Tuesday, 21 October 2014

To realise you're crazy, you don't need a shrink. A boiler repairman will do.

Coming home from a refreshing holiday’s never easy. But it’s a lot less easy when you’ve been somewhere peaceful and warm, and you come back to a neighbour from hell holding yet another all-nighter, and central heating that’s on the blink.

The neighbour from hell’s going in a couple of weeks, due to be replaced by a Polish couple in their 30s or 40s. That’s a “delightful” Polish couple, no doubt, or at least I hope we’ll soon be saying so. Because the neighbour from hell is exceptional: I really thought fictional characters who use “fuck” or its derivative every other word were exaggerated, until I met her. It really is 50% of the time for her, or at any rate, it’s 50% of the words we can hear through the wall, and we hear a lot of words.

But on this occasion, the central heating problem was worse. We turned it on, and the pressure gauge shot round to the max and beyond, faster than our eyes could follow. So we turned it off, which was something of a bore, given we’d just had a twenty-degree drop in termperature.

We headed for bed and tried to sleep through next door’s revels. Eventually by about 2:00 in the morning, fatigue overpowered us. But only for an hour or so, until we were woken up again by an appalling banging sound. We leaped out of bed and tried to work out what the hell her-next-door was up to now. Within a few minutes, however, we realised that for once, it wasn’t her, it was us. 

Or rather our boiler.

I went downstairs and stood in front of it. Believe me, there are few sights quite as terrifying as a boiler, six inches from your nose, rattling and making a noise like a two-stroke engine in a mineshaft.

Well, I suppose there are more terrifying sights, such as your neighbourhood ISIS militant turning up to explain that you may have got some of your theology wrong. However, though we have a lousy neighbour, we don’t live in that kind of neighbourhood.

What made my experience particularly mind-focussing was that I had absolutely no idea what to do. There was a tap which, I knew, would increase the pressure if I turned it. But the pressure was already about six, on a scale that only went to five. Where was the tap that turned the pressure down?

I had no idea so I stood there completely useless, with just enough mechanical engineering knowledge to know that “excess pressure” is a notion that tends to be associated with “explosion”, and that
’s not good for the health of the observer.

And then eventually the terrible row stopped. The needle started to dip a little. That was enough to satisfy me, but Danielle insisted that we actually needed to do something. So we engaged in the bracing activity, in the small hours, of bleeding a radiator or two. And the pressure did indeed fall a little further.

The next morning we called the repairman, but he couldn’t call for a couple of days. So we had two cold days, washing up in water boiled on the stove, and blessing the fact that we had a shower separate from the central heating.

Boiler repairman at work.
A challenge to one's sanity?
It was worse for us: ours had bushy beard.
This morning the serviceman showed up, turned the boiler on, watched it a few minutes and announced:

“It’s working fine.”

And he looked at me suspiciously.

I explained to him what had happened in the small hours of Sunday morning.

“No,” he said, “it couldn’t happen.”

Danielle took over from me.

“At first it made this noise. Brrrrrr-brrrrrr-brrrrr. Then it began to rattle. Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat-tat. Then the noise really started. Banga-banga-banga-banga.”

It all sounded perfectly convincing to me. That was exactly how it was. How could anyone deny such eloquence?

“No,” he said, “it can’t happen.”

We were both dumbstruck.

He started to speak more slowly. It felt as though he was trying to choose small words.

“The boiler was off. When it’s off it can’t make that noise. It can’t make any noise.”

He smiled. Indulgently. To make sure we knew he was humouring us.

Logic likes to express its principles in the most pretentious terms. All I could think of as he was talking was a phrase I learned years ago, and which has never stood me in good stead. Or any kind of stead.

“From the phenomenon to the potential is a valid inference.”

I wasn’t sure he was ready for a notion expressed in quite those terms. To be honest, I wasn’t even sure he was ready to be told “if it happens, it’s a fair bet that it can happen.”

He was denying that it had happened at all. And you can’t argue about facts, can you? They either happen or they don’t happen. I was saying it had, he was saying it hadn’t. I was saying he had no idea what he was talking about; he was saying we were crazy.

Which left us at an impasse.

And then I suddenly realised.

I might be crazy, but I was a crazy man who had warmth. And hot water. Could even have a bath. At last.

Besides, I was a crazy man whose neighbour from hell was about to be evicted and replaced by a Polish couple.

No doubt a delightful Polish couple.

Things were on the mend. Who needed to prove a point?

“Thanks so much,” I told the repairman, with my most charming smile. And I can do charm. “So sorry to have wasted your time.”

Because I’m not so crazy as not to know when to leave well alone.

1 comment:

Awoogamuffin said...

Now I want to know what was going on with the boiler.

Maybe the roid-voisky fields emanating from the overactive neighbour were resonating with the baryon field of the boiler? Did you try de-coupling the tachyon mains?

I've been watching a lot of star trek recently.