YESTERDAY morning started with one of those reminders of life’s basic nature. It all began when the downstairs loo started blocking up.
We tried caustic soda to no effect. Then we used a trick discovered online involving making a seal over the lavatory with Sellotape; only we didn’t have any wide enough and used cling film instead. The idea was to create a vacuum that would on flushing plunge the blockage away. Not a success.
Then we heard an intestinal gurgle beneath where we stood. We inherited this downstairs shower room when we moved into this house. The estate agent called it a wet room and never a truer word did an estate agent speak: it was wet, soaking wet as the shower had no doors. We had doors fitted but everything else is as it was.
The gurgle led to the shower, and when we inspected the trap in the floor, that too was flooded.
So I went outside and lifted the manhole cover from the drain next to the shower room, and into which all waste water seems to flow. It was full and contained evidence of what the toilet was used for. Not a pretty sight before breakfast.
My wife went off to work, leaving me in charge, and how she returned nine hours later to a house unflooded is a miracle.
I phoned an unblocking company and the man said I should contact Yorkshire Water first. The woman who answered the phone had a decent wodge of Yorkshire accent, as did the woman I spoke to in the drains department (perhaps you have to pass an accent test before you can work there).
The second woman wanted to know the direction of my drains, a personal question as we’d only just been introduced. She also wanted to know if we shared with next door. If your drain is shared with your neighbour, Yorkshire Water is obliged to sort out the problem; if the drain is private and unattached, the problem is yours to solve.
A man duly arrived and I offered to make him a drink. “Yes, that’s a blocked drain,” he said, looking down at the unhappy evidence. “Coffee with milk, please.”
The drain runs down the garden to another manhole cover, which I had been unable to dislodge. With assorted tools and a grunt or two, the man removed the cover and peered down a deep brick shaft. This was, he said, a Windsor trap that connected to a main sewer somewhere and was designed to prevent anything backing up. All was clear here.
At this point the drains man, a friendly sort and cheerful in his work, returned to the other drain. He got me to ask the neighbour to flush their toilet to see if our flooded drain would be disturbed. There was not so much as a ripple and he decreed no drain cohabitation had been going on, and therefore the blockage was not the responsibility of Yorkshire Water.
I had earlier established that a man with a high-pressure hose would charge £80 plus VAT to blast out the drain.
As a goodwill gesture, the man from Yorkshire Water got a reel from his van. This was a long thick wire with a camera on the end, and he pushed this through the drain, managing to unblock it. He then ran the wire through again, showing me the pictures on a screen above the winding mechanism. The images were oddly medical in nature and reminded me of the time I had to go to hospital and swallow a long flex with a stomach-searching camera attached.
The problem, likely as not, was caused by the roots of trees working into the pipe and then attracting grease from cooking and so on.
The man finished his coffee and left to probe someone else’s drains, although not before admiring the old Volvo and telling me he had one that was even older and used to be a police car.
I was left satisfied at a job done well: back-breaking phone and coffee-making work, me; real work, the man from Yorkshire Water. But the incident did stand as a queasy reminder: never mind how civilised we are, we are only ever a step or two away from hidden unpleasantness.