18 May 2015
Sometimes things don’t turn out quite how you expected. It often happens with my walks, but that’s usually through a lack of proper planning on my part. Other times, no matter how well you plan, things go wrong and this weekend seems to have been one of triumph over adversity, none of which involved walking of any kind.
It began with a mattress. Many weeks ago we ordered a new one, mostly because our old one was a contender for the oldest, most uncomfortable mattress in the world. It was a prime example of the old adage, buy cheap buy twice, but it had been all we could afford at the time. It had got so bad we were waking up every morning with more aches and pains than we’d had when we’d gone to bed. This time we knew we had to bite the bullet and buy a decent one. We went to the shop, tried loads and finally settled on one that cost the earth but felt like heaven in bed form. In fact I could have fallen asleep on it right there in the shop.
After eleven weeks of waiting, the much anticipated mattress was delivered on Friday afternoon. On Saturday Commando and CJ tried to get it up our steep narrow stairs to the bedroom. They failed. Commando was convinced we would never be able to get it up there because, being less flimsy than the old one, it didn’t want to fit between the stairs and the hall ceiling and it wouldn’t bend. When I got in from work it was at the bottom of the stairs leaning against the wall. Obviously it couldn’t stay there and I wondered if we tipped it slightly sideways and all three of us helped we might somehow be able to move it.
With nothing to lose, except a very expensive mattress, we had a go. Commando, CJ and I somehow forced it up. To any specialists in the removal trade our efforts probably looked pretty comical, as if the hall was giving birth to a massive mattress with three sweaty, swearing midwives. It reminded me of a time when Mother and I somehow managed to manhandle a large, winged armchair up those same stairs. Then I was twelve, but that’s a story for another day. It’s a wonder we all came out of the experience unscathed. Going to bed on Saturday night was a joy. In fact bed is now officially my favourite place in the world.
The second triumph begins with a long and sorry tale that has been going on for months. It began with a water bill that seemed way too high. A man from the leaks department of Southern Water came out. He seemed quite pleasant to me, if a little officious, but Commando thought he had suspiciously black hair for a man of his age and took a dislike to him. I put this down to hair envy, but I’m gullible and tend to trust everyone until proven wrong. Mr Black Hair checked our meter, told us it had a leak and organised someone to come out and fix it.
A Week or two later the engineers arrived, dug up the path and fixed the leak. Afterwards the meter was still going round when the water was turned off so they decided we probably had a leak in the service pipe from the meter to our house. As this was an old lead pipe (which probably explains a great deal) Mr Black Hair said they’d replace it free of charge but only up to the house. If there was still a leak it would be the service pipe under the house and our problem. He was sure it wouldn’t be that though…
Some weeks later the water board engineers came out again and replaced the service pipe. Afterwards the meter was still going round but not as much as before. In fact it was barely moving. The engineer said it looked like a slight drip and, given that the pipe ran under the concrete floor of the gym, it was probably not worth worrying about. Unfortunately, Mr Black Hair didn’t agree. He suddenly became rather intimidating and issued us with an official notice to get it fixed. If we didn’t they would take us to court for wasting water.
Commando dubbed him a bit of a Job’s Worth, you know the kind, always saying ‘it’s more than my job’s worth…” When he gave us a business card with details of a ‘friend’ in the trade who would give us a good price it all began to look as suspicious as his black hair. As we had cover for our boiler, electrics, plumbing and drains through British Gas and Dynorod we called them instead.
A young Dynorod engineer came out a week later to look at the job. He agreed there was a small leak under the gym.
“To be honest, it’s so small and the job of digging up your concrete floor is so big I’d be inclined to leave it,” he said.
We explained about the official notice and the officious Mr Balck Hair. We suggested it might be easier to re route the pipe under the hall floor instead as this would only entail moving it a little to the left and under the floor boards. He agreed this sounded like the cheapest and easiest plan for all concerned. Finally it looked like our problems were over.
Unfortunately, the lady who rang the next day to organise an appointment had missed out on the part about rerouting the pipe.
“We can have an engineer out next Monday to dig up your concrete floor and fix the leak,” she said cheerfully.
“Um, that’s not what we agreed,” I told her. Once I’d explained she said she’d have to go back to British Gas and get approval for ‘upgrade work,’ She would ring me in a day or so.
Long story short, she didn’t ring. Seven fruitless phone calls later, during which I was told the person dealing with it was not in the office and faithfully promised a call back the next day every single time, I was losing patience. This wasn’t helped by Mr Black Hair who kept appearing and making threatening noises. One person did tell me the upgrade work had been approved but I still couldn’t get any news on an appointment.
Eventually, in desperation, I Googled the email address of the CEO of British Gas and sent him a long email detailing the whole sorry tale and asking if he felt this was acceptable. If I didn’t get an answer within seven days, I told him, I was going to contact Trading Standards and the press, I would also be speaking to OFGEM, the energy regulator. Within the hour I had a call from the head of Customer Relations an apology and an appointment the next Monday for the work to be done. Let’s be honest here, I wasn’t holding my breath…
On Monday morning when the Dynorod engineer came to the door he looked so much like practical joking comedian Dave Gorman I thought it was some kind of trick at first. Even when I had my glasses on he looked like him. We actually got two engineers, one for the outside and one for the inside, British Gas/Dynorod were pulling out all the stops. The second engineer didn’t look like anyone famous as far as I could tell but he did call engineer number one Dave. Maybe it was Dave Gorman and he moonlights as a Dynorod engineer?
To their credit, Dave Gorman and his mate were great. They checked everything out from the meter to the house before confirming what we already knew. They agreed it would be stupid to dig up the concrete floor.
“We’d never have done that anyway,” Dave said. “The best way to do the job is replace the pipe and run it under your hall floor.”
Finally, someone was talking sense.
It was pouring with rain when they dug up the gravel path outside. To be honest I felt a little sorry for them and I did make them a cup of coffee, having sensibly filled the kettle and every available receptacle in the kitchen before they turned the water off. As soon as the hole was dug it stopped raining and the sun came out. I’m glad it isn’t only me that happens to.
So I spent the day ensconced in the living room, popping out ocasionaly to make cups of coffee in a kitchen that looked like a bomb had hit it. The hall carpet had to come up, along with the floorboards. They had to cut a hole in the bottom of one of my kitchen cupboards and pull up more floorboards under that. Poor Dave Gorman had to squeeze in the tiny gap and fiddle about for hours. At least they didn’t have to dig up the concrete floor in the gym though.
At around four o’clock they finished. They put the carpet back, fixed the kitchen cupboard floor and even moved my stopcock to a more accessible place in the process. They filled the hole outside and put all the gravel back in place. Apart from putting everything back into the cupboards you’d have hardly known they’d been there. The saga of the water leak is finally over. We no longer have any lead water pipes, so we might all start to get brainier. Now we just have to wait for Mr Black Hair to come back…
The moral of this tale is never to give up. That and Google the CEO of the company giving you the runaround. It’s surprising what you can achieve when you stay polite and go right to the top.