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Francesca Prescott

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Whoa Whoa Whoa Whoa!
By Francesca Prescott   
Rated "G" by the Author.
Last edited: Wednesday, February 03, 2010
Posted: Wednesday, February 03, 2010

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Hairdryers, frozen pipes, and the mystery of the smelly kitchen - A rough spell in the Swiss tundra


I’m nitpicking, I know I am. I’ve been faffing about for ages over which spelling of “whoa”  to use for the title of this piece. I briefly considered the “woe” version, but it struck me as far too whiney for a story about a frozen water pipe. I then contemplated “woah”. Woah is what English people say to their horses when they want them to stop, but it didn’t seem right either, possibly because I don’t say “woah” to my horse. What I say is something more along the lines of “Hang on a second, Kwint, we need to take your blanket off” whereupon Kwintus (a horse of superior intelligence who always knows exactly what I’m saying) heads over to the peg rail by the arena door and stops. No, the horsey-halting “woah” definitely wasn’t right.
The essence of the “whoa” I’m trying to convey is a cross between “woe” as in sorrow or distress, and the kind of musical “whoa” belted out in pop songs. You know, like Annie Lennox’s whoa-whoa-whoa-ing in “Thorn in my Side”, which is nowhere near my favourite Eurhythmics song, but for some mysterious reason has been stuck in my mind since the whoa-ing woes got me.
What am I whoa-ing about all of a sudden? Well, nothing terrible, just a series of annoying little incidents. To begin with, the weather has been a real pain in booty since way before Christmas, openly mocking all Global Warming theories and obstinately remaining in the shiver zone. Even the lovely old farmer/grocer in my village doesn’t remember seeing so much snow on the shores of Lake Geneva since he was a young lad. There’s also the fact that we’re all feeling light deprived. It’s been grey, grey, grey for weeks, which makes most people feel whoa, whoa, whoa. But none of this would be bothering me as much if the sub-zero temperatures hadn’t contributed in bursting a water pipe buried deep beneath the beautiful rhododendrons in the flower garden outside my front door, which will soon have to be dug up to fix the problem.
And it is a problem. Ever since the pipe burst on New Year’s Eve and cut off our water supply, we’ve been connected to the water mains by a temporary exterior hosepipe, meaning we’ve had to leave a tap running in the house 24/7 to prevent the hosepipe from freezing. Although this perturbs my moral ethics, there’s nothing I can do about it until the various companies contracted to fix the problem can come and do the work. It’s also a pain because people automatically tend to turn taps off after washing their hands, so we’ve had to keep a constant running-water vigil for the past month. Eventually, however, it was bound to happen. Our attention slipped on Saturday night: hands were washed and the tap in the guest bathroom was turned off. When we woke up on Sunday morning the hosepipe outside had frozen, leaving us waterless.
Of course, I’ve been without running water before, but I must admit that it’s a real eye-opener whenever it happens. Here in the western world we take things such as water and electricity for granted, so when all of a sudden one of them is taken away, we’re completely thrown. I rang one of my sisters late Sunday morning, not to have a moan, but because it had been a couple of days since we’d chatted. When I told her about our frozen pipe waterless situation, she immediately suggested I go and pour some hot water on the hose. I hate to admit it, but it took my brain a minute or so to process the daftness of her suggestion and tell her I didn’t have any hot water to pour on the damn pipe!
No, we’re not utterly blonde, we’re just slightly slow on Sunday mornings, and not used to unresponsive taps.
Anyway, Mr. Prescott soon took the problem into his own hands. He dragged the hosepipe northwest by a couple of meters, declaring that since the sun was out (finally!), the pipe would soon thaw and everything would return to normal. I wasn’t so sure; yes, it was a blue and yellow day, but the outside temperature was far more Alaska than Saint Tropez. I pestered him to call the local plumber’s home number and ask for advice and/or help, and when he finally did he was told to arm himself with a hairdryer, an extension cord and a heck of a lot of patience.
Unfortunately, at that very moment, far away on the other side of the world, Swiss national hero Roger Federer was battling Andy Murray in the final of the Australian Open. As far as Mr. Prescott was concerned, the frozen hosepipe could wait; he had some riveting tennis to watch.
Meanwhile, my impatience was mounting. As much as I admire Roger, I had laundry to do, dishes to wash, toilets to flush. I zipped up my winter boots, shrugged on a thick jacket, grabbed my Salon Pro hairdryer and stomped down to the garden shed to find the extension cord. Then, for over an hour and a half, I froze my own pipes off, squatting miserably in the hostile tundra of my garden, blasting the hose with hot air. Mr. Prescott nipped out a couple of times (presumably while Rodger and Andy were having a little sit down in between sets), to survey my craftsmanship. “You need to start at the other end, next to the manhole” he said loftily, striding down the garden path in his “baboush” (Moroccan slippers) and ethnic print loose cotton trousers. True to my do-as-you’re-told, placid nature, I initially did as I was bid.
It appeared however that Mr. Prescott was wary of my competence in the hose-blasting field, because he came back about fifteen minutes later. “You need to blast the heat closer to the joint on the mains,” he called from the comfort of our bedroom window, waving his coffee cup, his mood irritatingly debonair.
My tonsils vibrated as my hackles rose. My knees cracked and my lower back pinged as I slowly stood up, turned around and hurled ocular ice-picks at him. Not only was he seriously pushing it with the technical advice from afar, but he was also suggesting I stick an arm down the manhole and aim the hairdryer towards a deep puddle of murky water! I may be blonde, but I’m not peroxide. In fact, ever since French pop star Claude François tragically electrocuted himself in 1978, apparently drying his hair while sitting in the bath, I’m paranoid about using hairdryers around water. No way was I going to go up in a puff of smoke in the garden! What would the neighbours think?
I don’t recall my exact words, but once they’d been spoken, Mr. Prescott shut the window and scurried back downstairs to watch the match. Muttering under my breath, I blasted on.
Eventually however, I got too cold. Besides, I had more pressing things to do than blow hot air on a recalcitrant pipe all day long; my father was due in hospital for knee surgery at 4 o’clock and I wanted to spend some time with him beforehand. At one pm, I switched off the hairdryer, grabbed the car keys, and told Mr. Prescott to keep up my good work. Ten minutes later, as I sped down the motorway, the radio announced Federer’s victory. Pretty soon my phone rang.
“Just to let you know that the water’s back!” said my husband, triumphantly. “Only took me a couple of minutes.”
“I suppose I did a good job, then,” I shot back. If he thought he was going to take all the credit!
“Yes, you did. Well, tell your father I’ll come visit him in a couple of days. See you later. Drive carefully!”
Well, when I bounded up the stairs a few hours later my nostrils immediately tensed up, offended by an unpleasant smell wafting through the hallway.
“There’s a funny smell in the house,” said my husband, happily watching the sports news with a nice cup of tea. Actually, he wasn’t watching the sports news, I’m just being facetious – I don’t quite remember what Mr. Prescott was doing when I got home, but it was probably something far more constructive. In all fairness, my husband is anything but a television loving couch potato, he’s a hard working, sports-obsessed whirlwind, incapable of sleeping in late or sitting down for more than five minutes at a time.  Unless, of course, Roger Federer is playing!
I scoured the kitchen like a tracker dog, desperately seeking the origin of the foul, fishy smell, but didn’t find anything. It seemed to be coming from the sink; could the waterless night/frozen pipes have caused some sort of bacterial fiesta in the depths of the plumbing? I ran the hot water tap for ages, rinsed it with a mixture of bicarbonate of soda and white vinegar. The smell subsisted. I attacked it with bleach, to no avail. Finally, at my wits end, I slammed it with an ecologically incorrect Draino type concoction and went to bed, certain of victory.
The smell defeated me.
On Monday morning, we ate breakfast in a rotten fish infused atmosphere. To make matters worse, I’d slept badly and my back was killing me. Feeling sorry for myself, I drove into town for a session with my back guru, and emerged an hour later feeling like I’d been crushed by an ogre driven steamroller (my back guru is magic, kneading bones, nerves and tissues ordinary masseurs cannot reach, but his touch is not for the faint of heart). Now, twenty-four hours later, my back is feeling much better, and things are looking up. It’s still below zero outside, but the tap in the guest bathroom is running, ensuring the hosepipe doesn’t freeze solid. Today’s mail indicates progress in the digging up the rhododendron department, and my father’s knee surgery went really well.
However, I have yet to solve the mystery of the smelly kitchen.
Whoa whoa whoa whoa… 
xx Francesca
February 2010



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