Like the bodies of its tenants, the homestead has had enough. This is especially true of the drains, which sometimes pack up altogether and flood back into the house through the toilet, the consequences of which are exactly as you would imagine. Despite being a fastidious neurotic in some regards, “recent events” mean that my prior reservations about dealing with sewage are vanished. You might even say I was into it. Not the thing itself, you understand. I just like that the fear has gone. We might stink but within it one can feel righteous, even redeemed.
The dilemma of what’s worth fixing when you’re hoping things can’t carry on goes from the small – one might, for instance, screw in a lightbulb and wonder whether it will die sooner than anyone it illuminates—to the large. Clearly an overflowing drain is a big-ticket item in the black Friday sale of everything must go (wrong), but do you really want to dig up the patio? Or call the man who can? No. Not today. So, piecemeal drain repairs are now my thing. If I don’t prise up the cover, drop down and get dirty with the garden hose every 12 weeks or so, the drain will buckle. I have a reminder on my phone about this. Even still, sometimes I miss my slot and then, it happens.
When there is blockage I hold an enquiry into what/who the source is. I have access to hard evidence (the impacted knot of excrement, wipes and paper that one must chisel free blindly from the drain like some cursed sculptor). And yet, when I launch the inquisition as to whose reckless self-purification is behind all this, I am reminded of another shocking truth of our household—everyone lies. The three of us are over two hundred years old, and yet we fib about going to the toilet. And more besides.
The web of mostly benign deception was first clear to me when my parents elaborate counter-intelligence operation about which of them eats shortbread came crashing down in the supermarket last summer. Diabetes isn’t even in the Premiership of the Old Man’s ailments, but it’s there, and along with certain other comorbidities isn’t helped by the substitution of “proper” food for biscuits. Plus, if I clean up your sh*t, I should get a say in what you eat, perhaps.
The persistent presence of shortbread despite me never buying it meant of course that someone was. Each blamed the other for the purchase and accused the other of eating it. Then one day I was at the shop with mum and she stuck some in the trolley. I asked who it was for, pointed out that dad was in hospital and she just shrugged and tottered off towards the eggs. I knew then the calamitous truth. They were both eating it. And they were both lying. Chinatown.
So it goes with the drains. “Not me.” “I would never” “The carers throw stuff down there.” The many mad battles that might make up the day are yours to pick, and sometimes my internal CPS lets us all off the hook by assessing that there is nothing to be gained from prosecution and we can let the whole thing drop.
But the drains are the drains. It’s £300 to get it done if I’m not there. And then there is the “shame” (Mother’s words, not mine) of the Dynorod van outside. As though the neighbours were scoffing and judging the inferred behaviour and implied moral dysfunction that might cause a family to, you know, block a drain. Instead of just being amazed that anyone here is still alive and eating solid food. Though I do not share her foibles I know they are felt deeply enough that she cannot be the problem. So, I know whose behind is behind it. But I am so relieved when the culprit makes it to the toilet, let alone on their own, that this is in fact a small price to pay.
Plus, I get to feel hands-on useful, I can picture myself as a blue-collar pragmatist as oppose to an intellectual narcissist. And when one does a thing entirely, one is just the doing of the thing. Freedom. The myth of Sisyphus*. The often-blocked drain. Same deal.
Mum looks on as I hose off my boots. “You had a lot of badges in the scouts,” she muses. Two, actually. Reading and lighting fires. Both matters I still hold dear. “Is there a badge for this?” Aye, mother. I believe so.