Friday, February 09, 2007


We have our first guests in our holiday gite this week and so last Saturday were checking all was going to be ready and welcoming for them. We switched on the fridge and the heating, put on fresh bedclothes and had a bit of a dust and so on. When I went to switch on the hot water tank, I remembered that I’d spotted the tinniest of leaks from one of the pipes coming out the bottom of the tank last time I’d looked, which I’d temporarily solved by switching off the water supply to the tank (not forgetting to also turn off the heating element, of course). Consulting The Water Book by Judith Thornton, I read that “a slight drip wastes 30 litres a day and by the time the drips have built to a trickle, it could easily be 300 litres a day” (p19). In the UK, the water regulator (OFWAT) estimated that nationally, 3625 mega litres per day in 2002/3 were lost in the distribution system, that’s 127 litres per property per day! (p16).


Now, despite all that, it wasn’t for ecological reasons that I decided to do something; in fact, I really don’t know why I interfered. Have you ever watched a horror film where a character hears a noise from the basement and decides to go and investigate? And you watch through your fingers, muttering, “don’t go down the stairs, don’t go…”, and you know, because it’s a horror film, that there is something very bad down there, and you know that, despite your protestations the character really is going to go downstairs and maybe the lights will fail and there will be a very bad thing down there and it will all end in tears … and inevitably does? So, having seen many TV programmes about people going abroad for a new life, and renting out holiday accommodation, and having booked guests before the building work is finished, and seen, time and again, the rush to plumb in the bathroom at the very last minute, you’d think I’d know better. And as it wasn’t even a drip, just a weeping joint, perhaps a whole drop appearing twice a minute and that I could have put something to catch those drips for the week and deal with it when they’d gone, you’d think I’d know better. But my brain was as separated from my fingers as the viewer from the screen character in the horror film, and I got my toolbox out. It’s Saturday evening, and they arrive tomorrow morning!


The joint connects two pipes. It’s a compression joint, that means it has a nut on either side, and to do it up, you tighten each nut relative to each other. In the middle, there is a piece of brass or copper like a wedding ring, which provides the seal in the middle. Just a tweak with a pair of adjustable spanners and all would be done. The drip became worse. From experience, if you undo the nuts a bit and then retighten, the joint can settle down. The drip was even worse; in fact it had become a 300 litre a day trickle. Ah, b------s! When I was just a boy, in moments like these, one had only to call out “Dad, Daaaahd” and an omnipotent being would appear and resolve the problem. But I’m 45 and my father lives in a different country. I was lying on my side in a cramped cupboard with a wet shirt sleeve and I called out to Gabrielle to come and give me moral support. She logically listed our options, which included expensive emergency plumber callouts and me doing something about it myself.


I undid the joint completely, pulled it apart and stuffed my thumb over the end. French hot water tanks are under mains pressure and scaldingly hot. The joint did not contain the expected olive but rather a very knackered washer. With an uncomfortably hot thumb, I asked Gabrielle to go and fetch my box of assorted washers, which contained (just) one of the correct size and temperature rating (now you don’t get those breaks in the basement of a horror movie!) A quick sleight of hand and the new washer was introduced and the joint refastened—no more leak—hooray. (None of which changes how stupid I was, of course).


Back to permaculture for the next few blogs, when I’ll tell you about my day cutting trees in the woods yesterday, our first course, and some great blogs by other people that you might find interesting.

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