DIY is not, and never has been, my strongest suit. I can't quite work out why that should be the case, although the same applied to my father. He had great difficulty in hanging a piece of wallpaper but in all modesty I have to say I have acquired that skill to a greater extent than poor old Dad. All the same, since both my grandfathers worked with their hands - one an electrician, the other a shipwright - I do sometimes wonder just why mt brother manages to use tools correctly while I struggle to turn a screwdriver the right way.
Of all the various DIY departments, plumbing is perhaps the one I dread the most. I still remember vividly the time I attempted to replace the washer on the kitchen tap. All I succeeded in doing was to half flood the kitchen and we had to call an emergency plumber to put things right. As it was a Sunday afternoon this proved an expensive failure on my part.
If you have followed the story of Les Lavandes, our French hideaway, you might wonder how it is that I managed to achieve so much by way of renovation and improvement. The secret to that is that for most of the jobs - except the very basic painting, paper hanging and kitchen unit putting together - I merely acted as gofer to my friend Chris. But there came a time when the shower tap needed replacing. When we bought the house there were two taps in the shower, one hot and the other cold, and getting the balance right was extremely tricky. Chris and I eventually changed those two taps for a mixer unit thingy which had a on/off tap at one end with a knob at the other which could be used to set the temperature of the water. It was even marked with the degrees Celsius. As is the way with these gizmos when they are bought on the cheap, the temperature control packed up. Much to my surprise, I managed to replace the unit in a satisfactory manner. That was a year or so ago and, until very recently, remained my one and only plumbing success story.
I now have a second.
It took until about the third day of our recent visit before the dripping tap in the kitchen finally got on my nerves. Until then we had usually managed to minimise the dripping if not eliminate it completely by turning the tap tighter and tighter, but at last I became desperate. I had to visit the supermarket for something or other - kitchen rolls, I think - so I decided to look for replacement washers and an adjustable spanner. (I had not bothered to take any tools with me and leave only a couple of screwdrivers, a pair of pliers and a hammer out there.) I got the spanner easily but they had no washers. However, the builders' merchant nearby had them. Lots of them, in a wide variety of sizes. In my ignorance, I had believed that tap washers came in two shapes and two sizes: flat or domed, kitchen (and basin) tap size or bath tap size. Not here. Their washers ranged in size from 6 millimetres in diameter to 22 mm and varied between several thicknesses, usually 4 or 5 millimetres. On my return to the house I trotted off into the field next door to turn off the water before struggling to remove the tap which seemed to be almost welded together. Then, of course, it was another struggle to remove the washer.
Back at the builders' merchant's I offered up my washer to those on display. It appeared to be 18mm in diameter, 4mm thick. No matter how hard I looked - which was a bit tricky as it was rather dim in that corner of the store - I could see none that size. There were packs of 17 x 4 and packs of 18 x 5 along with many other sizes that were quite obviously wrong. I mentally tossed a coin and chose the 18 x 5.
There was nobody at the till but I eventually found the lady lurking by the racks of drawer handles. She asked me if I had found what I wanted. At least, I think that was her question. I told her I hoped so, although what I really wanted was a washer 18 x 4. I showed her the old one and the pack I had selected. "This one's been compressed," she said, returning the old one to me. I wasn't entirely sure.
It was a fight to get that 5mm thick washer onto a 4mm stud but I did manage it in the end. I put the tap back together and turned the water on again. Marvellous! No dripping!
Until the next morning.
I turned the water off again, dismantled the tap and spotted a tiny piece of grit on the washer. After wiping the washer clean, I put everything back again. Once again, the dripping had stopped.
That afternoon the tap was dripping again. There was another tiny piece of grit on the washer.
The next day it happened again. I turned the water off for the fourth time and dismantled the tap. This time I found that something had cut a groove in the edge of the washer. It was lucky I had bought a whole pack of them so was able to replace the new old washer.
When we left, three days later, the tap was still not dripping. I had another plumbing success story to relate.
I have said how the flowers of the old rose by the gate start off a peachy colour and turn almost white. Here they are. I wish i could arrange for the scent to come out for you.