Cowboys & Cisterns


When Irishman and I first started stepping out together I had no idea that his bathroom was to become the bane of my life. The first weekend that I stayed at his house, he told me that under no circumstances was I to flush the toilet. Slightly perplexed by this I visited the bathroom and saw a metal coat hanger wrapped over the side of the cistern and a large sign above the toilet saying DO NOT FLUSH! Fortunately all I needed at that stage was a pee, but the following morning it was a different matter.

It seemed that some months previously, a drunken visitor had been somewhat heavy handed with the flusher and it had snapped off. Worse still, the internal workings of the cistern had been damaged. Subsequently every time the toilet was flushed, it flooded the bathroom. Irishman had rung around every plumber in South-East London to try to resolve the problem but each time was given the same answer ‘Sorry Mate, it’s a foreign make, can’t get the parts here’. Out of desperation he was therefore forced to concoct some system whereby he could flush the toilet. It entailed standing over the bowl and waiting until the cistern had finished filling with water  to make sure that the ballcock was in place. It was an exacting science that only he felt qualified to undertake. He, and poor long suffering Izzy his daughter had to put up with his Heath Robinson invention for an entire year before fate played it’s hand and I walked into their lives.

After I moved in with them, my raison d’être became getting the toilet fixed. First off I got rid of the wire coat hanger and replaced it with the lace from a boxing glove that I found at the bottom of his laundry basket. I reasoned that a lace looked rather more aesthetic than an old bit of wire. Several weeks, and plumbers later, I found someone who knew where to get the parts for the fancy foreign toilet. 8 long months after meeting Irishman, Izzy and I could at last flush the toilet and not have to ask for his help. As moments go, it was not only memorable but also rather empowering.

Alas, no sooner had the toilet been fixed, than the shower began to leak. Unattractive brown stains started to appear on the kitchen ceiling below and within no time a bosom like bulge formed in the plasterboard just under the shower right above the kitchen table. It was time to call the plumber again. I asked our neighbour if he could recommend someone and in what seemed like no time at all, we had Cowboy A and Cowboy B in to do the job. The shower was ripped out, the flooring taken up, the about-to-collapse kitchen ceiling replaced and Bob’s your Uncle, and £2,000 lighter, all was well once more in the sanitary department.

We left London shortly afterwards for Indonesia, content in the knowledge that our tenants had a lovely new shower, and a working toilet.

But within weeks my daughter Annie called me ‘Mummy, I’m really sorry but the shower is leaking again and it’s dripping down into the kitchen’. Naturally Cowboy A, and Cowboy B, had done a runner and were nowhere to be seen. Once more the  search was on for an emergency plumber. The problem was fixed, a squirt or two of sealer, another couple of hundred quid and all was well once more. Well it was until two weeks ago.

Last night I had a skype call from Annie. Apparently Dick (yes, I know!) hadn’t turned up to do the job, the water was still pouring through the ceiling and she had to go to work. I decided that I would give Dick Dastardly a run for his money and call him up. I don’t think Dick was expecting a call from the other side of the world. I told him where to shove his stop-cock and stop messing my daughter around. By the time I had finished with Dick he was a simpering wreck, like putty in my hands. I think/hope Dick has now got the message.

At 3am I was woken from a fitful sleep by the beep beep sound of my phone. Scrabbling around in the dark to find it, I knocked over a glass of water and lamp off the bedside table. There were 2 SMS messages from Irishman. The first one he’d sent whilst in transit at Dubai airport en route to Germany. It read “ATM not $£%@&*** accepting any of my cards, no money! Great! Xxx”

The second message he’d sent from Germany “Just arrived in Germany, some &^%$£*** has stolen the case with my laptop and driving license. I am %£@***”

I got up and went to put the kettle on. I reasoned it was either too late or too early to attack the gin bottle. I put an alert out on Facebook that my husband was having a bad start to his week away and could everyone send loving and positive thoughts his way. Many lovely messages and condolences from friends started to appear on my wall, it was very heartening and a great comfort to me.

As the day slowly dawned and it became light enough to go and take some photographs, I was reminded of one of my favourite quotes “Life is like a cucumber, one minute it’s in your hand, the next it’s up your arse” Rather apt for all that’s been happening over the space of a few hours.

I went up onto the covered balcony and watched the early morning rain as it fell and noticed these two doves preening themselves under the thatch of the alang-alang roof.

How nice not to have to worry about leaking toilets, showers, cowboys and thieves I thought to myself as I went back downstairs to make more coffee and to write this post. a

18 thoughts on “Cowboys & Cisterns

  1. Oh Lottie, what a dreadful saga. Plumbers are the pits. They rank somewhere below politicians, journalists, sex-offenders and bankers – but not necessarily in that order (and with apologies if there just happens to be an honest plumber reading this). I’m glad you gave Dick a hard time. You should have threatened him with the cucumber. Stolen briefcases are a nightmare. One of our directors was checking in at a hotel once, put his bag on the floor and when he had finished the bag was gone. It contained the company’s annual report and accounts that were ready for a board meeting but had not yet been published.

    I hope Pete backs up his laptop. Driving licences can be replaced but it is a hassle.

    I love watching the sun rise although I do it less often now I’m retired. The pair of doves look like Streptopelia chinensis, the Spotted Dove. Now I think its quite late enough for a gin (or two). Stiff ones at that. Happy Sunday.


  2. I sincerely hope that if an honest plumber does read this, that he’ll get onto me pronto so that we can get it fixed once and for all. At this very moment I’m in half a mind to fly back to Europe with 2 cucumbers – One for Dick and One for the A.Hole that stole Pete’s laptop and briefcase.

    Goodness me! Grrrrrrrr! – Calm down Lottie, calm down.

    I love your line-up of most hated and untrustworthy people! In hindsight I should have called this post “What a Dick” probably a bit more eye-catching than Cowboys and Cisterns….

    The doves are so pretty, I love their diamond necklaces. They make a beautiful cooing sound too. It’s very soothing especially on days like this!


  3. Oh dear, what news! Is all well with the Irishman now? Positive vibes being sent his way.

    When I worked in construction, plumbing issues were my least favorite of all the trades. I love that you call them “cowboys!” That is exactly what I always called them, because that truly is exactly what they are!!

    Your doves are beautiful, Lottie. I love their cooing sound…peaceful and soothing which is just what you’ve needed today. But as you’ve got all the crap (no pun intended) out of the way early on, I expect the rest of your week (and the Irishman’s!) to be amazing. Amazing as in fabulously exciting in all the best ways. xoxoxo

    P.S. “Life is like a cucumber, one minute it’s in your hand, the next it’s up your arse” You obviously have much more dangerous (and sneaky) cucumbers in your neck of the woods. Yikes.

    P.P.S. Depending on the circumstances, it is never too early nor too late to attack a bottle of gin.


    1. Hey! Thanks Sis for your kind words. Yes, I’ve just come up with a new title for this post – “Cowboys and Cucumbers” – dammit! It was only about 6.30am when I wrote it so clearly wasn’t snappy enough! I should have had a few glasses of the creative juice!

      Things have no gone from bad to worse – 24 hours after the event at last Pete has contacted me – I’ve been a bit on edge today as you can imagine – anyway, the bag had not just his laptop, driving licence etc but both hard drives with all the work backed up on it – they have gone too – 3 years work lost. The bag was found later by the police but everything in it had been taken.

      SO pissed for him – all his doctoral work, all his art work, his photos, his films – yes, not good – Cucumber of the very worst variety 😦 xoxo


  4. Actually what drew me in was the picture of the doves, I thought it was lovely and the thatch and the white effect gives it a slightly surreal or even upside down quality.

    I shall be having words with Mr H for slagging off journalists I think. And on behalf of my partner who does plumbing as part of his multi-skilled toolbox, (emergency pipe repairs to our block, unblocking the sewage drain, fixing the neighbour’s water heater for free) I can say that there is at least one honest one out there. Having said that I did try to get quotes for the emergency block work – some firms wouldn’t quote unless I agreed it was emergency (hence £££££££££££££s), another came to look, quoted, went back to the office and rang up with a few more hundred quid stuck on the quote! So in the end, Partner rang another multi-skilled mate and they did it between them for slightly less than I had been quoted.

    And as for £2K for the shower – gulp. That would definitely be stiff gin time. Or beer. Or cava. Or anything that was to hand.

    As for toilet problems we use a bucket. For flushing I mean.


    1. Lucky you for having a multi-skilled partner – he doesn’t fancy a job in S.E London does he? 😀

      This is my 4th bad experience of London builders/plumbers and my patience is wearing very thin (could also be to do with getting older and a lot wiser of course!) hence telling Dick where to shove his ballcock. It seems that London seems to be a magnet for ruthless scamsters and tricksters in the plumbing department.

      Definitely time for that gin now, but if there was some cava around well, now we’re talking!

      Great to hear from you and thanks for your comment.


      1. To be honest, the only central London jobs we did were personal recommend where people specifically asked for us. Otherwise we tried to stay local.

        Mind you, the way work in Gib is going, you might tempt us yet!


    1. It’s a great quote Hayley – you won’t forget it! yes, very stressful and he had all his hard drives in the bag too – so 3 years worth of work, all his writing, everything gone – very sad. But Hey! that’s the way the cookie crumbles sometimes and we just have to get over it and move on.

      It’s put me off cucumbers for a while though……


  5. Horrible tales, Lottie. It is amazing that there are so many unreliable and poor trades that you have to deal which are able to continue in business. We are quite fortunate to have hooked up with a good builder many years ago. When in need of a trades-person he sends one and they do not like disappointing him. Were one to do so the cucumber would be the least of his problems.

    Hearing of Pete’s misfortune I now have some appreciation for the Cloud, at least as I understand it. Losing all one’s work must be decimating and, like Andrew, I hope it is backed up and obtainable. I’ll add my positive thoughts in the hopes that they all add up to something good happening for Pete…like a short in the laptop that burns the perp’s arse.


    1. Thanks for giving me a ‘larf Steve – I really needed it just now.
      It’s even more depressing than I originally thought having now spoken to Pete – the hard drives were in the bag too…..

      But the Cloud, do you think it will have all the information? At the moment all I can see is a very black cloud but if there’s a silver lining and the work can be retrieved then that’s promising.

      Like you I’ve had some fantastic plumbers and builders over the years. I restored 3 old farmhouses in the 80’s and the 90’s and my last project 12 years ago was a beautiful Georgian Grade 2* house in York. No problems, fantastic craftsmen and excellent plumbers. Sadly London is notorious for the very worst in the building trade. I’m sure there are a few good’s uns but I’ve yet to employ one.


      1. Geez, it did just get worse didn’t it? Did he save anything somewhere else so at least it can be retrieved later? That would be unbearable to lose all that work for ever.

        The way I understand it, if you have saved files in the Cloud backup system they are retrievable from anywhere with internet access. I don’t use it, yet, but I guess it is a good way for lots of information to be saved off site and easily retrievable. I am not sure if there is a size limit to the storage. Photographers and artists create huge sized file documents as you know, so it could be difficult to transfer such large amounts of data I would think. Guess it bears looking into.

        Well, since the subject of cucumbers and their varied uses has broken the ice…We did have a bad experience with an electrician once before hooking up with our builder. Our circuit panel in the basement was all corroded and rotting and in need of replacement. It was during a building boom here and all the well-known electricians were contracting to house building and unavailable for small jobs. One suggested a guy named Jake. After the fact my neighbor told me he was better known as “Jake the snake”. Well he did take us to the cleaners as well as leave a terrible mess of wood chips everywhere. But the worst was the first. It was the day after our Thanksgiving and as he came in the house he asked to use the bathroom as he had eaten quite a bit the day before. I’ll just say that the house was uninhabitable for several hours afterward. 🙂 now but 😦 then

        You certainly must be handy with a hammer and nail, Lottie. All that restoring requires a lot of know-how.

        I do hope things turn around for Pete. I suppose it could be worse, but it would take some imagination to come up with a scenario.

        Did you see the video I posted on yesterday’s blog?


      2. I’m now in stitches about Jake the Snake and his mal odours.. no I haven’t yet seen the video, I meant to watch it earlier but got side-tracked. I’m going to watch it now and report back to you!

        You’ve been so lovely and supportive with your comments, thank you Steve, it means a lot. We need to look into the cloud thingy, I’m sure there must be something floating around up there (hopefully not anything to do with Jake!)


      3. Just watched the film…absolutely terrifying! the stuff of nightmares especially when he came out of the metal bit and had to go up the side……….I really don’t know how anyone can bear to do it – can you imagine if it’s a windy day???


      4. Actually, there isn’t a single thing about that job that I want to imagine what it is like. I never did find the one video that was similar to the picture you posted but I think this was quite enough. 🙂
        I am tickled that I have been a bit of help, Lottie. Not much makes those experiences easier but a grin lightens things just a little. You and Pete have a lot of supportive and thoughtful friends.


  6. An enjoyable read albeit all of the misfortunes of life. Women are often the problem solvers who might not be able to fix it but we generally know how to go about getting things done. Your complete post is cut off in this dat-burned or dag-burned computer. Have no idea what happened so I have not idea if your husband got any money or his luggage. I was hoping that is how your story would end but I will just have to hope that all is well for him by now.

    I’ve got so many similar stories I could write about from just this past year. Some of the problems are of my own making. In the USA people say s—t happens. Well the manure is quite deep around me at times and I need huge shovels to move it so that I can tolerate life.

    Hope all is well by now. Love that you chewed on the Dick person. I bet he shrunk a bit after you finished with “dressing him down.” Another American xpression. I know many people and most writers (those who really can write) despise catch phrases, idioms, regional wording, etc.but I can not help myself. Personally I love some of them and since I am not a true writer I feel I can be excused.


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