Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Only a little job...

Many people who read my blog comment that The Bishop seems to have an answer for everything, and I know some people view me as some sort of spiritual swan, gliding calm and serene over the deep and muddy waters of daily living without any apparent effort.
I wish.
I've been spending all my time recently installing a new bathroom at home and it has been an absolute nightmare. Why is it that when you look at a job and judge the time, effort, cost and complexity involved that you always, always underestimate? That's one question The Bishop does not have an answer for, but I can offer you plenty of empirical evidence to prove that it's true.
The concept was simple enough. Break off all the old wall and ceiling tiles. Tidy up the surfaces. Rip out the old (and I mean old) bath, toilet and basin. Retile the room. Reinstall new bath, toilet and basin. Run hot water and enjoy.
In your dreams, mate!
The start of the job coincided with the best heatwave the UK has seen in years. So, wielding a club hammer and chisel in a hot, confined space the sweat was literally dripping off me. The tiles came off easily enough though, with nothing worse to show for it than a few shrapnel wounds and a massive bruise where I missed the chisel altogether and smashed the side of my hand with the hammer. I was pretty proud of my progress until my builder friend had a look and said the underlying plaster wasn't in good enough condition for retiling so it too had to come off - right down to the brick. Cue even more hammering, chiselling and sweating; and just when I thought I'd finished.
Then the toilet and basin came out and were dumped unceremoniously on the drive, the basin being whisked away shortly thereafter and without permission by a couple of scrounging itinerant scrap dealers in a clapped-out blue van. No problem though - we have a second toilet downstairs so I assured my family we would only be without our main facilites for a day or two; three at the most.
With hindsight, that was one of the most stupid things I've ever said. I forgot a key universal law; one which the Bible reveals in Job 5:7, "Man is born unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward." Modern thinkers restate this as the well-known maxim "If the most inconvenient thing can go wrong in the most inconvenient place at the most inconvenient time, in the most inconvenient way, with the most inconvenient consequences - it will!"
And, of course, it did.
I was at work the next day when my builder friend popped in to rip out the bath, and it wasn't long before I got the fateful phone call. "Are you at work? We've got a slight problem here..."
I could see what it was when I got home. Whoever had installed the bath had routed one of the main pipes for the heating system through the supporting brackets meaning the pipe would have to be taken out and re-routed before the bath could be removed. The water would have to go off, but it wouldn't be for long.
You know what's coming, don't you?
I turned the water off, drained everything, we cut the pipe and out came the bath. So far so good. Then we nipped off to the DIY store to buy all the fittings and accessories to restore the pipe and connect up the new bath. By now it was seven in the evening so we pressed on with the pipework. By eight thirty we'd finished so I went to turn on the water.
It leaked.
We decided we'd been unlucky and used a faulty fitting so we cut it all off and redid it.
It leaked.
We did it a third time. Do I have to tell you what happened, or are you getting the idea?
By now it was coming up to ten pm, I had neither hot nor cold water in the taps (though plenty on the floor and dripping down through the kitchen ceiling) and the bowl of water my wife had thoughtfully filled before I started my 'half-hour job' was now empty. We were out of fittings and all the shops were closed. In desperation we borrowed some pipe and another fitting from a neighbour but to no avail. By eleven thirty pm two things were clear. One, I was exhausted. And two, we were going to be without water overnight.
Somehow, next morning, myself and five females managed to wash and squeeze a cup of tea out of a second bowl of water I had to beg from my neighbour. I was outside the DIY store by seven am, waiting for it to open. This time, like a seasoned professional, I went for the push-fit plastic fittings. I hurried home, chopped off the leaking pipework (again), redid it and it worked!! Oh, transport of ineffable joy, we had cold running water again! All I had to do now was refill the heating system and we'd have hot water too.
So I did. And it leaked.
By now I was out of time again so I hurried off to work leaving my wife with no hot water for the day. I'd learned my lesson though, so I went back to the DIY store in my lunchbreak and made short work of the problem once I got home. Hot and cold restored - I was truly the man with the plan. Until, that is, I turned on the water to the new bath which by now had been placed in the corner of the empty room. It, of course, leaked.
This time though it was the flexible connector on the cold tap that was defective. I would have to get it replaced but again the shops were now closed and it would have to wait until tomorrow. But at least we had hot and cold running water, albeit not in the same room as the bath, so it felt like progress.
The next evening when I got home from work I stepped bravely into the valley once again to confront my Goliath. Unlike David, however, mine seemed to have the disconcerting habit of getting back up and having to be killed all over again on a daily basis. I was right that the tap connector was faulty. And so was the next one I was given. And the next. And the next. Four faulty ones in a row - each one wasting an hour and a half for the fitting, test, furious disassembly and trip for another replacement. I was out of time again, the water had been off for a second day, and I wasn't amused.
Next morning the fifth one worked and the pipework was complete - just in time for my friend to tell me a previous job was dragging on and he wouldn't be able to plasterboard my walls that day after all. I was now five days into the job, with the tiler due to start work tomorrow and a bathroom consisting of a bare brick box with a lightbulb dangling from the ceiling and a bath in one corner. However my friend knew a man who would board me the walls and plaster the ceiling for sixty quid. I was out of options so I told him to give him a call.
When I got home, the walls were boarded and ceiling plastered and he'd done a good job. However he'd had to remove the bathroom door so now taking a bath aquired a whole new racy element of courage. You can imagine how popular that was with the ladies in the house.
Next day the tiler arrived and duly set to work. However he too had underestimated the scale of the task and by Friday was only half done. My plans to install the toilet and basin over the weekend were fading, but he offered to stay late on Friday night and then come back to finish the job on Saturday.
On Saturday morning, however, he phoned to say his young son had been sick all night and he wouldn't now be able to come until Monday. So the bathroom stood, half-tiled and doorless, for the rest of the weekend.
The tiler returned on Monday and worked all day. On Monday evening he told me he'd forgotten to include the cost of tiling the floor in his original estimate and would I pay him some more? But the good news was, he would finish by Tuesday. I also needed to buy another box of my feature mosiac tiles as he'd used them all by putting a full-width strip above the bath despite my explicit instruction to the contrary and therefore now didn't have any left to run the strip above the basin. Cue another trip to the shops for a box of five mosaic tiles at £35 per box, only one of which would be required.
It is now Wednesday, two and a half weeks in. Last night I trimmed the bathroom door to the new size and hung it, plus the shower over the bath is now back in place and working. All I have to do now is seal round the bath, box in and tile the section at the end, fit the shower screen, install the toilet and basin and fix the downlighters into the ceiling.
Once all that is finished I already know what I'm going to do next.

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