The kitchen tap began dripping as if it knew perfectly well that this would land me in a predicament whereby I would have to brave a phone line.
I tried a friend who is a plumber but he confirmed that getting a new valve would involve contacting the kitchen shop where I bought the tap, and he didn’t fancy it.
‘Fine,’ I said, ‘I’ll call them. But if I’m going to do the worst bit, then I might as well get him to fit it for nothing.’ By which I meant the builder boyfriend.
My plumber friend agreed and then abandoned me to my fate. And so I dialled the number for a well-known kitchen and joinery firm to be greeted by the customary recorded announcement: ‘Due to Covid-19, we are unable to answer the phone as our employees are working from home, where they have just taken delivery of a burger from Just Eat. Please go to our website where you will not be able to buy anything because the same people who are not answering the phone are not processing orders. Please hold if you still wish to speak to someone, and may God have mercy on your soul.’
I waited until the phone was picked up by an entity of some kind, it was hard to tell quite what.
‘Aiiiirrrr,’ said the voice, which sounded like it was coming down a funnel with a sock stuffed in the opening.
‘Hello,’ I said, and I began explaining that a mixer tap I bought from them a year ago was dripping and needed a new valve. There followed a long silence, then the disembodied voice said: ‘E-errrr… is i’a mmm mmmm rrrrrrgh.’
‘I’m really sorry,’ I said, ‘but I can’t hear you very well. Could you repeat that?’
And the strangulated, muffled voice muttered the exact same sounds again. Was the poor soul kidnapped and tied up? Had he been drugged and handcuffed? Was he begging for me to get help?
‘Look,’ I said, ‘I can’t understand what you’re saying, but could you just tell me if you have a valve for the following mixer tap.’ And I read out the serial number on the invoice I had found in a plastic envelope full of gnarled house renovation receipts in the attic.
There followed another long pause, then the voice said: ‘Aaa-av…check.’
‘You’re going to check?’ I said, delighted. ‘Great, yes please, if you could. Could you?’
Another long pause, then a sound that I can only attempt to spell as follows: ‘Egh.’
I waited, and the silence settled down, and went on and on. And I assumed he had gone to check if he could find a mixer tap valve. Was he in the showroom, or in his own home, wearing only his underpants? I waited and waited, and after what seemed like an age the phone rattled and the voice came back: ‘O. O’n av’ ah,’ he said.
It then occurred to me that this man was wearing a heavy-duty face mask while talking on the phone.
‘Look, I’m really sorry,’ I said, ‘but I cannot hear you. Just say yes or no. Can you supply the valve or not?’
He must have removed his mask then for he suddenly said more clearly, although very slowly and quietly, as if in a trance: ‘We…don’… carry… that valve… in stock.’
‘Can you order it then?’ I asked. ‘Naaaa-oh,’ he said, as if he was falling asleep as he said it.
I sighed. ‘So you can’t get it?’ ‘We… can’t… get it,’ he said, as if the effort of speaking was something he was no longer used to.
‘Fine. Then can you please just sell me another tap?’
‘Whaaaa’… taap?’ he drawled with a startled tone, as if the kidnappers were now prodding him with something nasty.
‘Any tap? Honestly, I don’t care. You must have a tap. Do you sell any taps? TAPS?’ And I started shouting because now I couldn’t get any response out of him at all. ‘You must have a tap of some kind for sale in your shop?’ I yelled.
But that only produced: ‘Wha’? Any…tap? Wha’… tap?’
I am afraid to say I lost it: ‘What the hell is wrong with us? I get it that we’ve all got Covid or we’re going to get it any minute, and die horribly. I get that. But what I don’t understand is how a kitchen shop is not able to sell me a tap. I mean, you’re on the phone to me and we’re both not quite dead of Covid yet. Just sell me a tap!’
Whereupon the man recovered the power of speech entirely and said: ‘There’s no need to be rude, is there?’
I had to think really hard about why the answer to that wasn’t ‘Yes, there is!’