Sunday, April 15, 2007

Bark: Shower o'bastards

I've had quite an interesting weekend. Our power shower gave up the ghost earlier this week, which was bad news for all concerned, really. For Fleur as it meant that she couldn't wash her hair anymore, but especially for me as it meant I had the somewhat unenviable task of a) finding a new one that wouldn't require totally re-plumbing the bathroom, and b) actually fitting it.

The first half of the task proved a lot easier than I thought it would be, as a quick trip to the huge B&Q warehouse in Farnborough revealed that the makers of my old shower were still in the business, and that their new shower units still allowed you to plumb them in from the side, rather than from behind (i.e. from out of the wall), so at least I'd be able to use the current piping without having to worry about re-plumbing. Of course, the actual cost of the shower unit itself was slightly more than I had anticipated (nearly £150), but at least Fleur has promised to reimburse me half. Of course, £150 is a pittance compared to what a plumber would have charged me to fit the unit, so I was determined to fit it myself - after all, how hard could it be?

Sensibly, I co-opted a friend of mine from work, Charles (aka charlesr from NTSC-UK), to come around and help me with the job; we had originally planned for Fleur and myself to travel down to his place this weekend, so we could play a few games and keep him company while his wife was off at a conference - so in a slight change of plan, I managed to persuade Charles to come up and lend me a helping hand, while Fleur kept young Ben (Charles's wee bairn) entertained. As I anticipated, Charles turned out to be an excellent choice to co-opt into DIY duties, given that he knew a heck of a lot more about plumbing than I did, and his toolbox was also a lot better equipped than mine.

The operation didn't get off to the most auspicious of starts, given that the previous occupier of the flat had boxed in the stopcock to the mains water supply underneath the boiler tank in the utility cupboard, and it took us over an hour to figure out where the hell it was - which is quite an achievement in a thirty square metre flat. Once we had consulted with the neighbours to find out where theirs was, we took down the boards hiding the piping and (with the judicious application of a hammer) managed to free twenty years' worth of limescale from the stopcock's valve and get the water stopped. With the probability of flooding reduced to much more acceptable levels, Charles and I then set about removing the old shower unit.

Freeing the shower from its fittings and taking it physically off the wall didn't pose too much of a problem. Freeing the shower pump from the pipes, however, was a much more difficult proposition. Essentially, the little copper fuckers wouldn't budge. With very little room to play with, while the pump was still in the shower unit's casing (flexing the pipes themselves seemed like a particularly poor idea, as the last thing we wanted to do was spring a leak), I decided to go mad with the screwdriver and remove the pump and the pipes from the casing of the shower unit itself. It was at this point that I realised that I couldn't simply take the casing off the shower to free the pump unit - as the pipes were sticking through holes in the side of the casing. With the pump free from the plastic case, I then used a hacksaw to cut chunks out of the casing so that we could free it from the pipes. So now with just the pump unit left on the end of the pipes, we had a bit more breathing room to try and free the pipes from the remains of the old shower pump.

Of course, the little bastard wouldn't move a millimetre. We couldn't simply cut the pipes free from the pump unit itself, as we still had to measure up the new unit and see how much length of the old pipes we would need to create a firm seal. A positive point in our favour was that the new unit was slightly larger than the new unit, so should theoretically need less length of piping to form a decent seal, but Charles and I still didn't want to take chances. Being in the slightly ridiculous position of having the internal working of a broken shower unit hanging off the wall, suspended from the hot and cold water pipes, we opted for what Charles called "the Russian approach" to remove the pump and free the pipes. In other words, we bashed the fuck out of it with a hammer.

So while Charles was bracing the pipes against the wall using a rubber strap wrench, I was trying to knock the old pump unit off the end of the pipes by hitting it very hard with a claw hammer (trying not to take Charles's head off in the process of my backswing). We ended up being partially successful: we freed one pipe, though not by popping the end of pipe free from the fitting, but by hammering the plastic so hard that the fitting itself shattered. With one pipe free, hammering the pump wasn't doing any good at all, thanks to a lack of leverage. So I took an executive decision and got the hacksaw out again to remove the plastic entry socket from the main body of the pump, where the copper pipes were pushed into the unit. Five minutes of hardcore sawing later, the last remnants of the old shower had been successfully disposed of.

From then on, it was actually a fairly simple matter of measuring up, trimming the input pipes to their proper length, drilling the holes for the wall mountings and getting the new shower installed - but even so, the whole thing took over four hours - and, if I'm being honest, it's not something I want to repeat in a hurry. I was glad Charles agreed to come over and help, because it would have been impossible to do on my own - and four hours at Surrey plumber rates would be a good £300 or more, so I compensated Charles for a job well done with a very good bottle of 2001 St-Emillion Grand Cru I'd been saving.

With the DIY chores done, I cooked us a late lunch of a turkey, asparagus and saffron risotto before we changed venue to Charles's house, down near the West Sussex coast. Here Charles and I spent the evening persuading Fleur about the merits of High Definition TV, using Charles's plasma flat panel as a case in point, while watching DVDs and episodes of Battlestar Galactica Series Three. I think our case was both persuasive and successful. Expect news of an HD LCD TV purchase in the next couple of months...

Today was spent in and around Chichester, down at the coast in the morning, having a very pleasant stroll down the beach in very summer-like sun and a very gentle sea breeze, before going into Chichester itself for the afternoon and doing a little shopping; where I picked up Mogwai's Government Commissions album (the near obligatory 'BBC Sessions' album that most really good bands seem to do), plus - unusually for me - some new clothes: a couple of new pairs of jeans (one pale, one dark), some trousers for work, a new belt and a white kaftan-style shirt. Chichester itself seems like a nice enough place - very similar (perhaps unsurprisingly) to Winchester in architectural feel. We didn't quite get around to seeing the whole of the town centre (as Charles, who was showing us around, had to go home a little prematurely with Ben) - but I think we'll definitely go there again, if for no other reason to pay another visit to the exquisite chocolatier on East Street, which sells some of the most incredible chocolate I've had the privilege to sample. Which reminds me, I've still got half a packet of giant white chocolate buttons left...
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