WE CALLED HIM TO ASK THE POSSIBLE HEALTH BENEFITS/HEALTH REPERCUSSIONS OF INHALING ANCIENT ROAST CHICKEN SLICE PARTICLES FOR AN EXTENDED PERIOD OF TIME

VICE: Hi, is this David Gray?
David Gray: Speaking, yes.

I was wondering how dangerous it is to have three-month-old chicken under a desk.
In what sense?

Well, it's that sliced, pre-cooked chicken from supermarkets, and it's been in a tote bag under our desk for three months. What would happen if someone ate it?
Well, I couldn't say for sure what would happen as I'd have to test it for bacteria and what was actually in it first. But I certainly wouldn't advise eating it.

Would it make someone violently ill?
Well, these types of products have a sell-by date, and if they're kept out of a controlled temperature for that long then it would be dangerous – but again, I can't say exactly what would happen if someone ate it without testing it first.

Okay. What about inhaling the meat fumes every day for three months?
Well, if anybody is feeling ill or has been feeling ill it wouldn't hurt to go and seek some medical advice, but I think on the whole if you're all feeling OK I wouldn't worry too much.

Do you deal with cases of meat inhalation a lot?
No, not really. I think mostly just questions about sell-by dates and so on. But you should be fine; I wouldn't worry too much.

Okay. Thank you, David.

HERE IS A CONTRITE AND SINCERE APOLOGY MESSAGE FROM ANNIE, WHO KNOWS THE SMELL WELL BECAUSE SHE ALSO HAD TO DEAL WITH THE SMELL

"I can't believe the chicken smell was me the whole time. I apologise to everyone at the desk that had to continually breathe in that wafting fart/bin smell and to the people who put great efforts into trying to diagnose it when it was literally under my feet. I wish I could take back what I did, coming into the office and dumping my shit everywhere without checking if there was processed chicken slices that would disintegrate if not disposed of."

HERE IS ME PUTTING THE CHICKEN SLICES BACK IN THE HELL BIN IN WHICH THEY BELONG

THIS IS THE END OF THE ARTICLE AND THE INTERNSHIP PROGRAMME AS WE KNOW IT

@joelgolby

Tagged:
interns
Smells
The Smell
smell
chicken slices