Living Between the Lines


(Written April 1st)

Now I know it is April Fool’s Day but really – can this be right?

It is definitely NOT ‘A Gas’.

You may recall that we had a lot of trouble with our central heating boiler last December and again after Christmas but you may not know that the problems dragged on well into January when British Gas decided to flush the entire system. This didn’t happen immediately of course because they cancelled the appointment twice. February dawned before an engineer finally arrived to do the job.

After being without heating for so many weeks we were ecstatic when the boiler burst into life even if it had taken an entire day to sort. The house grew warm.

We breathed a sigh of relief, noticing our breath no longer hung in the air like mist. We could finally abandon the outdoor fleeces.

In March, the weather grew warmer. We didn’t need the heating on all the time. We turned it off.

The radiators continued to blast out their heat.

Mystified, we turned the thermostats down on each radiator and pushed the switch to ‘off’ – to no avail.

A Gas engineer arrived in due course and decided a valve needed changing. We thought that would be ‘job done’. It seemed to work.

Last week, we noticed that the radiators were heating up regardless of whether the main switch was on or off. Sound familiar? At the same time we were having a new work-top fitted in the utility room which houses the infamous boiler.  The work-top fitter informed me that he could not do the work that day because the boiler was leaking.


How could this be?

I looked and yes, water was pouring out of a pipe attached to the boiler. This was not good.

The Gas man called again.

“Needs a new valve,” he told me. “There are two and one is leaking. It could be the one the other engineer replaced or it could be the older one. I’ve done a temporary fix but I will replace both.”

He ordered the valve and promised to come back on Friday – today, April 1st.

He arrived at 8 o’clock. His apprentice arrived shortly after.

It is now 1.15pm. The day has not gone to plan. The valves they brought with them are the wrong size. They could not get to the necessary pipe in the airing cupboard beneath the floorboards – at this point they were camped on the landing with tools spread out on a tarpaulin. The apprentice was sent out to collect some ‘parts’ that would make access easier.

This was some time ago. Since then, there has been a lot of high-pitched drilling and banging, pipes groaning and creaking and radiators clanking.

The experienced Gas man comes and goes at intervals, opening and shutting the five bar metal gate to access his van which is parked in the lane. Keano, he of nine and a half years and self-appointed guardian of the house, barks ferociously at this apparent ‘newcomer’ each time he re-appears until he recognises him afresh.

The barking, screeching, banging and drilling continue.

As I write, a new face appears in my house. He has somehow managed to walk right through the front door and on into the living room without being attacked by number one Dog.

Oh Keano, you have let us down. Or have you just given up?

The man is speaking but I cannot hear what he says due to the noise from upstairs. I usher him into the dining room which is relatively peaceful though currently houses a fully laden clothes-airer and is being used as my office today. The dogs follow us.

Aha, this man is a Quality Assessor. He carries out random checks on the Engineers. To what do I owe this dubious pleasure then?

Apparently, he phoned the apprentice who told him he is working with ‘Jack’. (I have to wonder if this is the infamous, ‘Jack-of-all-trades’.) On hearing the details of the job, the QA man wisely decided he’d pop in and give the two some pointers.

He asks to see the documentation for previous visits which I am able to provide, having a husband who meticulously files everything. (I once misplaced a wall hanging plate-clock that had fallen from its nail and found it in the filing cabinet under ‘C’ for clock.)

QA man is up there now, giving the two engineers some pointers.

The smoke alarms have just been set off – apparently they were welding something in the airing cupboard. My ears are still ringing.

At least we know the smoke alarms work.

So, it is now 2.45pm and there are three British Gas Men on my landing, a hose stretching out of the back door from the boiler and a ringing in my ears.

Anyone want to place any bets on whether this will fix the problem once and for all?

My attention is really elsewhere of course. Our second grandson is now five days late and I am on stand-by as my daughter would like me to be there for the birth. If I disappear from the scene suddenly, you will know why.

I only hope the three Gas men can cope by themselves if I am called away. I shant stop for anyone!

Oh dear, the smoke alarms have gone off again – I do hope the house isn’t  on fire…

I am an Author, wife to one, mother to five and grandmother to six. I live in the English countryside in Hampshire, UK, with my husband and two dogs and am a non exec Director for Glow


  • Andrea Carlisle

    Such difficulties a house presents sometimes. I’m so glad that in the midst of all this you have a new person waiting in the wings for the right moment to appear. Soon all this other stuff will be so far in the background you won’t remember a bit of it.

  • Hilary

    Hi Deborah .. this sounds a job of ghastliness and incompetence and lateness .. I hope the little one doesn’t appear til the house is fixed, safe and warm again .. and then you’ll have time to relax with your daughter and new grandchild .. excitement ahead ..

    Hope all goes well – Hilary

  • Patricia

    Wow does this bring back memories – I assume the boiler is the hot water tank? Ours burst open one evening and saturated the hardwood flooring in the family room and two bedrooms.

    We had to call special clean up crews and mildew specialists and then purchase new flooring and hire a team to install..all with lots of company arriving for Christmas Holidays – oh yes they would be done in plenty of time….NO They were not…
    folks slept in sleeping bags on the living room floor…we had to move our daughters farewell party to a restaurant in Seattle ( she was off to a 2 year graduate school program, with no extra funds to come home for visits) and the crew did not show up while we were gone…we finally fired the crew and hired a school teacher on winter break to finish the work…oh what a mess

    I wish you well and that new baby arrives just in time to help everyone forget…I am thinking about you and wishing you well

    • Deborah Barker

      Hi Patricia – thanks for your good wishes – baby will come when baby is ready no doubt!
      The hot water tank sits in the airing cupboard, the boiler controls the flow of hot water to the radiators and to the tank. We had a hot water tank burst many years ago – due to inexperienced young husband poking the corroded base with his fingers whilst checking it from beneath. You know the story of the boy and the damn? Picture it! Luckily, we had a very kind neighbour who could weld and he found a plug and fixed it within the hour. A new tank was then ordered. My eldest son is a welder now – he was not born at the time though.

  • cj Schlottman

    Talk about April Fools Day! So sorry about all your troubles. Don’t you just hate it when things snowball on you, and it’s not even winter? I enjoyed this piece very much.


  • Deb

    Where’s hubby while all this is going on? Yikes, what a mess. Sending prayers and warm thoughts for the safe arrival of this new little life.

    • Deborah

      Hi Deb, I believe he was away on business that day but he did get home just as the gas men had left. Thanks for your words re. new arrival-to-be. I will certainly be posting the news as soon as I can 🙂

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