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Pipes and Plombiers
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Now, I know as much about plumbing as I do about the internal combustion engine but I couldn't see what all the fuss was about. Why didn't he just cut off the water supply to the house? Hot, cold or lukewarm, what did it matter? It was the water heater that didn't work, so why not just cut off the water, disconnect it and take it away?

Shelagh told me I was being too simplistic, and proceeded to explain that if there was cold water bleeding into the hot water pipes then we'd never get really hot water. There'd always be an amount of cold being fed into the system.

It sounded plausible - technical explanations always do, for a while - but was the price of really hot water worth a live-in plumber?

The next day dawned with two plumbers on our doorstep. Were they breeding in the wall cavities too?

Luckily not. Our plumber had decided to bring a friend. A local guru, renowned as a man who knew his pipes.

The two of them raced around the house, a blur of bright blue, switching taps on and off, deep in conversation one minute and chuckling the next.

At least someone could see the funny side.

The funniest by far being the cupboard behind the range. The friend couldn't keep away. He kept going back for another look, rummaging through the large pile of discarded copper and giggling.

But eventually they had to admit defeat. This was a pipe too far - even for a guru.

"Chop all the pipes off at ground level and start again," was his advice. Slightly on the drastic side, I thought. We'd only rung up to have a water heater looked at.

But I suppose that's the plumber's-eye view of the world - all pipes should be exposed, easy to maintain and well-labelled. Me, I see nothing wrong in hiding pipes. Or in the occasional scale model of the London Underground. It all adds to life's rich tapestry.

I turned the conversation back to the water heater. Wasn't it about time that someone looked at it?

With the water turned off at the mains, the gas heater was disconnected in five minutes. It then disappeared into the back of the van and with a raised beret, a smile and an elbow the two plumbers disappeared. No doubt with a new story to regale their grandchildren with.

I was left wondering how much it would all cost. Plumbers had a deserved reputation for being expensive and we'd had two and a half days worth. And that was before anyone touched the boiler. God knows what he'd find wrong with that?

Perhaps he'd give us a reduction for entertaining his friends?

It was then that a frightening thought occurred. Our vendor wouldn't have, would he? Surely not? People don't build their own gas-fired water heaters, do they?

I thought of the insert. I thought of the London Underground in copper. I thought of bleeding water taps. And worst of all, an exploding plumber visiting his workshop roof considerably quicker than anyone thought possible.

A day later our plumber called. He was alive and had fixed the boiler. A small piece of plastic valve had cracked and broken. He'd replaced it and was ready to put it all back again.

He still wasn't happy about leaving us with a system that bled cold water but was resigned to the fact that life wasn't fair and some things were meant to remain a mystery.

He was a philosophical plumber.

(next chapter: Animals Behaving Typically)