The One With The Broken Sink: A Fawlty Towers Holiday

The One With The Broken Sink: A Fawlty Towers Holiday

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?

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Tesco’s best knickers!

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!

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D and I went swimming!

 

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My dog loves chasing a ball.

***

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Number 89: My Welsh Connection

Number 89: My Welsh Connection

I’ll be off to Wales in three weeks for one of my regular holidays and because I go with my parents too, I got to thinking about family. You see, the house where I stay in Pembroke Dock has been in Mum’s family for over a hundred years.

My granny moved there in 1907 when she was two, along with her four siblings. Back in 1998 when my great-aunt whose house it became died, she left it in her will to me, my sister and our cousins. At the time, none of us were in a position financially to look after it and we decided the most practical thing to do was to sell the place. We none of us could envisage using the house in the future and just thought it would be a burden we could do without. Mum was very upset by our decision and I couldn’t really understand why. “A house is just a house after all, isn’t it?” was my thinking at the time.

Mum and Dad stepped in and bought us out and they’ve been looking after the place ever since. Now, nearly twenty years later and with a family of my own, I totally understand Mum’s distress at the thought of losing the place. I’ve come to realise that I love the fact that four generations of my family have enjoyed staying in the house, visiting the same beaches and doing the same things. Somewhere there are some wonderful black and white photos from the 1920s and 1930s of my granny’s family picnicking on the beach, just as we do now. My boys love going there too and I can see them taking their own kids in twenty years or so.

I’ve always had an interest in history, especially when it concerns people. What people are like and why is just fascinating! I love watching shows like “Who do You Think You Are?” and “Long Lost Family”. As humans we need to know our roots and if we don’t, it can have a profoundly bad effect on us. All those desperate people searching for their birth parents or kids they were forced to give up for adoption tells you that. Who we are as a person is inextricably linked to our family, they are after all our earliest teachers and shape everything about us: our mannerisms, our attitudes and even our prejudices. Hence the big pile of family trees, certificates and reminiscences I have accumulated, so that I can satisfy my curiosity about my own past.

So what do I know of the Welsh side of my family? I know that they were farmers before they moved to the town and entered other professions like teaching, they had a tendency for large families, they endured hardships and created mysteries I want to solve.

My great-grandfather, George Vaughan, born in 1871, was the fifth of thirteen children and was born at The Flags, a farm not far from Walwyn’s Castle, which is a tiny little village near Haverfordwest. His mother Eliza Harries was one of nine children from a local family and his dad, James, was born in Steynton, close to Walwyn’s Castle, in 1844.

George married a lady called Christiana Davies from Mountain Ash in Glamorgan some time in the 1890s and they had five children, Rhys the eldest born in 1898, Margaret, Lillian, Billy and my granny Molly who was the youngest, born in 1905. That’s all I know about George and with good reason: when the kids were still young, he walked out on his family and never came back.

By the time of the 1911 census when my granny was six, he’d gone. I did ask my granny and great-aunt about him but they wouldn’t enlighten me. All I was told was that he left to look for work and never returned. They never talked about him and I can only guess the profound effect on them his desertion had. I’ve searched for him in the census and BMD records but found no trace of him. I’d love to know what happened and why. Was he violent towards his wife and kids and she kicked him out? Was he an alcoholic? Was there another woman? Was he suffering from depression or a more serious mental illness and locked up? It must have been something serious because once you were married in those days you usually stayed together whatever the difficulties, a divorce being very hard to obtain.

By 1911, Christiana had also had to endure the death of six of the eleven children she gave birth to. Her first child, Lillian, died at the age of two after being attacked by a cockerel. It spurred her and an abscess formed in the wound and she died after a week. Christiana also gave birth to girl triplets and a son Oliver, who died shortly after being born, and James, who was the twin of great-uncle Billy, didn’t survive either. That was tragedy enough without her husband leaving and something else that was never talked about. Almost as if it was just too much to think about and best left alone.

How Christiana survived financially after George left I don’t know. She’s simply listed as a “wife” in the census and her husband is absent. There being no social security in those days, someone in the family must have been helping her or she had a job. Maybe George wasn’t as bad as I imagine and sent her money to help out. It’s a mystery that will be very hard to solve.

How strong she must have been to survive all that trauma and bring up the kids by herself. She did a great job as all of them went on to have good careers plus families of their own and appeared to have overcome their difficult childhood. I wish I could have met her because I’m sure we would have got on. For one thing she was a great reader like me, getting through three or four library books a week and it’s what she was doing when she died. She also loathed her Christian name. I wonder what she would have preferred to have been called?

Christiana’s daughter Lill, not only had a difficult childhood but endured tragedy in her own marriage. She married in the 1920s, when she was about twenty one, to William Rees, a widower who had a young son Ronald and they lived in Newcastle. They had a son of their own called David but he died as a baby and not long afterwards, William died of TB.

Lillian brought Ronald back to live with her mother at number 89 and stayed there until she was in her nineties and too infirm to cope alone. Sadly she never remarried, concentrating instead on her chosen career of teaching. She was a lovely lady with a huge sense of fun and a great talker, who should have had children and grandchildren of her own. She loved having my sister and I to visit and it is from her that I have learnt about the family, rather than my granny, who didn’t like talking about the past.

I wish I’d met my great-uncle Billy as he sounds such a character. The ring leader of a gang of boys, he was universally known as “Scorcher Vaughan” around the town as he was so naughty, always playing mischievous pranks on the people of Pembroke Dock. According to Lill, even though he was often in trouble he was a popular kid and not spiteful.

When they were small, the basement kitchen with its range was still in use but Christiana used to get her loaves baked down at the baker’s shop twice a week. One day she sent Billy and Molly to go and get the bread and push it back in the wheelbarrow. Billy was pushing his little sister up the hill towards home and once they neared the house, instead of taking her in, he pushed her into the hall of a neighbour (Deborah Jones, known as “Bora”, a loud voiced woman who sang in the choir and who all the kids were scared of) and left her there in the dark. As no-one locked their doors then, Billy could quite easily walk into her house. Molly was only very small at the time and quite frightened.

Like nearly all of her siblings, Molly, my granny, trained to be a teacher at Lampheter College during the 1920s. Of the five children, Billy is the only one who didn’t become a teacher, going into the navy instead. It was while she was training that she met my grandpa Fred, as they lived in adjacent boarding houses. They courted for years as they wanted to save up enough money to buy a house. As married women weren’t allowed to teach then, they delayed getting married until 1934 when Granny was already twenty nine, quite old for those days.

They married in the church two streets away from where Molly grew up and a copy of their wedding picture hangs on my bedroom wall, Molly showing off her slender figure in a beautiful gown that clung to her hips, carrying a large bouquet of lilies and Fred looking handsome in a smart suit with a stiff collar, carrying some kid gloves in one hand. They look happy and at ease with one another and were married for fifty three years.

The oldest of two brothers from Tiverton in Devon, the younger one dying tragically of TB at twenty, Fred seems to have been embraced into the Vaughan family in Pembroke Dock and spent a great deal of time there. He was part of their gang and together they had all sorts of high jinks. I imagine him and Billy got on well together as they both had the same sense of fun. Lill told me a great story about how he used to terrorise the girls when they were using the outside loo (there wasn’t an inside one then) by taking pot shots at them with his gun. Sometimes he used to get the neighbour’s washing too and she could never understand how her husband’s shirts had holes in them!

Grandpa told me they had a girls’ gang and a boys’ gang and they used to meet up in the attic and have lots of fun. There is a small door in each of the attic room walls which is the entrance to a passage that runs along the eaves. Fred used to crawl along the this space from one room to another and burst out on the girls to scare them. When all of her grown up children were home, Christiana used to hang flags out of the attic windows to inform the neighbours; like a celebration.

The gang also used to go to the beach, usually walking all the way there and back. As the nearest beach is six miles away and some of them at least ten, this was no mean feat. I remember Mum exclaiming how far it was for them and Lill replying that they thought nothing of it and used to sing all the way. I guess only a very few rich people could afford a car in their largely rural, poor community, so if you wanted to go anywhere you had no choice but to walk.

Once Fred had qualified as a maths teacher, he was offered a teaching job in Sheffield and took it without hesitation as this was during the Depression when work was hard to find. My uncle John was born in 1937 and my mum followed some time later in 1944. My grandparents never left Sheffield, making a life for themselves as teachers there but summer holidays were always spent back in Pembrokeshire until my mum had grown up. They had a little caravan which they parked on the dunes behind Freshwater East beach and had the place to themselves. Mum told me she would take her shoes off on the long journey down and never put them on again until they were going home. So began a summer of swimming, picnicking and playing with local friends.

I started coming to number 89 as a very young child with my family for holidays and often my grandparents, Fred and Molly, would be there too. Auntie Lill loved the company, having lived alone since the death of her mother and the chance to go out to the beach. She never learnt to drive and she had a bad leg too (an ulcer as a result of being hit by a cricket ball in the 1930s), so loved being taken out. The scenery along the coastline is just stunning and she never tired of it.

Like previous generations my sister and I loved playing by the sea, having a picnic, visiting Carew, Pembroke and Manorbier Castles and when we were older walking the coastal path with our dog and enjoying lunch in the pub. We would sleep up in the attic like my boys do now and be woken early by the sun streaming through the windows.

It’s from Lill that I learnt how to make bread and butter pudding and also apple pie, on a tin plate but teaching me how to knit and sew was strictly Molly’s job as Lill had always been hopeless at it. She made me laugh telling me how her school teacher was forever ripping out the stitches in her sewing as they were too big, or unraveling her knitting as she’d dropped a stitch or two, whereas her little sister’s were always perfect!

In the kitchen drawer at number 89 is an old metal tablespoon worn down on one side by my great-grandmother, Christiana, as she made her gravy every Sunday. If we ever have to sell the house, that’s the one thing that I want. as a reminder of all the happy times I’ve spent there and to remember the place my family came from.