Having been told that a plumber would take time out from his day off to see to our defunct boiler as an emergency, having been told that it would be the end of the day, five or six o'clock, the guy turns up at three in the afternoon.
A hasty dig in the corners we hide loose cash in saved the day, and two equally hasty phone calls later, I had organised the collection of my children from school by taxi, an indulgent luxury that really annoys the school secretary, particularly when you are late telling her, as it can involve chasing round the playground for the little angels or being stared down by a loose-ended driver whilst the kids put two and two together and head in her direction.
So, I'm here, the plumber's here, and I've told him its the boiler. So he goes to the airing cupboard, throws all my towels on the floor and reaches to the back to check the water pump, which was only changed in November and is the only thing guaranteed to be working. His own company had to come back and bleed the radiators after the new pump was put in, because the sheer power of it shifted old limescale et al and gunged the system up. There is (please God, unless the pipes rot under the concrete floor) nothing else to go wrong except the boiler.
But I'm a woman so what do I know, and its his day off so he needs to feel as put out by this little escapade as is humanly possible, to qualify the double money, I guess, so I just stand back and let him get on with it.
Now I know enough to know that a boiler should not be touched by anyone other than a Corgi registered plumber, but theres nothing about this guy that even says 'plumber' apart from the fact that he brought his tools in in a black rubber bucket. In fact to look at him, the rest says 30-something slightly overweight ex-football hooligan with slight misogynistic tendencies and a nasty belief that a skinhead buzzcut still makes him look 'hard'. Lets just say I imagine his wife gets told she's a fat cow, a lot, only wears high class couture of the clashing, over tight variety and accessories such as white stilletos, false nails that could extract your brain through your nostril, brassy blonde highlights, low cut tops and enough gold to do a gypsy proud. Gypsies have real reasons for carrying their wealth in the form of gold jewellery, same as seamen's earrings (and thats another story), but on a person with a semi replete with garden gnomes and a 4x4 in Upper Chavston, it looks, well, tacky. they probably have a couple of daughters called Mercedes-Trachia and Chantelle - Lafrog.
He wasn't best pleased that the fridge freezer was beneath the boiler and in his way. He wasnt best pleased about anything actually, I think my blatant non-Sharon-dom had him disgusted as soon as he walked through the door.
I paused in the re-telling, there. No, I did. You can't see it when you are reading, but I feel ever so much more cheerful now. I was going to say that I think the sight of my yellow Doc Martens constricted his throat. It probably did. The pause was because that sent me off on a momentary but thoroughly enjoyable daydream about how else they might have managed the same feat.
Anyhow, he ticks, tuts, sucks his teeth and prods things, then, instead of going out to his car, he asks if I have anything for him to stand on. What would he have done if I had said no? Still the step ladder (which, rather embarrassingly, my husband was using as a clothes horse for suit jackets) was retrieved and proffered and was rewarded with a rousing response of "Grunt". I handed it to him in a closed position, and am bloody sure I saw him suck air through his teeth again, at having to open it for himself. Perhaps it wasnt clean enough for the poor, precious poppet. I am sure his mummy would have spun in her pub.
Just as I thought we were finally getting somewhere, he found himself (against his will, I could tell) forced to speak to me again.
"So, have you got the manual for this then?"
What? he doesnt know which bit is which? He needs the owners manual? The electric circuits were clearly mapped on the inside of the lid, there was nothing else to question but the plumbing, but no, he wanted the checklist of things to do if it went wrong.
"Sorry, no I dont think we ever had that, and if we did, my husband has all the manuals tucked away in, ooh, one of a hundred places" say I, mentally counting the number of carrier bags of 'tidied-up' important papers I have thrown at said husband in the past, never to see again, "and I doubt even he would be sure where at this short notice."
The answer I got was "Grunt", which I took to mean any number of things, but not 'well then I'm stuck because I havent got a clue what I'm doing'. I mean anyone whose grunt meant that would stop doing what they were doing, wouldn't they?
He kept tinkering and I eventually slithered away again, until he heard me moving around, and hollered "So, are you looking for that manual then?"
I gave up, I phoned my husband who, mercifully and of his own volition, stated that we had never had the owners manual, that the landlord's workers had taken it, possibly the 'real gas mechanic' that the landlord sends to check the boiler once a year.
The guy threw a hissy fit. Instead of admitting he simply wasnt that knowledgeable, or qualified, he started spouting about how it was the law for the resident to have the booklet, on the premises at all times. I dont think he said outrageous. I got the distinct impression that he did actually know one or two multisyllabic words, but only as part of a set-piece statement from his training. His union rep would have been soooo proud.
I am piggy in the middle at this point in time, passing diluted and sanitised versions of opinions over the phone between husband up to his eye balls at work, and plumber up a step ladder. Dearest other half repeated that we as tenants were not to touch the boiler, so the manual had gone to the landlord. I swear, by this time, the 'plumber's little skinhead bristles were standing on end, I even think I saw one or two, p'ching, p'twang, escaping his scalp, under pressure.
This guy must have really earned his HNC in passing the buck, the transition was seamless. Having talked to me like a piece of dirt, he turned his attention to the last guy to service the boiler, whose Corgi registration number and contact details were still on the top of the fridge. before I could stop him he was off my stepladder and on his mobile phone (oooh! Another lovely vision of literal meaning!) and complaining bitterly to the nice company that had sent him out, about how the other boiler man had contravened the law, swiped the manual etc etc, quoting all his contact details and demanding that he be contacted sternly.
Lets get one thing straight, I dont do fussing and hopping. I try, but its physically impossible, moreso when I'm in my 'ready to get the kids in the snow' Doc Martens. I am stood there, waving hands at him, jiggling about a bit, practically within the sphere of his body odour, constantly correcting him that this guy was in no way proven to be the one who took the manual, but he just wasnt having it. A herd of randy hippos all stampeding straight toward him couldnt have made this guy swerve from his intent to pass the buck and stitch a fellow engineer up as far as flaming possible. He never flinched.
By the time he left he was muttering things along the lines of "not even meant to be here" and "my bloody day off" and walking with the kind of petulance in his step that you see in the school bully when he doesnt get the largest ice cream and there are too many adults around for him to rectify that by force. Sulk, grumble, grumble, sulk. I hope his poor wife is camped out at the Bluewater shopping centre or had an extra martini at lunch (cos the olives are so exotic, innit), so she doesnt give a rats fart when he gets home and its her turn to be completely useless and in the wrong.
So I rang the nice girl at the company, explained that he had gone off half cocked (and theres another nice idea for later, ooh, lets see how, the hinge on the stepladder perhaps?) and am now waiting for her to call, while she waits for the landlord to call, and all in all I am facing at least another 24 hours with no heating and hot water in sub zero temperatures.
Still, its all fun, isn't it, and I'd sooner be cold than an overbearing prat, so I win over the plumber, anyhow.