I holiday in Pembrokeshire about three times a year. I stay in my parents’ holiday home, a large Georgian terrace that’s been in the family for a hundred years and regularly have My Long Suffering Friend with me, as her daughter has grown up with my sons and they get on well. Usually these weekly breaks are predictable: beach walks, mooching around the charity shops for books, visiting the deli for sweets, Scrabble, lots of card games, welcome conversation and alcohol.
As we’ve been friends for so long we’re comfortable in one another’s company and look forward to our holidays together; but this week our friendship was tested to the limit.
After the long, long drive down, I began unpacking my suitcase and as I got to the bottom I realised my underwear was missing. “What! That can’t be right,” I thought, checking the other bags. No pants and bras to be seen, only a pile of brightly-coloured socks.
I collapsed into giggles and went to find My Long Suffering Friend to tell her the news.
“What’s up with you? You’ve turned into a total airhead recently!” she exclaimed.
“I blame it on the hormones,” I said ruefully. (Perimenopause has started with a vengeance). “Tesco will have some. I’ll go down in the morning and have a look.”
The following day, I hopped in the car and purchased some underwear along with the toilet rolls, bread and other groceries we needed. Disaster averted, it was now time to relax and enjoy myself. How was I to know it was a bad omen?
Sunday, Monday and Tuesday passed peacefully enough. We were blessed with glorious sunshine and so packed up the car with beach towels, swimwear, bats and balls, the camping stove and food to cook on it and made a day of it, returning tired and sandy but happy in the evenings.
On Monday I met up with an old school friend at West Angle Bay who I hadn’t seen for 16 years. Thanks to Facebook, we found out we were holidaying around the corner from one another and arranged to meet. Over the afternoon we caught up on one another’s lives; with 6 kids and several careers between us there was a lot to talk about!
I’ve been wanting to replace the beds in the house for years; they are as old as me and after a week of sleeping on them you need several visits to the chiropractor just to be able to walk upright again. My Long Suffering Friend had deliberately chosen one of the single beds because it wasn’t quite as dilapidated as all the others but she still had backache after a couple of nights. Enough is enough I thought, I’ll go to the furniture warehouse at the bottom of the road and see what they have.
Half an hour and several hundred pounds later, I’d chosen two new single beds and a one double bed for the attic bedrooms and arranged to have them delivered on Thursday. The frames would need assembling but I wasn’t worried; usually they aren’t hard to put together.
“Where did you go?” My Long Suffering Friend asked when I returned.
“I went to look at beds,” I said, “I can’t stand them any longer.” I told her what I’d ordered and when they were arriving.
I also informed her that unfortunately we’d have to take the old beds to the tip ourselves, as the furniture place charged exorbitant removal fees, which meant wrestling them down three flights of stairs.
We had a coffee and then went up to the attic to have a look at what we had to do. Luckily for us they were all divan beds, so very easy to take apart. The mattresses went down easily and by the time we got to the last flight we simply threw them down into the hall but the bases were more difficult, having to be angled round 90-degree bends and we gained lots of bruised shins and arms in the process. More worryingly as we were putting one of the bases into the car My Long Suffering Friend twisted her knee, yelping with pain. And then she bashed the same knee the next day putting a mattress into the boot. She should have got in the car and driven home then, for there was worse to come…
Wednesday dawned bright and sunny and the beach beckoned. In my head I was planning what food we could cook after Tuesday’s triumph of teriyaki beef drew envious glances from other holidaymakers but no, Wednesday was to be The Day The Kitchen Sink Broke.
After I’d washed the breakfast dishes, I emptied the water into the sink but it didn’t go down the plughole. Instead it sat there uninvitingly, speckled with bread crumbs and coffee grinds. Cursing I went in search of the plunger only to find the rubber had perished and it was useless; I flung it into the bin crossly.
“OK, I’ll unscrew the u-bend and clear the blockage that way,” I said. The joint refused to budge. My Long Suffering Friend had a go too. No luck.
I went in search of Dad’s tool box and found several mole grips and an large adjustable spanner. They were all useless; that joint wasn’t moving for anybody.
“Perhaps the next-door neighbour can help,” I said and went round and knocked on the door. No-one was home.
“What shall we do now?” asked My Long Suffering Friend.
“Let’s see who else is in and can help before I call out a plumber,” I said, thinking of the £80 call-out charge.
The neighbour a few doors up, Dave, who knows my dad very well, was home. “I’ll come and take a look,” he said cheerfully.
He couldn’t move the joint either, so decided to undo the assembly from the other end. Soon he was passing me gunked up bits of pipe work to clean out and I dutifully took them up to the bathroom to clean in the shower. Eventually he’d taken everything off and cleaned it but then we realised we had a major problem on our hands: the attachment which fixes the overflow to the back of the sink was so old it had disintegrated, so now we had no way of reattaching all the pipes and making it watertight. We had to admit defeat and find a plumber.
I grabbed my phone and headed up to the attic for some signal. I found a few numbers but either they didn’t work or no-one was home. Now what? The first of the summer visitors was arriving in three days and there was no working sink. I felt like bashing it with a wrench like Basil Fawlty’s poor car!
Suddenly, I remembered that on one of our many visits to the tip I’d noticed a plumbing supply centre.
“I’ll go down there,” I said to My Long Suffering Friend. “They’ll have a plumber.”
I went in and explained my dilemma: “I think you’ll have to come and take a look” I said, “the sink is so old I don’t know if you’ll find anything to fit.” The guy behind the counter, who’d been ever-so patient, as I struggled to find the correct words to explain the problem, plumbing being an alien world to me, looked sceptical.
“You wait until you see the kitchen, then you’ll understand,” I said.
“I’ll come when I’ve finished my last job,” he promised. I thanked him profusely and left.
My Long Suffering Friend took the kids to Pembroke to buy sweets from their favourite shop, while I stayed behind to await the plumber.
Around 4 pm, there was a knock on the door. I showed Dan, the plumber, into the kitchen to assess the problem. He took one look at the pipework and said: “that’s the wrong kind of u-bend that’s been put on; that’s for a hand washbasin or a urinal. It’s no wonder it got so blocked. And I think the joint has been glued up which is why you couldn’t move it.”
I stared at him and then realised who had done the bodge job. It came as no surprise. Those of you who know me well will work out the answer too. Why pay money to fix something properly when you can do it yourself has always been the motto!
“I’m afraid I can’t come until Saturday morning,” Dan said but decided to only charge me £40 to make up for the lack of washing-up facilities for the next three days. I relaxed a bit; at least the problem was going to be fixed and we could wash-up in the bath in the meantime.
The following day, Thursday, was the day of the furniture delivery, so we had to be in after 3 pm to take charge of the beds. As it had been warm but cloudy that morning, I suggested we take a picnic lunch to the beach so that we could all spend more time there. My Long Suffering Friend agreed, so we quickly packed up a picnic and bundled the kids into the car.
But as we set off it started drizzling. “A bit of drizzle will be OK,” I thought. After all we’re usually here over October half-term when the weather is often dire.
As we reached Pembroke, we ran into a major traffic jam and it took us 20 minutes to crawl through the town centre and out the other side. All the time the weather was getting worse but we decided to risk it, thinking it wouldn’t last long.
We finally arrived at the nearest beach. My Long Suffering Friend discovered she’d forgotten her coat and her daughter didn’t have one either. They wrapped towels around themselves and I pulled on a thin fleece with no hood and we set off, determined to give my dogs a walk if nothing else. Big mistake! We’d been on the sand 5 minutes when the sky went pitch black and we were deluged with heavy rain blowing sideways in our faces. We glanced at one another and headed back to the car; in only 10 minutes we were wet through to our underwear.
Not long after we’d finished lunch, when the sun was again cracking the flags, the furniture van arrived and I sent the men up three flights of stairs with the boxes, glad that we didn’t have to carry them up there. There was one slight hitch: the double bed frame wasn’t in stock, so I asked them to bring back a divan base instead.
As we unpacked the single bed frames, I realised there were no pre-drilled holes for the slats; thank goodness I’d had the forethought to borrow my neighbour’s very smart cordless drill in readiness for the job!
The first frame took us a long time to put together, as we wrestled to get the bolts to line up with those fiddly nuts that sit in the holes, so beloved of flat-pack furniture makers these days. Finally we finished it. All we had to do was fix the slats on.
“I’ve never used a drill before,” My Long Suffering Friend said.
“That’s OK, I’ll do it,” I said, feeling more confident than I felt.
After a couple of tries, I settled on the smaller drill bit and we quickly got in to the swing of it, My Long Suffering Friend even taking turns using the drill, after I’d given her a couple of tips.
One bed down, two to go.
The next frame went up in 10 minutes as we’d got the knack of lining everything up much more quickly. Just as we were congratulating ourselves, I realised that in our haste to get the job done, we’d made a mistake; the side rails were upside-down, which meant we couldn’t fix on the slats.
Queue peals of laughter and me asking My Long Suffering Friend did she mind if I sat and worked in my bra as it was stifling underneath the eaves even though the windows were open? She told me to go ahead, for she is also The Friend Who Isn’t Fazed By Anything!
Still shaking our heads we re-assembled the frame in record time and fixed on the slats.
Two beds done, one left.
The double bed was easy to put together and soon My Long Suffering Friend was testing out the mattress.
“Oh wow, this is so comfortable!” she exclaimed, “I might go and buy a double sheet and sleep up here for the rest of the holiday.”
“Why not?” I replied. Perhaps it might start to make up for the endless trips to the tip, the afternoon spent assembling beds, the twisted knee and the broken sink.
She soon returned with a turquoise sheet and some well-earned wine.
After an uneventful Friday, Dan, the plumber arrived promptly at 9 am on Saturday, the day we were due to leave.
“I have a problem,” he said. “We don’t have an overflow the right shape, I’m hoping this round one will cover the hole.
We went through to the kitchen and once Dan had put the part against the hole he looked doubtful he could fit it over what was left of the rusting part on the front.
“I’d rather you took the old part off,” I said. “It looks awful.”
He got his Stanley knife and removed it and to our dismay, we found that underneath it was a longer, rectangular slot than either of us had realised.
“Oh. Well the part I’ve got won’t do at all now,” Dan said.
Looking on his phone, he found the only place that supplied one the right shape was the B&Q in Carmarthen, a 60-mile round trip. But of course. Where else would supply it but the shop that closed down here two years ago?
“I haven’t got time to go all the way out there,” he said, “I have four other jobs today.”
“I’m not expecting you to,” I replied. “See what you can find locally. I need to get out of here and drive home.”
He went away and returned with a bigger rounder fitting that covered most of the hole and he filled up the little gaps with waterproof sealant. It looks much better than what was there before and the pipes work properly: job done.