Friday, March 25, 2011

"She's Like a Banana With a Headache!"

I don't understand plumbing. Never have and I don't suppose I ever will. Once, many years ago while I was working for a living, I was employed as a building labourer. One day I was working on some alterations to a bathroom and had been told to take a shower unit off the wall. First thing I thought to do was check that the shower was disconected from the mains (it was an electric shower) I also made sure it was disconnected from the water mains. Electrics first; - and this is where I went wrong - I went to the main fuseboard, made sure the fuse marked 'SHOWER' was pulled (and then put in my pocket so it couldn't be accidentally put back in again by someone else as soon as I left). I made sure that the fuse in my pocket was in fact the right fuse and not the fuse for something else like the upstairs lights that had been mislabelled. I went back to the bathroom and tried to switch the shower on. No light. And no water comes out of the shower when I turn it on. No power. Good. Next I checked that the water to the bathroom was off by turning on the taps in the sink next to the shower. A dry gurgle and nothing. Sure now that it was safe to proceed, I unscrewed the shower's casing, disconnected the wiring (making the ends secure and safe in an insulated lump of chockblock). I unscrewed the couple of chunky screws holding the unit on the wall; now all I had to do was disconnect the water. I found the inlet pipe (not a difficult task as it was the only thing attaching the shower unit to the house) and selected a suitable spanner. Tea break soon. Great. Two twists of the spanner later and I felt a lurch. Suddenly I had a shower unit in my hands and a solid jet of water shooting horizontally past my face out of the pipe I had just been working; a solid jet of water that reached across the room, bounced back from the opposite wall, and hit me squarely between the shoulder blades.

Within seconds I was soaked through and my clothing weighed twice as much as I did. I was also screaming for help. I had dropped the shower unit (on my toe) and was leaning forward, both hands pressed against the pipe end. The water pressure was high so I didn't staunch all the flow but I did cut it down a little. The water that was coming out was now shooting up the inside of my sleeves and down out of my trouser legs, but as I couldn't get any wetter than I already was it didn't make much difference to me. My boss arrived. He took one look through the door at this screaming animated fountain, said "Fuck!" very loudly, and dived through the hatch in the floor that led to the underfloor crawl space. Within seconds he located the stopcock he had missed the last time he'd been down there and he cut the supply.

(This did make me wonder how he had managed to miss the bugger last time, but what the hell, everyone makes mistakes.)

What I should have done before anything else, was tried the shower. It was the type of electric shower that had to be connected to the mains and switched on before even cold water would come out. Switch off the power and nothing comes through even though there is a terrific water pressure behind it. Why it was on a different supply from the rest of the bathroom is (to me at least) a complete mystery.

Why am I bothering telling you all this? No idea really. The house we were working on was a reletively new build - less than ten years old at the time and all the plumbing was put in at the same time. My house is 130 years old and built before the village had any mains water supply. I don't know when it was first connected but the plumbing in it has been added piecemeal over the years by many people - me included. At the moment our upstairs toilet cistern won't stop filling up. You flush, it refills and, nine times out of ten, doesn't stop filling. This causes the excess water to go out the overflow with annoying gurgling noises. Nine times out of ten that it does this you have to wait for precisely the right moment and run the tap in the sink for 15 seconds then turn it off quickly - at which point the cistern makes a strange Grrrrrrrnk! noise and stops filling up. (The tenth time it doesn't and you have to flush it again or just put up with the gurgling all night.)

The really baffling part is why running the hot water in the kitchen downstairs should make the upstairs toilet suddenly start to fill up again and why turning on the kitchen sink cold water tap makes it stop.

Answers on a postcard please, because I haven't got a clue.

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