Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Water water everywhere

At 12.30 this morning I was hammering on our upstairs neighbour's door. I felt guilty about waking them, they have two young children, but water was coming through our bathroom ceiling. It was not a major leak, more a drip drip drip but this is not the first time we have been leaked on from above and it has cost us dearly so we are touchy about water springing from anywhere.

Most people in Paris live in flats - they find London terraced houses rather quaint - and this involves a level of 'cohabitation' between residents of a building. It is not necessary to love your neighbour but it is a good idea to like them or at least pretend to, especially if you suddenly discover the stopcock to your water supply is in their flat. Owners of each property are part of the 'co-proprieté' - a committee of owners - and pay a company, the 'syndic', to run the building, carry out repairs of the common parts, organise maintenance and pay for the electricity for the lighting, for the lift and for the concierge if there is one. These costs, and the syndic's charges, are divided between each owner according to the size of their apartment. It is a cumbersome apparatus as the co-proprieté and syndic meet only once a year to vote on works, so repairs - unless very urgent - have to wait. This is why most communal areas in nearly all buildings except the most chic, tend to be tatty; owners may not agree on decorating the halls or put it way down their list of priorities. Having a good 'co-proprieté' depends on the communal spirit of individual owners and finding a good 'syndic' is like looking for the Holy Grail.

Water is a big issue in our building. Thankfully it is not gas, though there was once a gas leak in the concierge's flat while she was away that could have blown us all to smithereens. It is an old building and although the exterior and supporting walls are thick, the floors and ceilings are wafer thin. A water leak on the sixth floor will, and has, run all the way down to the concierge's flat on the ground. In six years on top of small, irritating drip drip leaks, we have endured several serious floods, none of them our fault. The first happened when the elderly man living above grabbed a pipe as he fell over getting off the toilet. Our newly decorated bathroom become one large shower. A few months later one of the same elderly gentleman's relatives opened the water outlet on his boiler and left it running. Another shower. Then the old man died and we thought: "Well it's sad, but he was quite old and perhaps we're in the dry from now on", except a gormless removal man yanked out the washing machine without disconnecting the water supply sending another flood our way that filled up all the kitchen drawers and cupboards. (Said gormless removal man did not endear himself to me by telling my husband: "It's not that bad. It won't take your wife long to clean it up."). Although none of these were our fault, it turned out a sort of knock-for-knock insurance system applied and our insurance company paid up a piddling amount then fired us. Because we had been fired we suddenly became uninsurable, except by our own bank, which inserted a double whammy into the contract: double the normal premium and a promise we would not claim anything for two years.

We signed and crossed our fingers and toes. Then 18 months ago a plumber employed by the 'syndic' to repair the upriser feeding the whole seven story building decided, without consultation or explanation, to fit an entirely unnecessary stopcock on one of its branches in our flat. His reasoning? "You can't have too many stopcocks, my love." He was a real charmer and, it turned out, pretty gormless too. "Where are you from then with that lovely accent?," he asked after I had served him coffee. "England," I replied. "Oh really? I've never been to England. Never had any desire to. Wife's always wanted to but me, I don't like the English. Irish are OK, but you can keep the English." Taking the hint, I left him to the job only to find he had not only installed the stopcock but also removed a section of another pipe that disappeared into the wall. "It wasn't doing anything so I've taken it away," he explained. Five seconds later a furious next-door neighbour was hammering on the door complaining his lavatory no longer worked. It was Friday afternoon and Monsieur Charming the plumber suggested he was off and would come back on Monday to fix it (leaving neighbours and their three children without a loo all weekend). He had his coat on ready to go when the furious neighbour all but threatened to whack him with a monkey wrench if he did not reconnect his loo straight away. Later that night, some time around 1am, I was woken by an unnatural roaring noise. I leaped out of bed to find my stepdaughter doing an impersonation of a cross between the Dutch boy holding back the water from the dyke and a Miss Wet T-Shirt contender. The entirely unnecessary stopcock had blown off completely and the high-pressure upriser was spouting like a geyser. Within a few minutes the whole hallway and much of the living room was under several inches of water. The neighbours down stairs rushed up to shout at us for flooding their flat, the concierge was less than happy about being woken in the middle of the night to turn off the water to the entire building and the following day nobody was happy because it was a Saturday and of course the plumbers could not be raised to restore supplies. In the end we phoned Mr Mustapha, our friendly plumber who, although he was on holiday in Morocco, called a relative in the banlieue who came round and fixed the stopcock. Because of the two-year no-claim deal we could not tell the bank that the slats of our 205-year-old 'Hungarian-point' parquet floor, commissioned, like the rest of the building, by Napoleon's sister Pauline, had curled up like stale sandwiches. The floor has never recovered. Neither have we.

So it was 12.30am, the neighbours have young children and it was only a drip. Still, I am taking no chances.

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