So there I am sitting on the floor with my head under the sink.
The question: what am I doing there? is the wrong question. The answer is plainly obvious, since I am surrounded by the bowels of plumbing: two outlet pipes and a u-bend.
The question: what am I doing there at eleven o’clock at night? is also the wrong question. And, had it been asked at the time, I would have said, it is also somewhat irritating. It is quite obvious what I am doing: I am cleaning the drain.
However, the question: do you know how to fit these pieces back together again? That question – however hurtful in its tendency to cast aspersions on my mechanical ability – is entirely relevant to the problem in hand. Bulls-eye!
You could then continue and ask: But shouldn’t you be in bed? Or: Won’t you get cramp sitting on the floor like that?
However relevant such questions might be when you are in a tight spot (as I was, crouched on my side with my head jammed inside the cupboard under the sink), such perception, however kindly meant, does nothing to resolve the jigsaw puzzle in my lap. And however much I lecture myself that I have done this before (several times) and have profited by having clean smelling drains for yet another six months, the pieces fail to gel: for I simply cannot remember.
Was the u-bend under this drain or indeed under that?
Have I lost a piece?
I rush outside and examine the spot on the ground, where I had tipped the disgustingly gruesome water. No! There are no misplaced pieces of pipe … only an inquisitive cat.
So if it is all here in my lap, why does this pipe have three outlets? I’m positive it had only two before I washed it. I scrutinise the pieces. Honest, there really are only two bits of pipe into which it can fit.
So how come I also have three washers left over?
And: where the hell did I hang my rubber gloves?
Visualisation of the drainage system fails to produce an image of the piece of pipe on which my rubber gloves have, in fact, hung for the past five years. Instead, it produces cramp, my toes curling up like slices of stale bread, causing me to screech in agony and hang on to my toes until the spasm has passed.
I glance at my watch. One o’clock! I look outside at the peaceful square, neighbours on all sides sleeping soundly, the square cocooned in a haven of blissful quiet.
Nothing for it but to give in. And yet …
‘Tomorrow,’ I say aloud, my tone as sorrowful as a solitary nighthawk over Kurdistan, ‘the moment I awake I will call the plumber and that will cost me at least a hundred pounds.’
It is amazing how the threat of unwanted expenditure clarifies the aging mind.
Instantly the pieces make sense, the long white tubes clipping neatly together to form two drains, one horizontal bar (on which my rubber gloves hang), and a u-bend, each piece clean and sweet-smelling and designed to carry, without leaking, waste water into the municipal drain.
One last job to be done: I stick my head back under the sink, working my way along each pipe inch by inch, trying to memorise where each piece lives in relation to the next.
‘Well’ I say, glancing at my watch and a silently sleeping square. ‘At least I’ve saved myself a ton of money.’
And on that happy thought I take myself off to bed.