Put the kibosh on

Now there’s a word. A word, I discover, of which the etymological origins are the subject of much scholarly speculation, as yet unresolved by evidence. Sounds like some sort of exotic central Asian samovar: ”Put the kibosh on, would you dear, I’m dying for a cup of tea.” Or exotic oriental headgear: “Do put the kibosh on, darling; you look perfectly wonderful in it”.

Domestic emergencies nearly always require some DIY, but rarely does such effort put the kibosh on a crisis as effectively as this recent example.

Where we are, the post-apocalyptic freeze thaw of early March reached the melt point in the early hours of the 3rd. This was when the so-called Beast from the East (or Wednesday, as the Finns sardonically referred to it) was finally overwhelmed by the warmer air from the south that storm Emma brought in its wake.

The pipes thawed, and the leaks sprang. I was actually inspecting a pipe to the hose connection at the bottom of the garden, when I heard Joan screaming at me across the disappearing snow patches on the lawn. On her way out to a Pilates class, she’d found the pipe that skirts the porch and feeds the hose reel at the front, was pouring water down the steps and onto the front garden and path.

If I don’t know the drill by now, I never will, so it was off with the stopcock. This is located in a large dark cupboard in our utility room. I opened the door and peered into the blackness. I’ve done this before more than once, so I know pretty much where the stopcock is. Groping down low between a pair of sizeable and dusty parallel pipes, I found it quite easily. Stiff though it was, I managed to turn it off with only a reminder twinge in my wrist. Back at the porch the water subsided to a residual trickle and the split was revealed when I pulled off the foam lagging.

What next? The flood had been stemmed and we’d time to think. Joan scarpered off, her class the perfect alibi. Luckily Louise was around to help make a plan. Emergency plumbers would, we calculated, be impossible because they would simply be inundated by calls from the inundated. What we needed was a temporary fix that would restore our water supply until the general emergency was over and the dust had settled on newly repaired pipes. Then, at our own leisure and convenience, we could summon a plumber to do a permanent job.

I was wracking my brains for a temporary solution, turning over in my mind the epoxy resin, the plastic steel etc. that lurk somewhere amongst the debris in the shed, when Louise announced “Got it.” She’d googled “emergency pipe repair kit”, and lo and behold! There it was, the fabled Rothenberger Kibosh Emergency Instant Pipe Repair Clamp. This was almost too good to be true. I needed the 15mm pipe version, so I googled local DIY stores. B&Q had them for 10 quid, but no store within 50 miles had stock. I settled on a Wickes only 1.6 miles away, even though they were demanding 15. Extortion!

I was over there in no time fearing that the big thaw would result in a run on Rothenberger Kibosh Emergency Instant Pipe Repair Clamps, and when I got there they would be sold out. In rising panic I searched and searched the plumbing racks to which I had been directed by a youth whose customer service can be described as, at best, desultory. I’d all but given up when I spied in what, I recall, was rather poor lighting some cards hanging on one of the spurs. Yes, you had to take one of these cards to the counter, and staff would find a Kibosh (for short) in their secure stock room.

I passed the card to a portly, sallow-faced woman with nicotine stained index finder, dirty fingernails and a fluorescent waistcoat, who shuffled off willingly enough in search of my hidden treasure, and with help of her supervisor she eventually retrieved it. I drove home in exited anticipation. I could smell success. Back at the ranch, all was calm. The young adults were hanging around in their dressing gowns, eating toast, trying to be patient, waiting for the water to be restored so they could take their morning showers.

I inspected the no nonsense packaging of the Kibosh, and was disappointed to observe that the Union Jack on the label was printed upside down. I hope Rothenberger’s marketing department note and remedy this. (Rotating clock-wise, it is the leading edge of St Andrew’s white cross on the Saltire that is thicker.) I scissored open the stubborn packaging and there it was, black, hard plastic about 7cm long, enough to cover the split in the pipe, with an assertive red and white brand label on the clamp handle. I took it to the pipe and manoeuvred it into place. As if by its own volition, when I applied pressure, it suddenly snapped shut with the speed and force of a trap.

So it was done. Just like that. Stopcock back on, being careful not to jam it open, and, Hey Presto, back at the leak all is tightly sealed. Everything works again. Kibosh by name and kibosh by nature. Magic. All that remained to do was clear up the old foam lagging, which looked strangely like it had been moth-eaten.

Shortly after I’d done so, Joan returned from her class. Please note: she’d been gone just 70 minutes and so was pleasantly astonished at progress. Louise and I were pleasantly smug and milked praise from all quarters, until people with more interesting things to do, drifted away. Just to make it a Royal Flush, I also managed to disconnect and stop the feed to the pipe at the bottom of the garden.

In this case, as it didn’t directly affect anyone else, brownie points were disappointingly sparse. Even so, I glowed as I reflected, for far too long no doubt, on the complete mastery of the situation we’d shown, and marvelled at the utility and ingenuity of the patent pending Kibosh. Every home should have one of these wonder widgets. (So fulsome an endorsement must make you suspicious. I assure you again: this is absolutely not a product placement puff, for the time being at least, I hope.)

Another resounding success on the DIY front was my recent replacement of a couple of security lights at the front of the house. (Do forgive me crowing over these little triumphs. Individually they may be petty but collectively they aggregate to something akin to hope.) The replacements were necessary because the original tungsten bulbs had blown, whereas new bulbs could not be fitted because the lamps’ metal superstructure and the screws that must be turned to provide access to the bulb, were immovably fused in some sort of rusty weld. I’d discovered this on a reconnaissance climb on a folded up step ladder, which proved extremely precarious and was quickly abandoned.

This light is on the front wall near the front door, lighting the path to it when it senses movement. It is reached with difficulty because it’s placed above the edge of the basement light well, a nasty drop, not to mention the spiked railings which surround it. The ground placement there is uneven and restricted, and only a ladder can safely be used.

At first I thought I’d better ask Tom, the electrician, to come and change the bulb for me as the job looked impossibly tricky if not dangerous, but when I called him he politely declined, saying he’d just retired. Well, I suppose you just have to draw the line somewhere. The problem lay in our ladder inventory. We have short stepladders, and long ladders, even a folding one, but what we lack is a short ladder. A long ladder won’t do because by the time a safe cant is put on it, at the requisite height, you are still tantalisingly just too distant from the wall to work on any fixture.

I pondered. We‘ve been here long enough to know I’ve no other use whatsoever for a small ladder. To buy a small ladder will set me back the better part of 100 quid, even if it is delivered to the door. In fact, do I want to be climbing up a ladder to change a security lamp bulb ever again? There must be a last time, as the title of my mother’s melancholic poem has it, for everything we do. It’s not quite as sombre as that really. I mean, I’m not exactly going to miss changing security light bulbs, am I?

So the plan is to borrow Tom’s short ladder then replace the current light with an LED light with a life of 20,000 hours. At an average usage time of say 20 minutes per night, a most generous assumption, it should last nearly 70 years, by which time even my grandchildren will be growing old. I gave Tom, who lives nearby a call, and persuaded him, in the most obsequious manner musterable, to lend me his short ladder. He was obliging and I was soon on my way to my favourite B&Q, ladder in the back, in search of a new long-life LED lamp. I found a very handsome black plastic (no rusting), motion sensing, model made in China, where else, 20,000 hours, complete with adjustable light sensor and illumination timer for just £24. No brainer.

There is an exquisite moment in DIY, when you’ve a plausible plan and have assembled all the necessary tools and paraphernalia to execute it. Your judgement, planning, skill, balance, courage and possibly strength are about to be tested, here, a military operation up a little ladder. Confident and equipped I set to.

Up the little ladder it was easy enough to dismantle the old lamp and its wall fixture. Similarly the new lamp required no extraordinary contortions or fiddling about. By a stroke of good luck the old screw holes were exactly the right width apart. To illustrate my meticulous planning, I mention that I even had in my pocket wooden matchsticks to jam into the old rawlplug holes, giving the new screws a ground to bite into. In short, it went like a dream. All that had to be done was check settings were OK at nightfall, which, most fortunately, happened to be the case. It helps when luck’s on one’s side. Tom’s ladder, never to be used by me again, was returned, with gratitude and secret finality, to its owner.

Basking in the glory of my feat, and Joan’s appreciative encouragement, I set about fixing the second light. This is supposed to illuminate the passage that leads to the side door.

Same problem, same solution, this time tried and tested. Reaching the lamp was the difference, for it was about four metres above the paving. We have, as mentioned, long ladders, but also, not mentioned, a long step ladder. With this I would scale the wall. In the event, I had to stand teetering on the very top platform to work the fix, steadying myself with one hand, as much as possible, on the junction box. Taking it with extreme caution, the job made easier again by perfectly placed screw holes, I methodically completed the task, and descended without mishap. Again, the default settings worked fine at nightfall, so all is now done and dusted in that department, as far as I’m concerned, forever.

Looking back, I think, this second fixing verged on the irresponsible. One of Joan’s Australian cousins who visited a few years back, worked as a nurse in Intensive Care in a Melbourne hospital. Ladders should be avoided at my age she warned; 70% of the trauma patients she sees are men, 50 years old or more, who’ve fallen off ladders.

Well, this time I got away with it; fingers crossed I’ll never have to do it again. When that inevitable last time finally comes around, it’s good to end on a high, and I find it curiously amusing to think those lights will be winking on and off long after I’m dead, gone and forgotten.

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