At issue

Tissues come in boxes. Sneezes, buses and issues come in clusters. There are washing-machines and dish-washers and there are washers. These latter, often small, usually rubber rings, available in innumerable sizes, prevent water pipes from leaking at their joints. Only a tiny minority appreciate that these apparently inconsequential little things, one costing perhaps just 10p, are sine qua nons in the maintenance of our equanimity, treasure, and quality of life.

We’ve recently had a cluster of issues with our washers. The water supply, containment and disposal thereof, sprang leaks; it was actually a Spring sprang.

In the last year we’ve had no less than nine water issues. All but the leaky roof, the burst pipe (my blog “Put the kibosh on”) and the cracked shower-tile grouting were washer issues; that’s two thirds. So washers, it seems, have a life expectancy of about twenty years, for that’s how long it’s been since we had the house refurbished.

Our water issues clustered, moreover, in an eerily coincidental timeframe around bank holidays. Joan needs bank holidays much more than I; even so I welcome what’s supposed to be a relaxing break from the taxing business of doing the crossword and hammering out a few hundred words of hopefully well-crafted dry for the titter feed. Leaks are the last kind of issues we need at what’s supposed to be a time of self-renewal.

First thing on Easter Sunday, I was about to shave (see my blog “Routine investigation”). I’d filled the basin, but when I came to turn the tap off, the piping hot water just kept flowing. Washer failure. (Imagine the panic. And we’d family over for lunch.) It was fixed at vast expense and quite enough stress. Emergency plumbers come quickly, but not cheaply.

That afternoon, after the plumber had departed, his pockets stuffed with gold, I noticed the overflow pipe from the cistern of the bathroom doubleyousee was dripping copiously and soaking the outside wall. I made the maximum possible adjustment to the cistern ballcock and it stopped the dripping ok, but now the level of the liquid in the loo was ludicrously low, and the cistern took an age to refill. After the holiday, a plumber, attending at the standard rate, showed me the offending washer, about the size, thickness and value of an old penny. That’ll be £75 then, thank you sir. I listened incredulously as he said he thought the stopcock in the utility room cupboard wasn’t working either, as he’d had to turn the mains off in the street; yet another washed up washer. That one’s still to be fixed.

Simultaneously, we had the scaffolders, followed by the roofers swarming up the back of the house, the tiler replacing tiles and grouting in the shower to forestall the damp patches appearing in the ceiling of the kitchen below, and a decorator refurbishing the corner of the hall ceiling which had been soaked by an earlier washer failure at the junction of cistern and porcelain in the ensuite above; all go alright.

Valves, pipes, faucets, stopcocks, ballcocks, isolators, elbow-joints; all have washers. Problem is they give no sign of imminent failure. One moment you’re getting on with your life, leisurely perusing exotic cruise brochures, the next you’re looking at hundreds, if not thousands, of quid for repairs and redecoration, and wondering if you’ll have to go camping.

Incidentally, while researching this piece, I could find no reference whatsoever, academic or commercial, to the life expectancy of any washer of any stripe. There’s plenty on how to change them, but that’s not the point. By then it’s too late. The damage is done. We still have perhaps a couple of dozen around the house that are presently sound but will possibly become issues for us at any time in the future.  Well not really, we can, after all, narrow it down to the bank holidays.

Another one for the Elysian shopping list: eternal and everlasting washers.

Update: I’ve just witnessed my prototype “Squirrel and Parakeet Buster Mini” hanging bird-feeder foil a parakeet raid. I was sitting quietly having a post prandial coffee on the deck outside the conservatory when the green buccaneer dived down from the heights of the robinia next door, and made a beeline for the feeder. Chopper-like, it hovered for a second or two within inches of the acetate, then, evidently thinking better about landing, jetted off squawking angrily. Vigorous, triumphant, simian gestures. Yes, yes, yes, yes, and YES!  



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