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Mario, Maria, and Something Slimy in the Night

It lives somewhere, in some chamber dark and drear I know not of:  I know only it must be damp, and cold, and these things are all my consolation, because it hates me and I wish it in hell.   At night it moves, sometimes silently, sometimes with barely audible stealth.  But I hear it, and I know it is preparing for the earliest hour, the coldest dawn, when it may strike.

Its spiteful cry, its impactful bang and crash wake me as certainly as it might wake the dead.   I run about the house, seeking it behind walls, beneath stairs, under floors.  I return its malevolent hammering with fists of fury and it merely laughs.  I know it laughs.

How do I know?

Because I can hear that, too.

But I have a path, a way to vengeance.  Before exhaustion overtakes me I must rush from bath to basin, from shower to sink.  I must open every faucet, turn on every tap.   Water gushes, pressure bursts forth:  my enemy groans its pain, then lapses into silence.   I turn off the taps, return to my deprived sleep.  And as I drift away I hear it, shaking off defeat to move once again…

There are few things I cannot do in a house – I re-wired a shop premises once:  I’ve relaid floors, plastered walls and yes, I have plumbed.  Lord knows I have plumbed.

A few months ago, however, in lazy mode, I let plumber in.   A professional.   This followed an unfortunate experience refitting a radiator which resulted in a minor emergency.  Nothing serious, just enough to set the blame train in motion:  I blamed the radiator, the radiator denied all responsibility – you know the sort of thing.   Anyway, the system needed flushing, another radiator had to be refitted so I allowed myself to be persuaded, and in came plumber.

He brought Gherkin with him.

Gherkin, by the way, is ‘it’.   Named after my least favorite vegetable; something small, green and slimy.  About the right size to block a pipe.

Yet Gherkin’s activities are not confined to creating blockage: no, Gherkin is also aEvil Gherkin skilled saboteur.  Since it was introduced by plumber it has been moving around, disabling everything it passes.   A minor adversary at first, it has become a dangerous enemy.

This Saturday it struck.   The Judas goat – the ‘bait’ if you will – was a perished ball valve.   No problem; simply replace the washer. A few years ago, foreseeing the need, I placed a tap in the flow pipe for a straightforward operation like this.   I turned this off, removed the valve, ignoring quiet sniggers from somewhere below, and extracted the old washer.

My tap failed.  Water came, at first dripping, then trickling, then gushing.  The more I turned off, the faster it gushed.   Race downstairs, plunge beneath kitchen sink, turn off mains.


At least, the flow of water was stemmed.  Absolutely nothing in the cupboard below could be described as dry.

I tried to reunite valve and pipe.  But plumber had rearranged the piping so it didn’t fit.  Let’s just give the two parts that needed to be joined names, and say that Mario’s thread refused to go anywhere near Maria’s socket.  However, after more craft, graft and wrestling than goes into the average Italian wedding I managed to achieve a union.  I turned the mains back on, stood back with a sigh of satisfaction.  Life would be normal again, at least until tonight.

We didn’t get that far.   An hour later, returning to the room with the cupboard that contained the header tank, I heard the dripping; my new union had begun to leak.  Not quickly – just quickly enough to saturate the pile of washing we had just placed underneath.

Put bowl under drip, placate the arguing partners – it’s slow, it’ll settle down, dry out.  Saturday night passed quietly.  Gherkin, apparently satisfied, allowed me sleep.  But it was plotting.

Sunday morning I returned to find a faster drip.  Decree Nisi already a distinct possibility, it wasn’t going to dry out.  I searched my stock of plumbing joints, ready to replace a whole section of piping.  A cry from my wife alerted me: the drip was becoming a trickle and increasing by the minute.  The bucket was filling.  I did not have the parts I needed, so, panicking I raced the sixteen miles to the only DIY store open on a Sunday and laid out extravagant amounts of money on new pipe and new joints.

I raced home.

The drip had stopped.   The joint was dry.

Today, the joint is still dry – I don’t know why, I hope the warring newly-weds have made up and are happy together, though I darkly suspect otherwise.  I suspect it’s dry because Gherkin is sitting right there, blocking the leak.  And one night, I don’t know when, perhaps in a few days, or a week, or even a year, it’s going to move.

Meanwhile, I pass my nights in wakefulness, deprived of rest by the quiet menace of its laughter.

The dust can take you prisoner and the concrete will not dry. Chinese connectors hurt your eyes but only Ikea makes you cry.

There is a facet of the human psyche which manifests itself at a later point in life; which is peculiar to the married state and a symptom of a deeper malady that, if diagnosed early, can save considerable damage.

The facet whereof I speak is, of course, HIM

Home Improvement Mania.

HIM attacks most partnerships early in their relationship under the guise of nest building, but only after the matured progeny have been allowed to make their final escape and the ceremony of the Changing of the Locks has taken place does the full symptomatic array erupt.  That is when, unless the condition is shared equally by both partners, serious disruption is likely to occur, and arguments developed at this stage can be terminal.

The symptoms take many forms.  For some, a tendency to watch TV programs such250 as ‘Grand Designs’, or ‘A Home in the Country’ incessantly, (even the repeats), or noticeable growth in calls from salesmen offering triple glazing, solar panels etc.,  normally brought on by clandestine visits to websites.  For others, there may be sudden irrational statements.  Look out for ‘what this garden needs is an orangery’; or ‘why haven’t we got double doors like those?’

Then there are embarrassing theatrical displays when encountering marble worktops.  In advanced cases this may involve sufferers prostrating themselves upon the cold stone whilst possibly salivating.  Be sure to carry tissues.  Finally, sketched plans will start appearing, scattered about the house.  During latter stages these are found on everything, including toilet paper.

Treatment for the condition is never easy.  Early diagnosis might avoid extreme measures, such as Architectural Therapy, an intrusive procedure that affects a cure by the complete removal of Money.    It will normally work hand in hand with a second therapy which we will call Structural Alteration.   S.A. is administered by a Builder.   The key factor to both treatments is something called an Estimate.  It is this last – kill or cure – that will provide the shock which may instantly dispel symptoms, but can equally open the trapdoors to the mania’s darkest phase, Himus Gravis.

As Carer during the progress of this condition, you will need infinite patience and independent counseling.  You can, at least, rest reassured that your relationship is secure whilst your partner is undergoing treatment.  In his or her own interest, your partner will never suggest ‘things are just not working out’, if only because of the financial mess this would create.  Nor will intimacy be an issue:  you will not cease sleeping together, for example, because there will only be one habitable bedroom.

The danger period for the relationship is in the last days of recovery.  Be prepared for the Final Account, in which the Builder is allowed to give his imagination free reign.  Avoid looking at the Estimate and the Final Account at the same time.  Remember Estimates are only ever two-thirds true, and accept that your partner’s decision to remove those two extra walls will have had a financial impact.  Arguing is fruitless and will only cause distress.

If you are able to raise enough Money and have successfully returned to work, all you have to survive is the DIY test.  Your partner, buoyant and revitalized, will explain the reasons for this – old furniture and fittings no longer ‘work’ in their new environment.  Structural Alteration has made them dirty, or damaged them in some indescribable way.  You have to Remodel.

You will be introduced to Furniture Stockades, in which you are forced to walk around in circles looking at remodeling suggestions until you find the one closest to your needs.  These places rarely provide bathrooms.  Do not make the mistake of using the ones on display.

Choice of furniture will almost always be your partner’s.  Your advice will not be images (1)needed, although your plastic should always be available.  However, Remodeling does place you in the position of an assembly expert, and here your skills, or the lack of them, will be required.  Building from cardboard carton’d MDF (sometimes humorously referred to as ‘flat pack’) into a three dimensional piece of hideousness will require patience on a level never hitherto experienced.  The ‘instructions’ make helpful suggestions:

‘The leg in front of the back when inverted is so screwed’


‘Pieces A may be disassembled when aligned with piece X using fixing e’,

These are rarely of material use.  As long as you build something from the bits with no more than two pieces left over you will have achieved all that can reasonably be expected of you.

Lastly, of course, there is lighting.  In vain you may protest that a single fluorescent bulb in a pretty shade is pain enough, that a gloriously over-chromed array of little glowing orbs is an unnecessary expense.   In the end you will lose.

There is a factory somewhere which assembles light units such as the one you have so expensively purchased.  It is manned entirely by pixies.  It is managed by a psychopath.  No-one human could produce electrical terminals so minute they cannot be seen other than through a microscope, and no-one sane could ask you to connect those terminals single handed whilst supporting the full quarter-hundredweight of the unit in the other hand, on top of a ladder.  And then fix it to the ceiling using two bolts provided by Fairyland Inc., whilst your partner reads out to you:  “Pieces A may be disassembled when aligned with piece X using fixing e.”

It is then, at that precise moment, that the future of your relationship will be at its greatest jeopardy.

Early diagnosis of HIM is difficult.  References may be subtle, inferences heavily disguised.  If you are so observant that you notice a slight alteration of pace as you walk past a DIY store together, or the glazing over of the eyes at the sight of a house with grossly exaggerated windows, you may be able to step in quickly enough.

Insist upon taking up a new hobby.  Fishing is good.  It can get you out of the house in all weathers, and keep you out all day.  The rods may cost a little money, but be sure not to forget a set of good waterproofs:  so when you take the check book and your credit cards with you, you can keep them dry.

What about you?  Do you know or are you close to a poor, tragic sufferer from HIM?  Do you have any ideas for treatment?