It started with a drip.
Or, to be slightly more precise, it started with a drip – drip – drip.
I didn’t pay too much attention to begin with because it was raining. It had, in fact, been raining steadily since morning and the gutters were overflowing – so drip – drip – drip wasn’t exactly a surprising sound to hear, in the circumstances. Plus, I was concentrating on Maggie’s accounts, which I’d brought home to work on in peace, undisturbed by the ditching work that was going on up at the farm.
It was only when I got up to make myself (yet another) mug of tea that I realized the dripping actually sounded as if it was inside the room. I stopped, mug in hand, and listened carefully.
drip – drip – drip …
It was definitely in the room with me.
drip – drip – drip …
I did that terrier thing with my head to try to locate the direction of the noise, then spotted the damp patch on the carpet, immediately in front of the fireplace.
I looked up. The ceiling was bulging downwards in a very disturbing manner, and on its lowest point, a drop of water was hanging, poised to fall. It fell. It splashed onto the damp carpet.
‘Oh. B*gger.’ The dogs, who had been asleep on the sofa, raised their heads, sensing adventure.
Dumping the mug, I rushed out into the kitchen, causing the Boy Dog and the Old Girl to hurtle off the sofa and start swirling helpfully around my feet, yapping excitedly.
They didn’t. On my hands and knees, I scrabbled under the sink for the stopcock. I was joined by two enthusiastic doggy heads, peering into the murk and dribbling on me.
‘Oh for feck’s sake, dogs!’ I elbowed them back. ‘Get out of the bloody way!’
The stopcock was in the most inconvenient place imaginable, tucked in a corner at an awkward angle, but I managed to get hold of it, chanting the Mantra of the Screw Fitting to myself: ‘Right is tight and left is loose’. It refused to budge. Old Lady Dog got her front feet in amongst the scouring pads and washing up liquid bottles for a better view.
I tried again. Nothing. Not so much as a wobble. I gave up.
Grabbing a mop bucket, screwdriver and step stool, I hurried back into the living room where the bulge was, if anything, growing in size and dripping slightly faster. I carefully positioned myself and the bucket under it, sent up a silent prayer and then poked a hole in the bulge with the screwdriver. Almost immediately, a stream of water shot down my sleeve and into my bra.
I stood there for a moment like a fool, cursing the universe, with water running down my arm, before deciding that having alleviated the immediate problem, I’d better go upstairs to find out what it was I’d left running.
Placing the bucket carefully under the still-trickling water, I plodded damply up the narrow staircase and went into my bedroom, which is directly over the living room. The little en suite shower room was the obvious candidate, but was in the wrong place, geographically speaking – being over on the other side of the room. In any case, there was nothing amiss in the en suite. All was quiet and dry.
Back downstairs, the Old Lady Dog had tipped the bucket over in her never-ending search for food and was standing dejectedly in the resultant puddle looking at me as if I’d just taken away her favourite toy. ‘I went to all that trouble,’ her face was saying, ‘and it only had dirty water in it.’
‘Oh for heaven’s sake, dog …’
I rang Maggie, got Alec, and explained the problem.
‘You need a plumber,’ he said, with startling perspicacity.
Resisting the temptation to say ‘No! Really?!’ – or something a lot more basic, invoking the hallowed name of Sherlock Holmes, I asked if he could recommend one.
‘Barry Boyle. Tell him you’ve got a bit of an emergency … He’s working down at the church today I think. I’ll give you his mobile number.’
Twenty minutes later, the said Barry Boyle, resplendent in a filthy grey tee shirt and jeans, was knocking the plaster off the ceiling in the living room watched by four pairs of eyes – mine, the Boy Dog’s, the Old Lady’s and Maggie’s. Maggie loves a good domestic crisis.
‘That’s plaster and lath,’ he announced as it cascaded soggily over him and onto the old shower curtain I’d put down in an attempt to rescue the carpet. ‘Oh hell. I HATE getting wet.’
‘But you’re a plumber …’
What a world of sorrow there was in those two words …
With the plaster and lath stripped away, we could see not a water pipe as we expected, but wooden boards glistening wetly in the light of his head torch. (The first question he’d asked was whether I’d turned the power off. When I answered in the negative, he gave me an old-fashioned look and despatched me to the kill the power before the power killed him.)
‘Oh bother,’ he said (only that’s not exactly what he said either). ‘It’s an effing double floor. And it’s still dripping … is the water off at the mains?’
I explained the problem with the stopcock.
‘I’ll do it!’ volunteered Maggie chirpily and vanished off into the kitchen. After a couple of minutes, some scrabbling sounds and few grunts, she was back. ‘It needs brute force, Barry.’
We trooped off into the kitchen – three humans and two dogs – where Barry discovered that he couldn’t shift it either, which made me feel slightly better.
Muttering the mystical words ‘stopcock key’, he disappeared out to his van and rematerialized moments later with a long handled gizmo that had a sort of clamp on one end and a t-bar at the other.
‘I hate using these,’ he said grimly.’Last time I used one, the whole bloody thing sheered off.’
I looked at Maggie in alarm. She just grinned. I’m sure she wanted the whole bloody thing to sheer off.
He attached the business end to the stopcock, closed his eyes and twisted. Something gave with an audible ‘THUNK’ and we all held our breath … but close inspection revealed that the sound was that of a stopcock being freed, not a stopcock being wrecked.
That done, we processed upstairs, the dogs bringing up the rear like a couple of bridesmaids.
Barry look at the spot in the floor where the leak should be, then looked at the en suite.
‘Sloping floor’ he said eventually. ‘But we’d best start where the leak seems to be and work backwards … I’m going to have to lift the floorboards’
I groaned inwardly at the thought of the rapidly mounting cost. ‘While you’re doing that, I’ll just go and ‘phone my insurers …’
By the time I got back, having been assured by the insurance company that as long as I took photos of everything, they’d pick up the tab for emergency repairs, Barry had the carpet rolled back, and one floorboard up and – miracle of miracles – had found the leak. If you could call it a leak. There was a water pipe running across the floor towards the en suite, and at one point, under a joint, the boards were saturated – but the leak was so tiny you had to watch it for a very long time to see the minute drop of water starting to form where one pipe joined the other.
‘That’s been leaking for a very,very long time,’ he announced, batting the Boy Dog back from the hole in the floor. ‘Decades probably.’
‘You mean, my bra is full of very, very old water?’
Two pairs of human eyes swivelled towards me.
‘Forget I said that.’
Well, at least my dogs think I’m wonderful.
Except for the Old Lady, of course. She just thinks I’m mean.