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Tuesday, 13 October 2009


Last Saturday we had three new bedroom carpets to be fitted.

We start the day by empting our master bedroom into the bathroom next door (not quite en-suite but nearly), everything except the bedframe, and then ripping up the old carpet. To my knowledge it's been down 16 years, but might not have been new when I moved in. With the aid of a Stanley knife we cut the old carpet into small sections and carry them out to the back yard, with bits of perished rubber backing dusting our footprints. Then we screw down a couple of creaky floorboards, and soon the fitters arrive.

They chug the new underlay and carpets upstairs (no mean task with our cramped Victorian staircase) and start with the hammering and cutting. All goes well for a while, then the lead fitter Sam calls us to say we have to remove the bedroom door as the new underlay won't fit underneath. No biggie, two minutes with a screwdriver and we add that door to the bathroom exiles, and also remove another door upstairs for the same purpose.

All goes well for a while, then we hear a cry from the back room "I can hear something under the floorboards". Wife and I glance at each other in consternation, then fight our way upstairs, wondering if it's a mouse, a cat, or worse.

By one of those 1-in-1000 chances, an old flooring nail has gone through a central heating pipe, and we have a delightful new fountain gracing our back bedroom. In fact the quick thinking fitter has got the old board up and his thumb sealing the hole like the boy with the dyke. It's not the fitter's fault, it's a very old nail that was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Curses.

I take over thumb duties to free up the fitter to continue work elsewhere, while wife runs to the DIY shop round the corner to get something to seal the hole. They send her back with two-part putty, but we didn't think we could get it to stick. By this time I'm shaking with the effort of sealing the hole (turning off the mains water didn't stop the fountain) so wife takes over hole-minding duties, while I run back and get some wet-seal tape and a jubilee clip.

Back with the tape, we do a proper cowboy job and wrap a yard or two of tape round the pinprick hole, but it still leaks. Then we discover the tape has a backing strip, so we rip that off and try again. Eventually we bandage the pipe enough that there's no dripping, and look at each other folornly. OK, no need now for an emergency plumber we think, we'll get it sorted on Monday.

The carpet fitters are done with two rooms, and offer to come back to finish this one when we've got the leak sorted. They head off to their van, then come back sheepishly and explain thay their battery is flat because they left the radio and the hazard lights on. Wife, self and #2 fitter give the van a push start, and happily the engine catches and they're away.

Back in the house, we congratulate ourselves on having two bedrooms with carpets, and we put the master bedroom back to rights and clear some of the downstairs area by moving things into the top front bedroom.

House more or less restored, we continue with our weekend chores, but alas an hour or two later, checking on the punctured pipe my wife discovers it's dripping again. Curses. Maybe I shouldn't have put on a load of clothes washing and turned the heating back on.

More tape, fresh towels, mugs and sponges to catch the drips, wife camps out happily to babysit the pipe while I surf the net for a 24 hour plumber. It's now about 6pm on a Saturday, prime costs time.

First plumber takes my details, then says they can't call until tomorrow. Not very helpful. Second plumber answers the phone in an indistinct way, sounds like he doesn't know a compression joint from a compression fracture, so I hang up. Third plumber, this is better, he sounds professional and gives me his prices (£150 an hour including taxes) but can't be here for a couple of hours. OK, that's as good as we can hope for. Back to wife to break the news, she's happy to babysit the pipe for two hours, and I bring her a book, cushions and some snacks.

I should mention at this point that I was suffering from a cold, and it was getting steadily worse as the day progressed. Wife had it the previous weekend, so now it was my turn. I'm exhausted, feverish and shaky, so I get to sit downstairs and watch TV while wife sits in a bare room watching a pipe under the floorboards. What a gem I married.

Around 8:00pm the plumbers call to say they're on their way, and at 8:20 they arrive. They quickly drain down the central heating system.

<<< Aside : In most UK homes a boiler heats water which then circulates through the house via a sealed loop of pipes and radiators. The water in the system requires occasional topping up, and the radiators need occasional bleeding to release trapped wind. The radiators aren't very efficient at warming the air passing near them as you can imagine, and as the hot air rises to the ceiling first, it can take a long time to get a room warm. I prefer the US system of heating the air directly and pumping that into the rooms via a floor level vent. >>>

With the system drained they quickly cut out the damaged pipe section and put in a new piece, refill the central heating system, and bleeed the radiators. By 9:30 everythign is done, we pay them, and they head off. Nice guys, we'd use them again, but hope we never have to.

Now we have a fixed pipe, but a manky old Victorian floorboard split lengthways to cover it up. We resolve to buy a new plank the next day, tidy up what we can, and I head to bed with a fever of 101.5 F.

The next day my fever has dropped to a mere 99.5 F, so we do our familial duties and have lunch with my parents, then pick up a new floorboard on the way home. The floorboard isn't quite the same width as the old one, but it doesn't matter too much, there are other gaps and once the underlay is down you can't tell.

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