COLUMN: February 23, 2012

THE boiler chose last week, the week I was off work, to spring a leak, which meant I had to perform the task I hate most in the world. This is to engage the services of a tradesman.

My wife had taken the liberty of compiling a list of likely candidates, from the Yellow Pages. It was a surprisingly short list, but then the Yellow Pages isn’t what it used to be. One doesn’t need Geoff Capes any more to rip one in half. It is more the Yellow Page these days.

Eventually I got through to a plumber who wasn’t booked up for the next 36 months. He asked me where the leak was coming from, assuming a level of technical ability on my part which I have previously never exhibited.

“It’s the sort of underneathy switchy bit, where the tubey thing is,” I explained. I was fairly sure I wasn’t using the correct terminology, but I had a go.

“Hmm, I’ll come and have a look.”

“Oh!” I said. “And the toilet won’t flush properly.” This was also true. The act of flushing had deteriorated markedly over the previous week, moving from a state of the user needing to have the knack to flush, to one of the user having to trick the toilet into flushing. It was time to grasp the nettle. Or the dock leaf, given the circumstances.

“What’s wrong with it?” asked the plumber.

“Erm, It won’t flush properly.” I wasn’t sure how else I could phrase it. The plumber realised he was going to get little more enlightenment from me and rang off with the promise that he would visit later.

In turn, I put the phone down and sighed. What I had feared most had inevitably happened. I had appeared candyfloss-brained and pathetic to a tradesman. It was as if I had turned up at a garage with my car and said to the mechanic: “Brum-brum all broked. Please make it better,” which I more or less do whenever I take my car to be fixed.

But why should I be worried about this? Why should I be expected to know his job? If I knew how to do his job, I wouldn’t need him. In fact, his entire livelihood depends on people like me not knowing a washer from, I don’t know, another thing they use in plumbing.

And he doesn’t know the first thing about my job. If a desperate criminal held a gun to his head and told him to write 700 words about a minor inconvenience he had had that week, he wouldn’t know where to start. “I want whimsy,” the thug would demand, clubbing the plumber with the butt of his pistol.

“This is essentially a ‘what I did on my holidays’ piece, you basket.”

The plumber arrived later that day, as promised. I led him to the boiler, competently enough. “Yeah, it’s the tap,” he said. “Tap!” I thought. “That was the word I was looking for.”

“If you’d said it was the tap, I’d have brought a replacement,” he said, regarding me ruefully. “I’ll have a look at the flush now.”

I led him to the toilet. He lifted the cistern lid. “Hmm,” he said, “I’ll have to turn the water off. Where’s the stopcock?”

“Isn’t that it?” I said, and pointed at the orange ball thing.

“No, not the ballcock, the stopcock!”

“Ah,” I said. I led him to the special cupboard with the pipes in. I was starting to feel like Sherpa Plumbing.

He turned the water off, went upstairs again, came back, informed me he didn’t have the parts, turned the water back on and said he would return in a couple of days. Then he left. I think we were both relieved.

A cup of tea was definitely called for. I put the kettle under the tap and turned it on. Water exploded into my face, drenching my entire upper body. Had I known more about plumbing I’d have known about the effects of air bubbles in pipes. But at least I have no need to fear whimsy-crazed criminals, so I win.

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