Saturday, 12 November 2011

Water water

Somewhere out there is a diver named James Jennings, working along the length of Islandmore's water supply pipe with one of those 007 submersible scooters, searching for any signs of damage. Actually, he told me later that visibility was so poor he ended up going most of the way hand-over-hand. The good news is that the pipe was looking pretty good for its age – an amazing forty-five years..

The day had started with a quick look round the back of the cabin, before I left for the mainland, for any burst pipes, the water supply having failed around ten o'clock last night. No joy, so I fetched the dinghy and crossed Ringhaddy Sound with two lists taking shape in my mind – who to call with a view to getting a diver down to Ringhaddy should it prove likely the burst was underwater; and what obscure 3/4" or 1/2" alcathene compression fittings I was going to need from Jackie Brown's hardware store in Ballynahinch, to repair the damage when we found it, on dry land or otherwise.

I called John Scott, who looks after the boats and moorings in the anchorage, and he put me on to the extremely helpful Morris Smith, who put me on to his diver friend Norman Wallace, who immediately offered to put the gear in his car and stand by in case he was needed. People are so kind. I checked the meter by the old quay on the mainland, found that the dial was rotating at an alarming rate, and turned off the stop valve. It would make no difference to Lynn, back at the Blue Cabin, because she'd been without water for ten hours already. Normally, that would be a minor inconvenience, but we can't light the woodburner when there isn't a water supply, and the woodburner is the only source of heat (and hot water).

Next stop Seaforde, to pick up mum, who volunteered herself to come with me on what was bound to be an uncertain enterprise. Challenged though she is by her stroke, mum is always up for an adventure.

We drove to Jackie Bown's, where there was the usual Saturday morning queue, and I presented my list at the counter to Jackie himself. Now, anyone who has read The Blue Cabin will know that on a very similar mission some years ago, I wandered round to the shelving at the back of the warehouse looking for bits, and Jackie frightened the life out of me by yelling at me from behind and asking what I was doing. Don't get me wrong, Jackie is actually a very nice guy – he just doesn't like customers disappearing round the back and getting up to heaven knows what round there. Imagine my surprise, then, when he looked at my list and said, 'Come on round the back and we'll see what we can find.' What? Round the back? Me? Well, of course I followed him. Meekly, at a distance. He found a black alcathene joint and demonstrated how it would work, with only the addition of a sleeve, for either old 3/4" or new 25mm pipe. 'Just the job,' I said, 'I'll take four. And a 10ft length of 25mm pipe. Please.' Then I followed him – meekly, at a distance – back to the counter. 'That should get you going,' he said, with a big smile, and off I went, as in a dream.

So, to Ringhaddy, where I left mum with a cup of coffee and a tuna sandwich, and took the dinghy across the sound to Islandmore, landing roughly at the point where I knew the pipe emerged from the water and snaked up the forsehore to a stop valve buried in the bank above the high water mark. When sheep grazed the island, the stop valve was easily found, but since our end of the island has been given over to trees, the grass has become clumped and thick, and I'm willing to believe I looked a bit of a sight, crawling around on the bank, throwing fistfuls of grass over my shoulder and plunging my hand into every likely-looking crevice to feel for the pipe. Eventually, I stumbled upon it, and fetched a crescent wrench from the boat. I shut off the valve, thus isolating the island; then returned to the meter on the mainland, and turned on the mains. If the meter still rotated wildly, I would know the break was under the sound, and it would be over to the divers. Or, as it turned out, another diver altogether, the aforementioned James, who happened to be putting on his gear for some recreational diving and who offered (I should have guessed) to do the job himself. We both studied the dial, and yes, it was moving, but only at a very slow, stop-go pace. I called Morris, who called Norman to tell him there was no need for a full-on repair mission, and that James was going to take a quick look anyway for peace of mind.

While James "My name's Jennings, James Jennings" Jennings aqua-scootered into the murky depths of Ringhaddy Sound, I had a quick coffee with mum and then headed to The Blue Cabin to collect Lynn so that we could walk the length of the pipe from opposite ends, going from sheep-trough to sheep-trough, looking for signs of a burst. En route, we bumped into Brian McFerran, whose family own the island, out pottering in a dinghy with his dog, and he too joined the search. At the abandoned farm yard to the North of the cabin, I found a drinker with a working water supply, so we knew the problem had to be between there and the cabin. Lynn walked the last part of the pipeline, and I took the boat directly to the cabin with a view to working my way towards her. In the event, she had moved along pretty fast and we ended up meeting on the steep bank behind the cabin. To my questioning look she shook her head and shrugged, and we stood there, temporarily stumped.
Then Lynn said, 'Can you hear that?'
My hearing is going the way of my mother's.
'Hear what?'
'Running water.'
Just under the back wall of the cabin, obscured by grass (that's not true, I just said that because I had already made my early morning inspection at the back of the cabin) there was a little jet of water, which turned out to be coming from a fractured half-inch alcathene pipe. Bingo. No celebrations, because frankly I was feeling a bit of a twit, but bingo nevertheless.

Water is restored, Lynn is warm in the cabin and the world is no longer, as Sean O'Casey would say, in a state of chassis.
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