I loved my dad. Splendid fellow. Salt of the Earth and all that.
Like everyone else he had his failings and one of his failings was the perception gap between how good he thought he was at DIY and how good he actually was. When a job needed doing he got it done but he was a "never use a screw where a nail will do" kind of a DIYer. He also didn't believe in following, or even reading, instructions. I once saw him with one of those large cardboard boxes of cheap paint. Had it been a tin of paint he'd have prised the lid off with a screwdriver and set to work but the box flumoxed him. Instead of looking at the clear label on the side he took a hacksaw and sawed the top off. And set to work.
Here in China I'm constantly reminded of this approach to things. But here it isn't just my dad: it isn't just every dad that ever squeezed a handful of plumbers' putty around a leaking pipe: it isn't just every DIY enthusiast whose skills fail to live up to his ambition. It's everybody.
I've talked before how everything works but nothing works well. You've seen the video of how the shower was wired into my death-trap bathroom.
Actually, it's the shower I'd like to talk about.
Last week I went to take a shower. I turned the water on and there was a bright flash, a loud bang and a distinct smell of burning.
A smell of burning is never good, is it?
So I went outside to this fusebox.
I reset the breakers and went in. No effect.
So I went into the kitchen to this fusebox.
I reset the breaker.
So I called it in to get an electrician.
He got the power back on in a few minutes. Apparently there is yet another fusebox somewhere in the building that had tripped.
Then he looked at the wiring that had caused the problem. He shook his head and made that sucking noise that electricians all over the world learn on the first day at trade school. He told me, via a translator, that (I'm rendering this very loosely) the shower had been fitted by cowboys who had used cable too light for the job. He left the original cable there and ran a second, heavier duty cable directly to the shower.
One week later.
Wanting to check the electrically powered water meter I plugged the original plug in.
You get the picture.
Now it all gets rather comical. For you anyway. Not so comical for me.
I walked outside to reset the breakers.
I reset the breakers.
I looked at the door. The door that had closed behind me. The door that can only be opened with a key. The key that was inside the apartment. The apartment I was now locked out of.
I had been about to take a wash. I was wearing a pair of jeans and a pair of house slippers. And nothing else. I felt in my pocket for my phone to call my friend who has my spare keys. My phone that was next to my keys on the table inside the apartment.
It's only a five minute walk to my friends apartment but in five minutes a half-naked man can attract a lot of attention as he climbs over the roadworks and hobbles through the mud. All the way I was repeating a mantra of "Please, let her be in. Please, let her be in."
She was in and I soon had my keys, a woman's cut lavender coloured T-sheet and money for a taxi back.
I called for the electrician who reset the power again and took another look at the old cable. We decided that I didn't need it at all and took it down. With the cable in my hands I discovered exactly what the problem was. It was actually two pieces of cable that had been joined by twisting the exposed wires together and "insulating" them with sellotape. That's right. Sellotape. It had gone unnoticed because it had then been sellotaped to the back of a water pipe and couldn't be seen from the bathroom.
As I looked at it I couldn't help thinking, "Dad would have been proud."