The tell-tale sign of a leaking shower. Or possibly a murder took place there.
People who know me know that when I'm not griping about the weather, I'm complaining about the plumbing. And right now, the weather is gorgeous, and my plumbing, well, my plumbing is in disarray.
It started in February, right after we returned from Italy and noticed a stain on the living room ceiling that could only mean one thing: the shower was leaking again. The three showers in this house have continually leaked, one after another, for various reasons. The living room ceiling has been patched twice after it was cut through to get to the drain from below.
I told the estate agent, Frost, who handles the property for the landlord. (Our old property manager had just retired, leaving two new employees in the office, who clearly weren't on top of their game.) And then I waited for a plumber to call. Meanwhile, the downstairs toilet stopped up. The toilet had been installed last January, and had never worked properly. I called again, waited some more, and finally someone was sent to look at both.
I didn't hear anything for a couple of weeks, so I called the property manager, using my American voice (Angry New Yorker version), to find out when the shower and toilet would be fixed. I was told a new toilet needed to be put in and a drain specialist was required to look at the shower. But meanwhile they needed approval from the landlord.
Again, I waited, and finally called after a week or two to see what was up.
"Someone was supposed to call you," I was told, "to set up appointments to fix everything." Once again, a plumber was called out to "look at" the problem. By now it's April, and the water softener has started to leak.
Another plumber (Number Two, we'll call him) came, poked around, and left. I have yet to hear anything from him. Then the drain specialist (aka Number Three) came to look at the shower. But now I've diagnosed the problem myself: the shower tray has a ten inch crack in it. Apparently this escaped the notice of the other two plumbers.
Number Three agreed with me, but had no idea how to go about fixing it. But when I casually mentioned the stopped up toilet, he offered to take a look inside the manhole in the front garden. (This is Britain, where you certainly may have a manhole or three in your garden. Don't ask me why, I only live here, and occasionally comment on the plumbing.)
He popped it open, after first erecting a safety barrier, and discovered it was filled with muck. He flushed it out with the garden hose, and my toilet, which had been inoperable for weeks, suddenly worked again. Apparently neither of the plumbers who'd been by before had thought to look in there.
Score one point for Number Three.
A few more weeks pass as the shower tray crack is pondered. And pondered. Blogs are consulted. Landlords are presented with proposals. (They were happy to pay for a completely new bathroom, if needs must, it turned out.) Then, I called Frost again in frustration, wondering why I still couldn't use my shower and the water softener was still leaking. (By now, my Angry American voice was off the charts.)
That's when the Plumbing Gods really decided to stick it to me. When I went to wipe down the bathroom, in anticipation of Number Three coming to look again at the shower, what did I discover but another leak, this time from the toilet, which was already cracked in exactly the same way the downstairs toilet had been previously. Water was pooling on the floor, water that was soon mixed with my tears as I wiped it up, knowing I would have to call the property manager again.
(I realized this is getting to be a very long story, and we've still got another couple of weeks and two more plumbers to go. Go ahead and get yourself a cup of tea and a hanky. You'll need it.)
Number Three, the drain specialist, returns for another look at what must be the most befuddling plumbing problem in Buckinghamshire, and then I get another call from Frost: they're sending someone else, this time a decorator named Number Four. (For you Yanks, a "decorator" in BritSpeak is someone who paints, wallpapers, and puts in tile. They usually show up in paint spattered coveralls.) The decorator came by, I showed him all my broken plumbing things, and he promised he'd do something. Anything. He seemed like a real can-do chap, plus he made funny jokes. And then while he was inspecting the living room ceiling he saw a copy of my book What Am I Doing Here, in which I complain a lot about weather and other oddities of British life, such as the deplorable plumbing.
He seemed impressed that I'd written a book, so I gave him a copy. Partly this was a bribe, since I am not above bribing repairmen at this stage, and partly, I figured it was a good idea if he knew I'd write scathingly about him if he didn't fix my shower.
Because I am not above threats either.
But then my tale took a rather dramatic turn.
That night Number Three called, wondering why he'd been cut out of the job. I played dumb; I'm really good at that. Then he asked where my husband worked, and if my dog bites*. I was frightened enough to tell everyone on Facebook just in case I turned up dead. And to give my friends who write murder mysteries a new plot idea: In the shower, with a wrench, by the plumber.
Since then I've had almost daily phone calls and visits from Funny Number Four, who's been trying to arrange for someone to come install a new toilet, or possibly he's just attempting to cheer me up. Thursday I waited all afternoon, but the promised plumber (who'd have been known then as Number Five) never showed up.
But Saturday, I was assured, was the day! I had tea and biscuits ready. And once again, I was stood up. Apparently that guy lives three miles away and it's too far to drive. I am not making this up, that's what he said. (Note to UKIP: An influx of Bulgarian plumbers is just what this country needs.)
Later, I heard a loud truck outside, which set off my vicious dog, of course. It was Number Four, the decorator. He wanted to leave the new toilet he'd bought in my garage, which is where it is now. But he had some good news: He'd contacted the plumber I'd been asking for all along, the one who replaced my boiler last year. Number Five, as he'll now be known affectionately, was on holiday, but promised to be here on Tuesday at 4 pm to fix my toilet.
I think I'm going to lock him in there and have him fix the shower while he's in captivity.
Meanwhile, someone is coming in the morning to turn off the water softener, since apparently no one wants to actually fix it. Fine with me; they're not my pipes.
To recap, this catastrophic plumbing failure started in mid-February with a leaking shower, progressed shortly thereafter with a stopped up toilet, then a broken water softener, then another cracked toilet. I'm still waiting for three of those four to be fixed. The biscuits are no longer on offer.
But the good news is, I now have a title for my next book. It will be called The Ins and Outs of British Plumbing: An American Perspective.
A friend also suggested I call it "Toilet In Vain," seeking to find the humor in the situation. Honestly, I wish I could laugh at all this. But it seems my sense of humor has sprung a leak. Maybe it's hard to be funny when you can't remember which of your toilets works and the sound of dripping water sends a cold shiver of fear down your spine.
Not to mention possibly homicidal drain specialists.
*Note that, in the interest of brevity, I may have conflated one or two characters and combined their comments. But if anyone asks, yes, my dog DOES bite. I'll make sure of it.