Friday, April 27, 2007

The moral of the story: you can catch more flies with stinking, putrid toilets than with honey

Eagle eyed readers (are there any of you left out there?) may recall that we encountered some plumbing issues with our flat soon after we moved in. (October. The issue began in October. It is now April. April? Comes 6 months after October. Really. I counted on my fingers just to be sure.) Finally now, after half a year of ineffectual British management, these issues have come to a head. (Head... get it? How many bad toilet puns do you suppose I can fit into a single cranky post? Better not to try... I don't posses much in the way of humor at this point.)

The root of the problem itself is almost inconsequential, but essentially, when this flat was re-done prior to our tenancy, the complete morons plumbers who re-did our bathrooms didn't install the waste pipe that snakes behind our walls at the proper heights or slopes. It's unclear why this was done, but it would appear that they just found it more convenient to completely ignore all of the code and industry guidelines for such jobs, plug some toilets randomly into a pipe and call it a day. I'm no plumbing expert (nor were these guys, clearly), but I can now tell you conclusively that this was a damn foolish way to cut corners. Because the end result of a decision which probably got them all out of here early on a holiday weekend or something was that when one toilet in this flat was flushed, remains of what had been flushed would re-appear in another toilet. Yeah. "Ick" is right.

For the past 6 months, I have politely kept my cool, using measured tones, respectful requests and many murmurs of understanding to communicate with the managing agents of this flat. This kind of behavior has admittedly been an utter departure from my usual bottom line, no-screwing-around-here approach, but it's honestly seemed like the only way to communicate with my British contacts and since they were holding all the cards here, I thought it advisable to try things their way. I've never actually heard anyone British raise their voice about anything, and they get things accomplished, right? So I could do the same, right? In true "when in Rome" style, I was determined not to lose it on anyone involved in this mess. Surely we could resolve this without me pulling a New Yorker and screaming like a banshee as I would have done back home.


In a classically British "unfailingly polite but utterly useless" fashion, our managing agents have tsked sympathetically every time I've placed a polite phone call and sent dozens of plumbers out to assess the problem. All have reported back that this place was a disaster and there was really no option but to break through all that lovely brand new tile in my lovely brand new (and utterly useless) bathrooms, rip everything out and start again from scratch. Each time, the managing agents would nod and hmmm a lot and then dispatch someone else to try a cheaper approach. I would wait 3 days after their quick fixes and then politely call again to report that no, that approach hadn't worked either and yes, I was still finding floaters in the toilets and please, could we get this resolved and move on to more pleasant things? Apparently, we could not.

This week, the shit finally hit... well, it would have been nice if it had only hit the fan. Those poor mislaid pipes apparently finally hit critical load and the whole thing just fell apart. By Tuesday, I had two toilets which were completely out of commission (both of which smelled like a fairgrounds Porta Potty at the end of a hot summer day) and a third which was hobbling along but leaking copiously through the ceiling of the flat below us. And finally, a plumber managed to take action.

"You're a very nice lady," he told me after I led him through my now well-rehearsed tour of stinking toilets, "but I sense that you're about to lose your patience soon and I have the strong feeling that it's not going to be pretty when that happens." (I can't imagine what gave me away. Really, I was the picture of restraint. Perhaps that, coupled with an American accent, was the real clue?) Off he went to make some phone calls and voila, things began to happen. I found out later that his boss, who holds a major plumbing contract with our managing agent, told them that they would drop the entire contract and refuse to ever do any work for the company again unless they agreed to fix our plumbing the way it needed to be fixed. Now. Finally, a non-nonsense ultimatum (clearly the guy's a New Yorker at heart if not by blood). Nick the Plumber is my new best friend.

Three days later, we've been through homeless days while a team of plumbers blasted through tile and pipe and we've been through unpleasant nights with a single working toilet in a flat that smelled like, well, like crap. I've disinfected and deodorized everything in here until I'm blue in the face and I still can't escape the feeling that there are microbes of poo clinging to every surface of this place. But we've now got pipes laid the way pipes are supposed to be laid and toilets that I've been assured will flush the way toilets ought to flush. A week from now, we should even have re-tiled, normal looking bathrooms again.

It has been a long week. I'm weary from trying to keep my kids happy and relatively on-schedule without the comfort of a home base to fall back on and I'm tired of cleaning up upon returning to the house after such long, exhausting days. It still smells in here and I'm beyond grouchy about that fact. I'm done, just done with the whole situation. But you know what? The repair work is basically done, too. With no yelling on my part. And it only took what, a half a year?

Yeah. I should just yell next time, shouldn't I?


Blogger Jennifer said...

Holy crap, Rebecca.

(Ok, I really am sorry about that one -- I KNOW I should have resisted, I do know's been a long week. ;)

But, no, really. HOLY CRAP. I'm kind of feeling like I should go scrub with bleach after just reading that. I can't even fathom a "next time" with this one, but yes...yell. Or cry. Or both. YIKES.

8:35 PM  
Blogger Gina said...

OMG, I agree with Jennifer. Yell. Cry. Pitch a good, old-fashioned hissy fit (I'll loan you my Southern genes so you can do it properly). Welcome home, by the way!

8:56 PM  
Blogger Liesl said...

Well, thank goodness for Nick's keen powers of observation. I'm glad things are being fixed, but how awful that it had to come to this in the first place.

8:59 PM  
Blogger Steph said...

I'm with everyone else on the yelling and crying if a next time were to happen. (Let's hope not!) So glad that it is all fixed and getting put back together now, but ick.

11:18 PM  
Anonymous Kari said...

Being the daughter of a plumber I can so sympathize with your plight, you can only imagine the horror stories I have heard, although this is one I can't wait to share with dear old dad this week in the Dominican Republic. You've shown such great restraint and should be commended. I would have killed someone!

11:40 PM  
Blogger Gretchen said...

Plumbing problems are the eighth circle of Hell. I'm glad it's resolved, or so one hopes.

1:14 AM  
Blogger denzylle said...

I'm not sure where you get this idea that we Brits (I hate that word) don't scream and shout when it's required. Perhaps it's because of the refined people you associate with in Hampstead.

I've been known to have phone arguments with British Gas, Virgin Trains, Visacard and also the letting agent of a neighbouring property who gave my address to Thames Water, telling them I was moving out so that they terminated my account!

However, I've never had as bad a problem as the one you describe, so I do sympathise with that situation.

But you know the saying that other people's farts always smell worse than your own? So, it could only have been worse if your crap was washing up in the next flat and theirs was arriving in yours. At least you kept it 'in house'.

9:51 AM  

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