Whatever You Do, Don't Flush... A Plumber's Story
That least glamorous of trades, plumbing, is indisputably the most needful of all. Doubt me? Try living without your toilet for a week. Or your laundry for that matter.
While we're talking toilets and laundries, I'm reminded of a plumbing job from many moons ago.
But fair warning, unless you have an ironclad stomach, best not read on.
Back in the day when I plumbed, it was to the domestic and commercial markets I lent my skills. Unique to this field is maintenance plumbing, incorporating those hardy breed dedicated to keeping toilets flushing, taps running and pipes flowing. Sometimes monotonous, occasionally backbreaking, it also had an element of the risqué; as this story will unveil.
Though enjoying residential work, the arena I liked best was the commercial sector. Commercial clients would contract us to regular maintenance schedules; and such were my bread and butter.
Often during the servicing of a maintenance contract, other plumbing requests came through. One such was when I was making a routine visit to one of our clients, The Wellington Night Shelter; a charity providing emergency overnight accommodation for homeless men.
Like any major city, Wellington has its fair share of homeless. The Night Shelter offered the hard-up a roof over their heads and a warm bed. Though open to adults of all ages, it was the oldest men that most frequently took advantage of the service; those for whom the evening chill had gotten too bone-deep.
They were a motley crew, from many walks of life. Each had fallen -or risen, as some of them would tell you- into squalor. Some you saw drinking spirits from brown paper bags on street curbs and park bench's during the day, and later see queuing outside the Night Shelter to sleep it off in warmth and safety.
The Night Shelter was meant to be empty of clients from ten in the morning to six each night. But there were a few of the oldest homeless that had managed to winkle for themselves a more permanent set-up.
When feeling too old to face the streets of a morning, these ancients would sit in the second-floor common room and share their stories over cups of free coffee and biscuits; and not a few would just pass the time gazing into space.
Well, it was for this facility that I was called upon to convert a ground floor storage room into a laundry, to accommodate a washing machine and tub... Piece-a-cake... Yeah.
Connecting plumbing fixtures into existing dwellings requires taking into account at least two main considerations
- How to get fresh water to a plumbing fixture, and
- How to get wastewater away from it
Since most buildings don't have detachable walls and floors, plumbers apply a best guess approach to locating existing pipework; alongside the scientific method of validation: a hammer, multiple holes and variable amounts of patience. Eventually one of the guesses proves correct :)
Using uncanny perceptions learnt while an apprentice, I and my hammer managed to locate the previously hidden pipework... though the client would now need a talented plasterer.
NOTE: it's no coincidence that most plumbers have talented plasterer friends
The hot and cold services were conveniently located in the wall directly behind where the laundry tub and washing machine would be located; sweet!
However, I would need to surface run a drain pipe along the wall so as to access the nearest drain pipe (soil stack). This drain was a large copper pipe that serviced the upstairs toilet block.
I liked working with copper. Plastic pipe is in the DIY league of plumbing, whereas copper required a bit more trade savvy and skill. Real man plumbing!
To connect into this pipe I would need to cut into it a neat hole into which I could insert the copper laundry drain (waste) pipe, and then braze (weld) them together.
You Don't Want No Nasty Surprises
OK, point to remember, if you are going to cut into a drain that is servicing toilets, you don't want those toilets to be used at any point during the operation; unless you want a big smelly mess all over your work area.
So, I wandered upstairs and into the shared common room full of those older homeless gents I mentioned earlier.
Gaining everyone's attention I called out, "Does anyone need to use the toilet? If so, please do so now as I need to cut into the drain and don't want any nasty surprises."
The consensus was that nobody needed to use the toilet. "Are you sure?"...
"Yep, all sure."
OoooK then. Should I trust them? Of course, homeless they were and drunks some of them, but they were advanced in age, seniors of there community and disciplined subjects of the school of hard knocks. Of course I could trust them, haha... hahahahaha... ...sigh
So much to do, so little time ...
Now the first thing to do was cut a small hole into the copper drain. With the hole made, it then had to be expanded out using heat and appropriate tools until a neat socket resulted that could accommodate the laundry connection.
It was as I finished preparing the hole that I heard it...
A toilet flushing!
I didn't have much time to act. Shoving one fist into the hole, I place my other hand around it to create a seal. As I figured, I'd rather clean up my hands than clean up the floor; and, really, what's the worst that could get on my hands, a bit of poop? Big deal, all part and parcel of life as a real-man-plumber...
Well, the special delivery passed my fist, and, as expected, something warm, moist and sticky landed on it; Ewww ...
Yes, I felt a bit grossed out. But not as half as grossed out as I was about to be.
Slowly withdrawing my hands, I noticed that it wasn't poop or paper that had stuck to me ...Oh no, no, noooo...
In fact, it took me some moments to figure out exactly what it was, then I clicked ...
IT WAS HAEMORRHOIDS!!!
I had someone else's anal tissue sticking to my hand..... arghhhhhhhh!!!
My real-man persona deserted me as I gagged and trembled my way to the nearest hand basin where I risked scorching the skin from my hands with hot water, scrubbing them raw with a floor brush, and sterilising them white with bleach.
That done, and now seeing red, I stormed on up to the common room ready to give the responsible old-timer a piece of my mind. Halfway up the stairs, I ran out of steam. I kind of felt sorry for whoever it was; bits of them being flushed down the toilet. Resignedly, I decided just to finish the job and hope the memory wouldn't linger.
It still does, to this day.
Once finished, and having packed up my tools to leave, I'm sure I heard laughter coming from common room...
Real Man Plumbing
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Richard Parr