Notes from Lapta, Cyprus – D.I.Y. 2 by Ken Dunn

You can save a lot of money by ‘Doing It Yourself.’ You can also end up with a trail of disasters if ‘things’ don’t go to plan. Here’s a small tale of woe, related to me by a good friend. He and his wife had bought a wreck of a house in Lapta which had been formerly owned by a Turkish family. They had moved to the mainland, the ‘green grass’ of solid employment and a substantially larger monthly income.

The house needed a little more than just ‘TLC’ but, as a very old property, it was just what my friends had been looking for. Stone built, classic Cypriot arches, an extensive mature garden and a wonderful view. They had successfully bypassed the ‘new build’ explosion, with all the attendant problems of the actual quality of construction, acquiring title, and the manifest chicanery. They were ‘well pleased.’

After the main work had been completed by a local builder, repairs to outside sagging walls, replacing many broken roof tiles, a new water tank and the repointing of some crumbling exterior stonework, my friend then re-wired the whole house. Quite a task. With that done he continued with several other tasks one of which involved cutting up a large sheet of plywood. Without having a proper workbench he used the newly bought dining table to rest the thing on while he cut it to various sizes. That worked well. The sheet was stable and the saw went through it easily except he now has a dining table with a large corner of it missing! His wife was not best pleased.

Their daughter arrived a week or so after they had moved in and early one evening he was sitting in the living room, his wife was busy in the kitchen preparing dinner and their daughter was upstairs. He looked around immensely satisfied with the renovation but the spell was then broken by a yell from above. ‘Dad!’ came a voice. ‘Dad! We have a problem up here!’ His daughter’s voice was coming from the bathroom. When he arrived, hotly pursued by his wife, his daughter was just standing, arms folded, looking up, a perplexed look on her face. He wondered what the problem might be. Dripping water? Spiders? Bats? A snake? There was nothing there except for a white pull switch. ‘It won’t switch off,’ his daughter said.

She tugged at the cord which dangled from it but nothing happened. She pulled again and still nothing. ‘Let me try,’ he said. Same thing. Nothing. No click, clank or even a twang. The sun was almost down so if anything could be done it would have to be done in darkness. Not good. He had two alternatives. One was to leave the light on and tackle the problem in daylight or to whip off the offending switch and replace it. There was a second pull switch in the bathroom which operated a corner lamp. He decided to take that to replace the faulty one. That would require switching off the power and, before that, finding something to give him light. The only torch they had didn’t work but after a hunt around he found two stunted candles.

Dinner was almost ready when he switched off the power, plunging the whole house into darkness. His wife was, again, not best pleased, having to grope her way to the cooker (gas) to turn everything down in the gloom. Their daughter fumbled her way upstairs to her bedroom where she was able to bask in the bright moonlight, flooding in through her window.

Lit candles in hand he made his way up to the bathroom, disconnected the faulty switch and the other, leaving the wiring sensibly apart, and reconnected that where the faulty one had been. Downstairs he switched the power back on, lights on everywhere, and went back up to see if the replacement was working but caught the smell of something burning. In the bathroom one of the candles had fallen over, igniting a towel which had fallen to the floor. He launched into a Mexican hat dance, stomping out the flames but his last ‘stomp’ went through the floor!

It must have been fairly weak to begin with but this completed its demise. The hole he’d punched through the floor just happened to be directly over the cooker where the gently simmering concoctions for dinner were bubbling away. His wife was not amused. But the pull switch was working! He found a piece of plywood to cover the hole while his wife dispatched the ruined dinner to the bin. Cheese and biscuits replaced the Beef Wellington she’d been cooking and they ate in very ‘loud’ silence. That continued until bedtime.

Just before one o’clock in the morning he woke up but couldn’t get back to sleep. He crept out of bed and made his way down into the kitchen to make himself a cup of coffee. The kettle was empty so holding it under the cold tap he turned it on but then heard a sudden ‘stumph’ and saw the supply from the tap drop to a dribble. That was odd. The supply was directly from the mains and, unless the authorities were digging a hole in the road at one fifteen in the morning, there was no explanation for it.

Puzzled, he plugged the kettle in, switched it on and shuffled off to the living room to find a couple of his D.I.Y. ‘bibles’ from the bookshelves. As he was thumbing through them to the sections on all things ‘watery’ he then heard the noise of what he thought was torrential rain. In the middle of summer? Looking out through the window into the darkness he couldn’t see any evidence of that. Opening the back door he discovered what was causing the noise. The overflow pipe from the cold water tank was jetting a horizontal blast, strong enough to clean grafitti from stonework.

He ran to the main stopcock, turned the water off and then up the stairs and into the roof space where the tank sat. Peering into the watery gloom of the tank he couldn’t see the regulating valve. The remains of a plastic coupling was there but the rest of it was resting on the bottom of the tank and the water level was dangerously close to the top of the tank. Now he knew what that ‘stumph’ noise he had heard was. It must have been the valve shearing off in the tank. Back downstairs he flipped through his D.I.Y. books to see what needed to be done. A new valve would be needed and not a difficult thing to fit but at just before two in the morning it would have to wait.

That’s when he heard the sound of rain again. It seemed, incredulously, to be coming from the bathroom. He ran upstairs, opened the door to see a torrent of water coming through the ceiling! Charging up to the tank he saw, with dismay, water cascading over the side of the tank. He ran down to the stopcock and found he hadn’t quite turned it fully off. An hour later, his sleepy eyed wife glowering at him, he’d mopped up most of the deluge but the bathroom was still a tad damp.

That left a problem for the morning. No water meant no washing, no cups of anything but, more importantly, no working loo. Not good. But he did have a way out. The addition of a downstairs ‘facility’, installed weeks before, could rescue the situation. He uncoupled the valve from that and transferred it to the water tank. So far so good but he still had to do something to stop the downstairs loo from jetting water when he turned the supply back on. A discarded cork from the bottle of wine consumed over the minimal ‘dinner’ of the previous evening solved that and held when he turned the water supply back on. With that done, at half past four, they all went back to bed.

Sunlight flooded into the house as they woke to another very warm, balmy day. He volunteered to bring his wife a cup of tea but the kettle, which he’d left on a few hours before, hadn’t switched itself off but had boiled dry and continued on to melt its plastic base and weld itself to the kitchen worktop. The minor miracle was that it hadn’t blown the power supply.

Half an hour later he was in the local yapi market looking at an identical valve and ball cock which had failed in his water tank. This was a metal type made primarily from brass. Instead of that he was persuaded to buy a more ‘up to date’ plastic version. Why not? He didn’t want the same thing happening again. An hour and a half later he almost gave up trying to fit the thing. The coupling wouldn’t fit the existing inlet but, after trying to use other bits of plumbing kit he did get it to work, sort of. The aquatic detail of this is extensive but the essence was that it didn’t shut off the water completely and as he couldn’t bend the device, a simple way to adjust the older variety, water continued to flow endangering another flood. So back to the market.

By chance a local plumber was there and he advised the purchase of a new Scandinavian device, half the size of the original but twice the price. Armed with two of these ‘Viking’ specials my friend replaced the broken valve in the water tank and the one he’d taken from the downstairs loo. With fingers crossed he turned the water back on and listened. The downstairs loo gurgled briefly and the water tank offered the same. He checked the latter and all was well. Back to normal.

The rest of the day slid by and as the sun was setting everything seemed to be OK. His wife prepared a tasty Indian dish, occasionally checking the ragged hole above the cooker, and after the washing up they flopped down in the living room to read. After an hour or so their daughter left them there, both having nodded off, but after a couple of minutes the nightmare began again.

They both woke to the sound of, ‘Dad! Dad!’

He sat up, his wife a close second, and walked over to the stairs. ‘What’s up?’ he asked sleepily. Five awful words spilled down the stairs from the bathroom.

‘The light won’t switch off!’

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