It involves tuna, raw eggs and copious amounts of toilet roll.
I moved in with a lovely bright and bubbly Italian family who greeted me with arms full of gifts and enough food to feed the entire student population of Derby, they showed me around their apartment, showing me the enormous plasma they had hanging in the living room and all the games consoles I was welcome to use, showing me the balcony with an enormous jacuzzi tub and the grand bathroom which looked like it had been stolen from the Ritz. It was all wonderful- and then they told me I wasn't living there.
They lugged my suitcase out of the apartment, down eight flights of stairs and unlocked the door to the grandparent's flat. They pushed open the first door on the left and my suitcase was thrown into a dank room with a single slightly damp mattress lying in the corner- this would be my bedroom for the next week. Mosquitoes buzzed around my head and the humidity made me sick. I wasn't allowed to put the air-conditioning on though, they were worried I might catch a cold. I was told that there was a bathroom down the hall but under no circumstances should I use it. If I needed to use the bathroom I was to traverse the eight flights of stairs, knock, and politely ask if it was okay to use their bathroom. I nodded along and acted like this wasn't a problem, which d'uh, it definitely was.
That evening when they prepared me a cold soup made of tuna and raw eggs I didn't think things could get much worse. With every swallow my stomach turned and I had to fight my gag reflex to maintain the placid smile spread across my face, then, when nobody was looking I tipped the tuna-egg slosh into the bin and excused myself for bed.
All was well until 3am came around and my stomach was violently churning- I had to get to the bathroom and quickly. It had occurred to me that I could probably dash upstairs, bang on the door, wake everybody up, and politely ask if I could use the bathroom but that seemed somehow... impolite. So, with first impressions in mind, I did my best ninja impression and slowly crept down the hallway to the forbidden bathroom. I slowly opened the creaking door and closed it silently behind me.
As I sat there in the forbidden bathroom, thinking about the tuna and raw eggs that had made me so horrifically ill I managed to get through a whole roll of toilet roll before I pulled on the chain to flush.
There was no flush.
There was a loud noise that sounded like a broken car engine trying to start. I stood up in a panic and tried again. Still there was no flush and an even louder sound boomed out from the toilet. As I tried a third time, willing the toilet to be quiet and to flush just this one time, there was a bang on the door and an elderly woman yelling something in Italian. I tried flushing again and she only banged harder. I quickly tossed sheet after sheet of toilet paper into the basin and casually answered the door.
"Hi," I said with the most sweet and innocent smile I could muster. She had no desire to make casual small talk, she pushed me aside and marched her way over to the toilet, yelling and making wild hand gestures.
"Mamma Mia!" she yelled and ran out of the bathroom to go and wake her husband. Things could not get possibly worse. I sat there for a whole hour while they tried to fix the toilet and finally there was a triumphant flushing sound and all was well again...
It was the most excruciatingly painful and embarrassing moment of my entire life, yet it seems to be a sort of right of passage to break a toilet whilst travelling across Italy, just ask Laura.