Tim Dowling: the trick to fixing things that break is not to do it too soon

It is the season of things coming off in your hands – knobs and latches and chair legs and cup handles and articles with no name I’m aware of. I’ve snapped the plastic sliding mechanism that allows the fridge door to open in sync with the false wooden door that conceals it. This false door – a match for the other cupboard doors – was already here when we moved in, so I installed the fridge sliders myself. It’s a system prone to annual failure.

In the meantime I take down the Christmas lights. My wife finds me pulling them from the front hedge in the dark.

“I thought you might leave them up until July, like last year,” she says.

“I would have,” I say. “But I need to trim my beard. It’s an emergency.”

“What is?” she says.

“I look like the Unabomber,” I say.

“Why are we talking about your beard?”

“Because we only have one extension lead long enough for the dog clippers I use on my beard to reach the bathroom mirror,” I say. “And it’s connected to these Christmas lights.”

“Do I need to know all this?” she says.

I can’t fit my head in to see how it fits together, so reach blindly, tightening screws when I mean to loosen them, and swearing

“You asked,” I say.

“I don’t think I did,” she says.

“I think you’ll find, if we read the record back …” I say.

“Lalalala,” she says, fingers in ears.

Fifteen minutes later I carry the extension lead up to the bathroom. Two minutes later, I go back to my wife’s office.

“Do we have one of those little plastic darts with a suction cup on the end?” I say.

“What?” she says, not looking up.

“Like from a toy gun,” I say. “I’m sure I’ve seen one somewhere in the last three years.”

“Why do you need a rubber dart?” she says.

“The bathroom sink is full of water and the plug is stuck,” I say. “When you push the knob that’s supposed to make it pop up, nothing happens.”

“I thought you were trimming your beard,” she says.

“My guess is the lever inside the waste pipe has rusted and broken off,” I say. “But if I had a suction dart I could just …”

“I haven’t seen any dart,” she says.

Over the next week small packages begin to arrive for me – sometimes two at once. My wife comes down each time she hears the doorbell.

“Just new fridge door sliders,” I say, opening the first package. “It’s that time of year.”

“What’s in the other one?” she says.

“I don’t know,” I say, pulling the cardboard tab. “But it could be …”


“It is!” I say. “Replacement rods for a pop-up waste assembly!”

“Oh my God,” she says.

“I mean, I wasn’t even sure what they were called,” I say, holding up little bits of hardware wrapped in plastic.

“I can’t believe I’m watching you open this stuff,” she says.

“They look right,” I say. “But I don’t know about size. Do you think they come in sizes?”

The next afternoon I go up to the bathroom with my replacement rods and a selection of tools. A cupboard with a shelf has been constructed around the sink, with little regard for the possibility of something going awry with the pop-up waste assembly, or for anyone attempting to repair it. I can’t see how it all goes together, because I can’t fit my head in there. I reach blindly round the back of the pipe, tightening screws when I mean to loosen them, and swearing.

Some hours later I am sitting in the kitchen when my wife comes in and spies something on the worktop.

“What’s this?” she says, holding it up.

“I’m glad you asked,” I say. “That is the old pop-up assembly rod.”

“Oh no,” she says.

“As you can see, it’s rusted through, exactly as I predicted.”

“I just came down for some tea,” she says.

“But don’t worry, the new rod is installed and working flawlessly.”

“I have to go,” my wife says, leaving without tea.

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Instantly I realise my mistake: I barely gave my wife time to appreciate the hardship of a sink plug that does not pop up. I should have left it that way until July, along with the Christmas lights. Then, perhaps, she would have sat through my story of unlikely triumph, my tale of man versus sink.

While I’m sitting with my head in my hands in the gathering dusk, the younger one comes in.

“What’s this?” he says, holding up the rusted rod.

“I’m glad you asked that,” I say.

“Uh-oh,” he says.