We were having breakfast at the Ritz. We usually do when our daily comes to clean the house once a week.
I should add that it was not at The Ritz, but our local greasy-spoon café, The Ritz.
We finished our breakfasts of brown, toasted bacon sandwich for Margreet and two poached eggs on fried bread for me. When our mugs of workman’s tea were empty we parted company on the pavement outside for Margreet to tend to her sister in Chiswick and for me to return home to continue the tedious work of dealing with my income tax. Actually, the task seemed less taxing this year as I had been selling rather well to private collectors i.e. no gallery or auction house commission to pay.
At home, I had barely started on my calculations when the cleaner rushed in to where I was working, shouting “emergency, emergency, emergency”. I followed her down to the floor below to see a cascade of water flowing from a join in the plasterboard ceiling above and out from overhead electric light fittings.
Connecting in my mind that house floods usually come from storm water penetrating the roof, I rushed to the garden to collect half a dozen black plastic buckets that are normally for garden and grape harvest use. En route, I discovered that water had passed through the floor and ceiling above the ground floor as well and flooded the kitchen.
With buckets in place I did what I should have done in the first place, namely, isolate upper house water from the main water supply. This I did. Even then, the water that was still held between the space above plasterboard ceilings and floors continued to fall.
The next move was to locate our plumber to mend the broken pipe. I had made a guess as to its position and the fact that it was not connected to the central heating, which was still under pressure. Also, being warm, it must be connected to a hot water supply. But we had no reply from our plumber.
In the house there was now no heat, hot or cold water above ground floor level, and with only bucket water to flush lavatories. We mopped up the kitchen floor.
Before 6 o’clock the following morning I contacted the insurance company’s emergency number (John Lewis), which, in retrospect, I should have done immediately after turning off the water. Almost right away they sent their in-house plumber to solve the problem.
To locate the break, this excellent Portuguese plumber asked me to turn on the water once more (to cause another mini flood) so that he could put his ear to the floor to locate the noise of water flowing from the break. It did not take long but it was an unpleasant experience to see water once more flowing from plasterboard ceiling joints. Having located almost the exact area, it was then a case of lifting the carpet, cutting out a section of floorboard and finding that a right-angled, brass, compression joint fitting had come apart from a hot water pipe.
With the pipe mended, we could return to partial normality, but in a very wet house. As I write we await assessors to estimate the damage as wet carpets start to give out a mouldy smell.
What immense good fortune it was that someone was “at home” when the flow began, as without an immediate response, with doors and windows sealed against winter draughts, the house might well have just filled up with water.
And although pictures almost completely cover our walls, not one was damaged. And the electric lights, despite being soaked, continue to function normally.
Before leaving homes on a visit or holiday, people might think of turning off the mains water supply. Yet all of the above flooding happened when Margreet and I had just been out for a quick breakfast. It was sheer luck that someone was able to deal with it.
A pipe breaking like that must be a rare happening. But it did.