There is a magic moment during the night as one day becomes another of which humans are seldom aware, except, perhaps, during the monthly turning points of the moon which may disturb sleep. Country lore associates changes in the moon phases with changes in the weather. So, as Thursday faded into Friday with the waning moon and JP heard the pattering of rain, he stayed happily asleep. We have waited for so long for rain, he for his golf greens, me for the grass in the fields to feed the sheep. As a lighter and more pessimistic sleeper, when I heard the patter of rain become more insistent in the very early hours of Friday morning, I immediately thought of leaks in the roof. I got up and went to see.
Water was pouring down from the attic bedrooms, dripping from the oak beam, hitting the dining room radiator, putting a sheen on the bottom step of the stairs, being greedily sucked up by the yellow Afghan rug under the dining table. I shot outside and collected a handy bucket – every well run country house has a number of multi purpose buckets within easy reach of the front door – and went upstairs.
No water appeared to be coming through the plaster board ceiling in the attic but the white carpet in the red bedroom was sodden. So was the hessian wall covering that gives the red bedroom its name. Fearfully and with difficulty I pulled aside the heavy rosewood screens that hide the inaesthetic water storage tank. A white enamel 2 metre high, double skinned 200 litre water storage tank was doing its best to compete with Manneken Pis. It would seem that the pressure valve on the incoming water supply pipe had given up. After a couple of false attempts I managed to place the bucket so as to catch the jet.
Then I went downstairs carefully – no point in slipping and breaking a leg – to switch of the mains water supply. This is not as easy as it would seem. First, one has to displace one of the arm chairs in the conservatory, also probably a number of buckets holding golf balls. Then the carpet has to be rolled back to reveal the pit in which the water meter and stop cock live. The pit is covered by several broken pieces of concrete slab, then some wooden planks. With the aid of a torch – a well run country house always has a supply of strategically placed torches – one can see the meter dial and three taps. A brief pause for cogitation and I decide that the tap ahead of the meter should logically be the stop cock. I open the kitchen cold water tap and then go back to switch off the selected stop cock. The kitchen tap runs dry.
Upstairs Manneken Pis bis has stopped. The bucket is nearly full. I empty it in the upstairs bathroom – then realise we shall need a bucket in the downstairs bathroom. If there is no running water to flush, we use a bucket of the carefully preserved and this year very rare rain-water stored in the former wine vat outside. With some annoyance I fill the bucket, take it to the bathroom and
wonder just how early I can telephone one of the wonderful plumbing men in my little black book. I decide not before 8 a.m and go to make myself some cocoa. The rugs that I can lift, I take outside and hang on the washing line. A dry Afghan is pretty impossible to move, a wet one is worse, so I just try to roll its wet edge away from the floor and aim an electric fan heater at it.
And then, of course, I sink into a guilt trip. Had I done something wrong with the rather simplistic water supply system? Was all this my fault – had I started my habitual winter love affair too early? Fortunately the plumbers arrived just after 9 a.m, before I could come up with an exculpatory answer and before it seemed necessary to add cognac to the cocoa.