Real life

My Chinese water torture

Drip, drip, drip, goes water from my upstairs neighbours' flat through my ceiling. At first, I was calmness itself...

1 February 2014

9:00 AM

1 February 2014

9:00 AM

Drip, drip, drip. The noise of my downstairs London conversion flat, where the plumbing was fitted by turn-of-the-century sadists who booby-trapped the building so that if the upstairs neighbours ever dared to try to re-fit their bathroom, they would unleash a leak and never, ever be able to find the source.

Drip, drip, drip. The water drips from their bathroom, through my ceiling into my bathroom through the middle spotlight of the false ceiling, which is now camouflage-patterned with damp patches and horrible yellow watermarks, into a big red bucket.

Drip, drip, drip. It is like Chinese water torture. It started when the two brothers upstairs (I mean siblings. I’m not using the slang for black guys, before anyone gets too excited) put in a new bathroom a few weeks ago. I feel a bit sorry for them.

Handsome, polite young men they are. They bought the flat together recently, presumably because it is so hard for twenty-somethings to get on the housing ladder these days.

Little did they know that a few weeks after beginning their renovations, they would be dealing not only with a half-ripped-out new bathroom, as their desperate plumber searched for the source of a mystically evasive leak, but worse, with the wacky woman downstairs who is apt to burst into tears when she can’t get her Sky broadband booster delivered. Let’s face it, an incessant leak through the bathroom ceiling was never going to be something I handled with distinction.

At first, I was calmness itself. I let it all wash over me, so to speak. The XBB (ex-builder boyfriend) came round, assessed the situation, went upstairs to inspect the new bathroom and then consorted with the neighbours’ plumber, a cheerful Irish chappy in a long-sleeved white vest.

I stood there smiling passively as they chattered on in builder-speak. I felt weirdly serene. What will be will be, I thought. The XBB even congratulated me at the end of the first day’s leaking, because he thought I had handled it so well by keeping quiet and allowing him to do the talking, which went like this:

XBB: ‘You’ve used cheap, plastic push-piping, mate. Pressure’s too much for the joints.’

Cheerful Irish Chappy: ‘No, no, no. It’s just a little leak from the shower cable. Sure, it’s all fixed now. You won’t be getting any more problems with it. But just in case, I’ll be back first thing tomorrow to check on things. Going out tonight, are you? For a few bevvies, eh? Ha ha ha!’

The first time I heard that exchange I thought it was all well and good. Legitimate, reassuring banter. The second time, I was not so enamoured with it. The third time, I thought it was a right cheek telling me to go out for a few bevvies.

Four days on, four days of dripping, and the conversation between XBB and Cheerful Irish was like Groundhog Day. The only thing that was changing was the amount of swearing, which increased exponentially.

XBB: ‘You need to rip those *^%&ing cheap pipes out and fit copper ones, mate. No, no! Don’t ****s**t me!’

Cheerful Irish (absurdly cheerfully): ‘Sure, it will all be fine now! I’ve had a Hoover in there sucking that last little bit ’a water out. You’ll be going for a few bevvies tonight, I bet!’

Me: ‘No. I ****ing well won’t! I’ll be sitting here watching a bucket filling up. Like I did last night. And the night before. And the night before that…’

I admit it. The increased swearing was coming only from me and the XBB. But we just weren’t getting anywhere. And when I brought in my own plumber for a second opinion, he went nuts when he saw the amount of water that was pouring through the light fitting.

‘You’ve let this go on for five days?’ he said, incredulously. ‘You know what your problem is? You’re…’ A range of options came into my head. Too stupid, too impetuous, too panic-stricken, too irrational. ‘You’re too nice.’

That was never going to be one of the options that occurred to me. Not if I had stood there all day wondering about my many strange characteristics. ‘Too nice?’ I said, ‘b-but…’

‘Yes. You need to really read this lot the riot act. They can’t leave you with water coming through like this.’

Riot act. I can do riot act, I thought. And the next time ‘the nice brothers’ texted me to ask politely how it was all going with the leak and if there was something else they could do, and not to hesitate to contact them if anything urgent was happening, I texted back a stinker. I threatened hellfire, fury and compensation suits. Whereupon they told me to calm down. I just can’t seem to get the balance right.

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