There I was, arguing with a tube of silicone over the bathtub in Ross Stewart’s bungalow (the silicone, of course, had taken the upper hand and I was almost entirely covered with the sticky white gloop from head to toe), when I felt that chilling vibration that sends shivers up my spine, and an instant later that piping little tune that signifies that the most awful state of circumstances has arisen. A major conflagration? An earthquake of mammoth proportions? The fall of nations? It could be anything, for the Maintenance Emergency Phone has just gone off in my pocket.
Kind of like our version of the Bat Phone, this sacred number is used only in the most dire of circumstances, such as fires, floods, or if somebody is trying to sell me something (I actually did get a sales call on the phone once, and before the poor fellow had finished his initial pitch, I cut in with “You have called an emergency telephone line, I am going to have to hang up on you right now in case a real situation is occurring as we speak and the desperate multitudes have no recourse but to cry impotently at the skies for the help they so urgently need, and all because you feel I need a new washing machine-cusinart combo!” In all fairness, he was very apologetic and promised to remove us from the calling list, and, although there was not one pip from the phone for all the rest of the day, I was filled with that happy, self-satisfied glow that comes from winning one over on the telemarketing industry.)
Anyway, the phone’s ringing, white sploge is dripping off the end the tube into the bathtub, and I am paralysed with the foreboding of what is to come and the impossible concept of how to reach into my pocket without gunking up the phone into uselessness. “Yes, hello, this is the Park Maintenance Emergency Line, but I can’t hear or help you because I have just smeared silicone all over the earpiece.”
Somehow, though, I do manage to successfully circumnavigate the mucousy muck without irreparably ruining the phone and I am greeted by our fabulous Hall focaliser, Liz. Apparently the Universal Hall has exploded. “Better get there quickly, then.” I reply.
On arrival I discover it was worse than I had expected. The basement corridor is steadily filling up with fluid as the Gent’s Toilet and the Boiler Room simultaneously spew forth a seemingly endless supply of sewage from their drains. The boiler room is the worst and I am standing inches deep in my wellies as the stuff attempts to overflow the little line of sandbags that have been hastily erected across the doorway. Dave from the Hall team informs me this happens when the pump for the septic tank stops working, but I had just checked it on my way up and it was ticking away happily. What to do? I am lost and discombobulated, set adrift on a sea of confusion and other things less sanitary. When suddenly my eyes catch a photograph nailed to the wall of Terry Ryan, circa 1977, proudly surveying the (then) brand new Hall boilers and heating system he had just installed. Of course, Uncle Terry! He knows everything inside out, he practically built this place himself, all the bits that actually work, anyway. I turn and run down to Muriel’s bungalow where he is putting in a new bathroom, wellies leaving unsavoury footprints in my wake.
A problem: He’s not there. He’s 15 miles away in Burghead. His phone is off. The corridor is getting wetter and smellier as the seconds tick by. Then I get a call back! Saved! Apparently there is a manhole next to the stained glass outside the front door that has on occasion blocked. I rush back to the Hall with the excitement and expectation of an easy fix.
Next problem: I can’t find it. I end up spending minutes I do not have scrabbling around in a bizarre little hole whose function I have yet to identify. Luckily Paul Muircroft, a fantastic joiner and all round super handy man (whose copper ringed drain pipe sculpture at the side of the Hall must be seen to be believed), came by to give me his assistance. His sharp eyes immediately picked up what I had missed in my chaotic rush, a tiny corner of metal under a small mountain of gravel. We hastily uncovered the manhole as if excavating an ancient Egyptian tomb, and lifted it with all the fevered hope of an explorer having finally discovered his life’s work.
“I have to go into that?” I say, staring down into the seemingly bottomless pit that we had just exposed with a certain sense of disquietude. Somewhere down there is the answer to my problems, sure, but god knows what else. While my eyes were locked on the darkness opening up beneath my feet, Paul swiftly took his opportunity to cleverly sneak away for a coffee at the Blue Angel Cafe.
Thankfully, Keith then arrived on the scene and though he refused to descend into the unknown (“You’ve got the wellies on, mate”), his presence alone is enough to bolster my courage. At least there will be someone to hear my screams.
I square my shoulders and drop into the gloom. I am surrounded on all sides by dank, dripping walls, my gloved hands slipping on the slimy, rusty rungs. Within moments all I can see is a small circle of light seemingly miles above my head, and then it’s eclipsed by Keith’s shaggy silhouette as he hands me down the spade. I set about cutting and slicing into the inevitable mound of toilet tissue stuck at the bottom of the pit. My practised hand makes quick work of the previously impenetrable mass and then I hear the gruesome gurgling that foreshadows a fate most foul. I have less than an instant to thrust the spade up into Keith’s waiting paws and then bolt up the ladder like a jackrabbit as a filthy flood of biblical proportions surges up to fill the pit below me. It’s a race against the rising doom of the bog of eternal stench as I pull myself up hand over hand, praying that my grip is sure and true. I throw myself out onto dry ground, panting with exhaustion, sweating with fear, as the vile spring starts to subside back into the drains.
That was one blockage dealt with. The Gent’s Toilet was cleared, but the Boiler Room, though under control and no longer pumping out the loathsome liquid, was still blocked. After half and hour back at the bottom of the manhole pushing rod after rod into the pipe, Uncle Terry arrived at the scene. ”I couldn’t relax until I knew you boys were alright.” He pointed out we were rodding completely the wrong pipe. “No, it’s that other one off to the left.” 5 minutes later and another odious discharge circumvented and the issue was dealt with.
“Do you get paid enough for this?” quipped Liz as I informed her of the success of our mission.
“It’s not about the money”, I return. “It’s about the joy of serivce.” And you know what? I actually meant it. As the word of our heroism in the face of icky adversity spreads across The Park, I am filled with a great glow of satisfaction that I can’t get anywhere else. There’s just something about doing what needs to be done to save the day for all my friends that makes Maintenance so ultimately fulfilling.
Lots of Love,
P.S. I know I said that I wanted to introduce you to the team this week, but we are all so busy getting ready for Maintenance Week next week, that you’re going to have to wait. But, trust me, it’s worth it.
If you’d like to join in the work department, visit: