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A Plumber on the Case

"If Lord Falconer's reforms go through, says Bar Association, barristers may end up earning less than plumbers" - news item.

I had been told that it was well nigh impossible to get hold of good plumbers these days, so when I finally decided I should do something about the leaky tap in the downstairs lavatory, not to mention the malfunctioning boiler in the bathroom, which sometimes comes on, and sometimes does not, I was surprised to get hold of one almost immediately.

He was recommended by a friend. His name was Leonard. When I rang him up, he listened to the details and said he would be glad to take on my case.

When he turned up, he was more posh than you expect a plumber to be, but it wasn't that that caught my attention. It was the way he approached me. Right from the start I felt obscurely that he was in charge somehow. Well, that's not abnormal. When we get hold of a specialist, they always have the knowledge and we don't. Often they take advantage of it. But there was something else about Leonard…

"For how long has the boiler been malfunctioning?" he said.

"About five weeks," I said.

Plumber: Could you be a bit more precise?

Me: Well, I first noticed it on the day after everyone left after Easter, so that would be the Tuesday.

Plumber: Which Tuesday?

Me: The Tuesday after Easter.

Plumber: Could you give me the exact date?

Me: Hold on, I'll just have a look at the calendar. Yes, it was March 29th…

Plumber: Now, could you just take me through the events of that day.

Me: What events? There weren't any events. The boiler just started playing up.

Plumber: Could you be more precise? When you say "playing up", what particular malfunctions did you notice?

Me: Well, the pilot light went out and it stopped heating the water.

Plumber: The pilot light went out and it stopped heating the water. I see. You are not, I suppose, under the misapprehension that a pilot light heats the water?

Me: No. The pilot light lights all the gas jets, which then heat the water.

Plumber: That's better. Carry on.

Me: Look, I just want you to mend the boiler. Why are you asking me all these questions?

Plumber: I'll ask the questions, if you don't mind. Now, you say that the pilot light went out. But on looking through the inspection hole, I see that the pilot light is still on.

Me: Is it ? Let's look. Oh, yes.

Plumber: So there must be some other explanation, must there not? Had it perhaps occurred to you that the water pressure was too low for the boiler to operate?

Me: No, I…

Plumber: It strikes me, Mr Kington, that there are a lot of things that have not occurred to you. It has not occurred to you that the pilot light might still be on. It had not occurred to you to fetch a plumber since Easter. It had not occurred to you that a leaky tap may get worse if not dealt with. This is a sorry tale of incompetence and procrastination, is it not, Mr Kington?

Me: Now, look here . . .

Plumber: Just answer the questions!

It was at about this moment that I finally tumbled, as you must have done long ago, to the fact that Leonard, in a previous existence, had been a barrister. I put this to him. He readily agreed. We sat down and had a cup of tea, and he told me the whole sorry story. How he had lived high on the hog as a barrister, how he had been unable to maintain his lifestyle, how it was only by retraining as a plumber that he could exceed his old income . . .

I saw the light just in time. I dismissed Leonard and decided to conduct my own plumbing. It's still not working properly, but at least I have not been bankrupted.

The Independent 2005