My hangover was what the great Kingsley Amis describes in his Everyday Drinking guide as a ‘metaphysical’ hangover. Apart from the usual feeling of being unwell, stealing over me was that ‘ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future’. Amis’s remedy was to read the final scene of ‘Paradise Lost’, Book XII, lines 606 to the end, ‘which is probably the most poignant moment in all our literature’. Otherwise he recommends battle poems, such as Chesterton’s ‘Lepanto’. But now the random selection of images and scenes recollected from the previous evening paused on a new and particularly horrific one. So before I searched for ‘Lepanto’, before rising even, I reached for the phone and typed in ‘how to clean vomit from the inside of a car’.
I am evidently not the first person to type this sentence into a search engine. I chose one of the many YouTube demonstration videos available. Tim Duke, a car valeter from Orem in Utah — cargo shorts, reversed baseball cap — was kneeling in the back of an SUV and briskly demonstrating his own method.
Tim was aged about 18 and seemed remarkably habituated to this gruesome task. Maybe it is not unusual for the inhabitants of Orem in Utah to vomit over the interiors of their monster SUVs. Or maybe young Tim was the valeting company’s designated vomit guy and trying to make the best of it. ‘Oi! Duke the Puke! Another SUV for you at the regurgitation station.’ But I rather thought that the commendable absence of disgust, both physical and moral, in his attitude to his job, was more likely due to an adolescent’s frenetic and dramatic love life making everything else appear insignificant; to the vomiting of himself and his friends whenever they could afford to buy enough alcohol; to his thankfulness to the Lord for the provision of a full-time job in these straitened times; and perhaps to his starring at such a tender age in a YouTube clip with 55,000 views.
Vomit on an SUV’s carpet was meat and drink to him. He did not say, as did other YouTube vomit-cleaning video stars: ‘Accidents happen.’ To Tim, emollient clichés such as this were otiose, the domain of those not living life to the full. His non-judgmental attitude was such a comfort that I suppressed an impulse to write him a fan letter.
Steeling myself, I rose, dressed, went outside to the garage and lifted the door. The car was inside and parked perfectly. But when I opened the driver’s door, I don’t know what was worse, the sight or the smell. There was vomit on the steering wheel, the handbrake, the gearstick, the speedometer. It was under the seat and in the side pocket and heater vents. There were flecks on the windscreen. (On the removable, disposable foot mat there was none at all.) The main constituent of the mess was BBC shepherd’s pie, which had taken me two-and-a- half hours to make and two minutes to eat. It was delicious. I assumed I’d seen the last of it and here it was back for an encore. The smell was a pungent combination of gin and sulphuric acid. I closed the door, went back to bed and carefully watched Tim Duke’s video again.
Tim recommended first a citrus-based degreaser to break down the bacteria. His product had a spray nozzle. ‘And you’re gonna wanna just squirt that in there like that,’ he said, giving it three or four blasts. Then he flourished a brush with a plastic handle, helpfully describing it as ‘an er…stiff bristle kinda nylon kinda, er… brush. You can git ’em at AutoZone.’ He set to work briskly with it. ‘And you kinda just work it in real nice, like that, kinda working it in, agitating it.’
Next, he gave the carpet a good squirt of enzyme cleaner, also available at AutoZone, and attacked the resulting mess with a towel and enough energy to sink a battleship. The harder he worked, the more articulate he became. ‘You buff it in real good with a nice white towel so you can see the bacteria coming up. See it. Right there? There’s the vomit right there. And you kinda do that. Agitation. Heat. Extraction. These are the three methods for removing stains and smells.’
Unfortunately, I hadn’t got a white towel, or a citrus-based degreaser or enzyme cleaner, and it was Sunday. Also the mess in my car was 100 times worse than Tim’s. So I decided to leave it until I felt a bit better. Meanwhile, I watched the clip several times more. It was posted in 2009, I noticed. I sincerely hope that Tim Duke has been promoted since then.