How to fix a leak in your bathroom

The Billfold, January 2016. Original article.

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How to fix a leak in your bathroom

1. Move into your new flat and marvel at the fact that you own this place. Before you’ve finished unpacking, receive notice that they’ve examined every one of the building’s 27 flats to find the source of a leak — it’s your bathroom! You’re on the hook for the repair costs, as the building insurance only covers the cost of repairing the damage resulting from said leak. This doesn’t make any sense, but okay. You chase the insurance company for three months to get them to send their repair crew. This, you realise later, is what they call “foreshadowing”.

Week one.

2. A repairman is set to arrive at 8am on Monday. He won’t know how long the job will take until he’s had a look, but he estimates three days, maybe five at the most. On Monday he texts to say he’ll start on Tuesday, but he’s confident he’ll be done by the weekend. Tuesday: repeat.

3. Pete the repairman shows up on Wednesday, deems the bathroom floor to be damaged and pulls up the tiles. Now he just has to put down new tiles. Easy! Then Pete calls you from the tile shop: do you want different tiles? The insurance covers like-for-like replacement, but if you want something different you can just pay the excess. Oh! Pete needs to know right away, but that’s fine — this is the moment design-Instagram has prepared you for. You know exactly what you want, and feel like you’ve really got a great deal here.

4. Friday morning, Pete calls: the tile delivery was delayed and he’s only just got his hands on it now. The job will run into Monday, not including the grouting and finishes of course. Fine, whatever. You spend the weekend tiptoeing around on a concrete bathroom floor, but the final result is going to look great!

Week two.

5. Brian the tiler arrives, deems a section of wall to have water damage too and pulls down the tiles in question. They are standard white tiles so he’s just going to swap them out. Easy. A few hours later, a bewildered Brian calls: your old wall tiles were not standard! The replacements are no good! Since this discovery only came after the old tiles were knocked down, it means replacing every single wall tile. Work stops for 24 hours as the insurance company ponders the issue.

6. To everybody’s surprise, the insurer decides to to cover like-for-like replacement of the wall tiles. So, says Pete, do you want different tiles? You know the drill — you’re practically a design blogger by now! Pete spends the rest of the week removing the old tile and preparing the walls, leaving your entire flat covered in a fine layer of plaster dust. It gets everywhere, including inside the kitchen cupboards.

7. On Saturday morning, you get up early as Pete has arranged for a weekend tiler — let’s get this done! — he says. You feel encouraged until Pete calls: the tiler isn’t coming because broke his ankle last night. You attempt to feel sorry for him. A second weekend is spent tiptoeing around on a chipboard bathroom floor. You have to crouch down in the tub as you wash, as not to splash the bare walls.

Week three.

8. Brian is back — your bathroom has now become a nuisance for him as he has places to be. No one expected it to last this long, Brian informs you, while you make him a cup of tea after checking the mug for plaster dust. The feeling of getting a bargain has well and truly evaporated, but both Pete and Brian seem confident it will be done by Friday.

9. On Tuesday morning, Brian calls in a fluster: there’s a leak! It seems all the jostling around has cause the original leak — the one that triggered all this, remember? — to reemerge. Or maybe it wasn’t fixed properly in the first place, Pete suggests, but you care little for his excuses. All that’s certain is that a plumber is needed before they can proceed, and also, a section of drywall needs replacing. Work stops for 48 hours as the insurance company considers who will pay for all this.

10. Thursday rolls around, and you tell Pete to go ahead — you’re ready to throw money at the problem. Pete says he understands. He finds someone to fix the leak and repair the wall — they’ll be over Sunday morning! Great. You spend your third weekend in a stripped down bathroom, crouching down to shower still, now with the added challenge of trying to flush the toilet at little as possible as not to aggravate the water damage. You travel the London Underground, where each station is covered in colourful, sprawling tiles, and you feel like they’re mocking you.

Week four.

11. Alan the plumber was a little too gleeful when he told you that having a repair last four weeks is nothing — sometimes these jobs go on for months and months because they just can’t locate the source of a leak. Imagine! Mere hours later, you realise there’s still the tiniest leak, and now, the toilet doesn’t flush properly. Someone will be round to fix it and finish the job, tiling and all, says Pete — bright and early on Wednesday. This is a low, you think to yourself as you spend the next three days with what can reasonably be called substandard plumbing. Your place has slowly turned into a tip and there’s building dust everywhere, but there’s no point cleaning until the work is done. You consider checking into a hotel, but you can’t chance it — you have no idea how much all this will cost you.

12. On Wednesday, a fellow named John arrives and says he’s going to stay until the job is done, which means he’ll be working the weekend. You nod feebly — you’re starting to accept this situation as your life now. You no longer have any feelings about any of it: not about your bathroom, the now-lost weekend, the mess that is your flat, or indeed the certainty that the arrow of time only moves in one direction. But John fixes the toilet flush, and tiles the shower so you can wash without worrying about damaging the walls for the first time in weeks. In spite of yourself you feel a spark of hope, but only for a moment: John can’t make it on Friday due to a veterinary emergency. You make sympathetic noises, but it’s all an act.

13. Good old Pete comes to fix that tiny leak. He can’t work out exactly what the problem is so you authorise a full replacement — it’s not cheap, but the thought that money could save you from this is sweet relief. John returns the next day and claims he’ll be done by Sunday night, but you know better than to believe a word of it.

Week five.

14. John is back bright and early Monday morning — of course he is. Yesterday he told you that whenever builders say five days you have to allow seven, which is not your idea of good expectation-management. But the tiles are in place! Pete has arranged for someone to come and finish up the last bits, including shortening your bathroom door, which apparently is a thing that needs doing. That’s not happening until Thursday though. Deflated, you go to pour yourself a drink, only to discover that John has finished your good booze.

15. Some guy called Sam calls you on Thursday morning: can we push this final bit to Monday? Oh we most certainly cannot, you inform him, you need to move on with your life. Sam rocks up at 5pm and informs you it’s really not a big job! But there’s too much left to finish it all today of course, and he’ll have to come back on Monday. Your mind goes to that Seinfeld episode where Elaine tells her phone line engineer: “You know, I could’ve killed you, and no one would have known.”

Week six.

16. Sam, who’s still alive, returns on Monday as promised and everything is miraculously done. You’ve never been so happy for a chance to clean in your life. The bathroom looks so good! And, you think to yourself, maybe the kitchen could do with some tile too? This time you’d do it yourself though — hell is other people. And you’re determined! In that respect, Pete, Brian, Alan, John and Sam have nothing on you.

Things lost to exes, begrudgingly.

The Toast, April 2014. Original article here.

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Things lost to exes, begrudgingly.

– Endless loaves of bread.
After too many mornings of waking up at his house and finding there was absolutely nothing to eat, I started bringing my own food over. The coffee and peanut butter stayed in the cupboard where I’d left them, but the bread would disappear immediately. At one point I was buying a loaf a week for my own house, and up to three loaves for his. Then he started complaining all that bread was making him put on weight.
* Lesson: Bring a man a loaf of bread and he eats for a day.

– Fancy water bottle.
My ex and I had the same water bottle: a red aluminium canister of the kind that will last a decade if you look after it. I’d been looking after mine. Then at some point during the relationship the bottles got swapped, but I didn’t become aware of this until we’d gone through the only breakup I’ve ever had where things got so ugly we no longer speak. And my ex had not been looking after his bottle. I don’t want to think the swap was deliberate, as that would have been petty. But then again, he’d been known to use the Twitter account belonging to the cat he’d shared with his ex to try and make her jealous, so.
* Lesson: Trust no one.

– James Bond back catalogue.
My ex was really into TV, and as a result we watched what amounted to, in my opinion, endless amounts of crap. Amateur cooking shows and kitchen sink dramas, urgh. So the Bond films were an attempt at coming up with stuff we both actually wanted to watch, as we’d exhausted Star Wars and Harry Potter. So I bought the DVDs and kept them at his house, and we chuckled our way through them. I mean, those films are comedies, right?
* Lesson: Opposites attract, then opposites bicker endlessly over what to watch while eating dinner. Romance is dead.

– Favourite knickers.
Do women actually leave used underpants at the houses of men they are dating, or is that a 1980s film cliche? In any case, these knickers were left behind in a clean state, in a moment of optimism that I’d be returning to wear them. I did not return to wear them. At the time I was too torn up about the guy to be upset about the pink and orange lace number, but it goes without saying: I’ve never left a favourite piece of clothing at anyone’s house ever again.
* Twist in the story: About a year later I found myself back at the scene, briefly, and retrieved the lost knickers! I’ve never been able to wear them again though, so the loss stands.

– Favourite yoga teacher.
I once got asked out by a man who, like me, liked to do 90 minutes of Ashtanga yoga on Tuesday nights, overseen by a wonderful teacher named Kate. This man was attractive, as boys at yoga often are, but I’m fairly sure I’ve never met a person I have less in common with. Cue Mia Wallace in ‘Pulp Fiction’ making a square with her fingers, if you catch my drift. Fast forward a couple of weeks, to when his prettiness no longer compensated, and I saw no other choice: I begrudgingly gave him custody of Kate, and bought a bike instead.
* Lesson: Good men are hard to find, but not as hard to find as good yoga teachers.