Real life

A boiler service, spaghetti western-style

9 July 2022

9:00 AM

9 July 2022

9:00 AM

The British Gas engineers arrived in convoy, and the dust from their tyres flew into the air as they came down the track.

If this boiler service had a theme tune it would be Ennio Morricone’s ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’.

The engineers parked up and got out of their vans in a cloud of dust. One was tall and lean, a good enough ringer for Clint Eastwood, given the circumstances, while the other was short and stout, making an ideal supporting character.

They strode towards my house grim-faced and I opened the door. ‘Gosh, you’ve come mob-handed,’ I said, and Clint nodded. The little fella looked scared.

‘You know where the boiler is, don’t you?’ I asked. ‘I mean, I assume that’s why they’ve sent two of you?’

Clint looked deadpan, giving nothing away. The little fella looked as though he wanted to turn around and go back. I showed them downstairs into the lower ground floor kitchen, pointing upwards as we descended.

There it was, the great Worcester Bosch, just beneath the ceiling in the place that had made sense when another floor had been there and the kitchen was on it. But then I got the hump with the lack of head room in the lower ground floor garden level and told the builders to rip the floor out, leading to the double-height kitchen diner we now have and the boiler incongruously attached to the space beneath this high ceiling.

Clint looked up and nodded, silently. The little man gulped. ‘Why’s it up there then?’ he said, squeakily, and I explained the renovation saga. ‘Why don’t you make that a mezzanine floor?’ he argued. And I explained I had run out of money. ‘Why don’t you move the boiler?’ And I recounted how Terry the plumber refused because he didn’t want to re-site the air vent.


Clint looked at the ladder I had put against the wall and said he was going to get something from his van. I was left explaining more and more to his colleague, who wouldn’t give up on the idea that maybe there was an alternative to going up that ladder.

He peered into the cellar. ‘What you gonna do with that then? That’s a man cave in there!’

I explained that if we had the money we would line it. But we don’t. ‘Oh,’ he said, disappointed, for whom I could not tell.

Clint came back carrying a small square of black rubber. He placed it on the floor. ‘That ladder’s slipping,’ he said. Really? I had been up and down it like a monkey in the past five years and it had never slipped once.

But Clint said he could not condone such a thing, and would not proceed without a slip mat. When satisfied the ladder was secure, he began the climb. I asked if he wanted me to foot it but he said no, he would not like that.

So I stood back as he scaled the 12-foot distance to the bottom of the boiler where there is a ledge. Was that a coyote howling in the distance, or just the neighbour’s cat?

He took the cover off the Worcester B. and handed it down. His colleague looked aghast as he commenced his examination from on high.

I told Clint we had a bit of water hammer in the tap in the downstairs loo, and suspected an airlock somewhere, and decided to leave them to it.

I don’t know at what stage the pair swapped places but when I heard the scream and ran back to the kitchen, the little fella was at the top of the ladder, covered in water.

Wailing, he was, as water gushed out of the boiler into his face. I asked them if they could please not ruin the fuse box.

Clint stood inscrutable as the little man spluttered in the jet of water. Is this why they needed the slip mat? Had Clint had a premonition?

Half an hour later and the boiler was serviced, the water mopped up, and my tap running beautifully. Clint had not broken a sweat, but the little fella looked horrendous.

‘Is there somewhere I can get a sandwich?’ he asked, faintly. I told him there was a bakery with warm sausage rolls over the road and he looked like he might cry with relief.

Clint completed the paperwork, then pointed to the slip mat. ‘I’m going to leave that with you.’

Possibly he wanted me to stand on it if I intended to explode the boiler myself. Or maybe he wanted me to stand on it whenever I did anything in the vicinity, such as empty the dishwasher, or open a cutlery drawer.

I thanked him, as he walked off into the dust, and said I would always use the slip mat.

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