Wednesday 1 January 2020


I know you want to know if our plumbing woes got sorted on the Eve of Christmas Eve. The answer is yes. As Roy the Plumb had diagnosed with his remote Ouija Board, the internal acid corrosion had eaten through the copper sheathing of the electric immersion heater, shorted out the heating element within and then winkled its way through the metal parts and connexions until at last the water reached fresh air and started to dribble down the outside of the hot water cylinder . . . and thence to the kitchen ceiling. If the house was run with a bucket economy, as it had from 1941-1996, - shit in a bucket, wash in the rain-butt, only drink tea (against the coliforms in the spring) - then we'd never have had a litany of water woes over the last 20 years. Jaysus, at least once a year I've been up in the attic or out in the pump-house fixing the small-small t'ing that I am capable of fixing and/or calling out a succession of professionals who will really fix the problem for folding money. It's a thought; and there won't be any choice about the matter when The End of Days comes round to us all.

The Eve of Christmas Eve was providentially dry and warm, because I spend much of the afternoon running in and out from house to various sheds looking for step-ladders, inspection lamps, screw-drivers and many gauges of spanner. Eventually Roy the Plumb strode up the yard with his bucket of tools . . . and a new electric immersion heater. As t'bugger had talked long and hard about the stupidity of leaving immersion-heaters in water-tanks I was surprised to see one in his hand. But, he said metaphorically tapping his nose, this is INCOLOY, an excellent match with your stainless steel cylinder; last for ever. Having managed without an immersion for at least 10 years, it didn't seem worth €100 to install one. But at least it would plug the 8 cm ⌀ hole in the top of the water tank. But I tell ya, lads, getting the old corroded instrument out of its seating was a job of work! Oxidative corrosion makes holes, yes, but it also effectively welds parts together; especially where different metals have come together with heat and water to exchange electrons and make exotic chemical fusions.

First he applied his 86mm immersion heater spanner, then he tried mine. Then he tried striking the spanner-handle with his hammer: If I can just get it started. I couldn't bear the thought of his palms pushing with full strength against the edge of the spanner so I went outside a scavenged a 30cm section of rusted scaffolding pipe. That would a) be easier on the hands b) get a bit of extra torque . . . but it didn't work. Have you got a club-hammer? I had, two even, if I could ever remember where. baDONG baDONG but still no movement. Then he went to his van and came back with a gas blowtorch to heat things up . . . without setting fire to the tank insulation. Open the windows there, it will smell a bit. Then back to clanging with the hammer, then striking the accessible corners of the octagonal flange with a cold-chisel; then applying more whooomph heat. Me, all the while, trying to help by holding lights over his shoulder and scouting various sheds for tools that might help. With all the traffic up the stairs from outside, it was a real blessing that the ground was dry. Eventually, Roy asked for towels because the wretched immersion nut was just starting to move. More hot water more towels made it sound like a domicilary midwife-led delivery.

Because it never rains but it pours [metaphor! it wasn't really raining] it transpired that the stop-cock between the cold-water header tank and the hot-water cylinder was corroded to buggery and needed to be replaced. I asked if it would help if I put my thumb on the header-tank outflow to staunch the flow during a live stop-cock swap out. Have you got a cork? That fits nicely in a ¾ in pipe. I had, but it also meant that I needed the loft-ladder and an inspection lamp. And the trip-switch for the immersion heater was done for and that needed to be swapped out. Eventually the plumber departed with his bucket of tools and we could get back on track with rissoles, sausinges, roast potatoes and family.

Unexpected tools used by plumbers: club-hammer; cork; scaffolding pole; cold-chisel;  evolutionary biologist.

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