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Sunday, February 4

Bathtime Fun

To create some sense that I'm an imbecile who should not be allowed near tools. I will disclose that I managed this weekend to cut off the water supply to several houses in my street and injure my hand. I will also add more suspense to the equation by admitting that I bought an angle grinder this weekend. Exactly how these facts fit together is the subject of the next few paragraphs. For readers of a nervous disposition, I'd like to assure you that I'm typing with full use of all of my hands, fingers and, that I can breathe comfortably.

The mission for this weekend was to make it possible for the heating engineers, who are coming in two weeks' time, to gain access to a corner of my bathroom that was occupied by a knackered valueless cast-iron bath. The reason I describe this bath so is to avoid any sense that I would have been made very rich had I decided to transport it, intact, from the property for sale somewhere. It's essential that I believe that this was not some valuable antique, but simply an old piece of junk that was getting in the way of both my heating engineers and the new shower unit I plan to have installed when I can get someone in to do it.

Anyhoo. By the time I'd smashed a bit of the rim of this bath off with a club hammer, its value was going through the floor. The bath itself, though, was going nowhere.

On Saturday, I decided I was going to un-plumb the bath from the water supply. I headed out to B&Q and bought some caps that go on the end of pipes to stop water coming out. This is a reasonable thing to put on the end of a pipe that once fed your bath time and which you don't want water to gush out of. Having returned from B&Q, I set to exposing the pipe-work behind the bath with a view to capping it. You can't cap a pipe while there's water pressure, so I turned off my stop-cock and drained my hot water tank. Once the downstairs sink had stopped allowing any water out of its two taps, I thought I'd dealt with this. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when the...

...who thought that I'd sawn into a pipe to get covered in water? If you did, you're a cynical soul. I had vowed that I wasn't going to stuff this job up. For me, the pre-requisite test before severing a pipe is to try the tap at the end of it. If the tap runs, the pipe stays unsevered. So, in fact I was surprised when I discovered that the tap still ran. I couldn't sever the pipe like this, so I went out into the street and turned off the stop-cock that's down a hole outside my house. Problem solved.

I then had the problem of how and where to sever the pipes. Ideally, I wanted to sever where the pipe hit my bath taps, but leave the washbasin still supplied with water so I could brush my teeth. It soon became apparent that I'd be better off capping the pipes lower down - more accessible and requiring of fewer tools-that-I-did-not-have. So, I cut the pipes, moved the redundant bits out of the way and set about putting the caps on. These used compression fitting where you basically tighten one nut against another, thus squeezing the fitting on the pipe. This requires two spanners and I've done this sort of thing before. However, I didn't realise that I'd done it before on thinner pipes. I was on 22mm pipes this time and my spanners didn't go up that high. So I had to call an end to the pipe-capping exercise for the time being. No problem, I could go out, get lunch, get a bigger spanner and finish it later.

I'd had a busy morning. Apart from eating way too many biscuits (and that's a form of busy-ness) I'd also done a lot more with the bagging and generation of rubble in the bathroom. At B&Q I'd bought my new favourite tool (until I later bought an angle-grinder) - the Utility Shovel. This is a metal hand-shovel ideal for scooping up debris and bagging it. Marvellous. I'd really gone to town on the rubble and followed up my success with an unprovoked attack on the metal bars at the head of the bath, which were covering the pipe work. Why they chose to put metal bars there I've no idea, but they were clearly not thinking of my back, which is distinctly sore.

Out I went. I bought lunch, I took my time, I went to B&Q again and bought a very expensive adjustable spanner. Then I returned to my house.

Quite a surprise to find a neighbour knocking on my door. Had I turned off the water? Erm... yes... why? Because the stop-cock in the street is not my personal stop-cock, but one for the whole street. Thank goodness someone hadn't taken it upon themselves to put it back on, or I'd have been looking at the Poseidon adventure in my bathroom. I apologised profusely and then returned to the bathroom to try the two-spanners trick on my new pipe end-cap with my new spanner. What had been the risk of minor inconvenience to me (where I might compromise the use of my toilet and kettle) had now become a task which the whole street depended on me completing successfully. I tightened. I tightened some more and then I went out into the street.

With someone posted inside the bathroom giving me updates on whether the toilet cistern was filling (water) and whether the new end-cap was dribbling, sweating or gushing (bad water), I slowly opened the stop-tap on the street.

My neighbours got back their water and my compression fixing held. Thank goodness for that!

Sunday involved waking up with a plan to sort out the cast-iron bath. Hitting it repeatedly with a club hammer, fun though it was, was not really getting me anywhere. A few pieces chipped off the rim was bound to make the bath lighter, but was not going to make it light enough for me to carry, and nowhere near as easy to manhandle as if it had a nice convenient rim to hold on to.

I'd decided that I probably needed an angle grinder for the job of breaking the bath up properly. I also decided that, having never used an angle grinder before, I didn't know what the hell I was doing. I went to B&Q again (10.30am - early B&Qage) to find out what my options were. I stopped off at the toilet aisle and was accosted by a member of staff who wanted to show me their stock. In fairness to him he was more of a walking catalogue than a salesman and he expertly showed me round the range of items they had. Every time I put a problem to him, concerning what he'd just shown me, he had a different product which solved that problem. I liked him. We had fun looking at the different products until we eventually hit on the strategy I'll use. Ironically, the strategy involves buying the exact item that I was looking at 30 minutes previously. However, I now know how I'm going to "upgrade" that item to be the specification I'd like and I'm happy. Job done.

Given that it was Sunday morning, and I was awake and out of the house, I decided to get breakfast. This was done at the B&Q cafe, where I contemplated how I would get the right tool for my bath-smashing. I decided I would simply explain my problem to some power-tool people and see what they suggested. Here is what happened when I first tried:

Him: can I help you?
Me: I need some help finding the right tool for a job.
Him: Oh. I'm not usually based at this particular shop, so I don't know my way round so well. Unless it's a general tool enquiry...
Me: It is. You tell me what tool I need, and maybe we could find it together.
Him: Ok. What do you want?
Me: I've got this cast iron bath, it needs breaking up and hammers won't do it. What could I use to break it into pieces.
Him: Oh... er... a circular saw?
Me: (thinking that maybe this teenager wasn't the man for the job) Well... aren't they usually used for cutting wood?
Him: I'll just ask one of the others.

Luckily, I got to ask someone who knew what the hell they were talking about and I won't bore you with the exact details, but the upshot is that I ended up leaving the shop with a Black and Decker angle-grinder and 5 grinding wheels. It cost me less than I spent on petrol for the car later in the day.

Back at home, all the wood I'd ripped from the old-fashion plaster walls, was disposed of. Once it had been a plaster, with an angle-grinder in action it would have quickly become kindling. I put on a mask, some goggles and some gloves. I looked like a space-alien. Then I tried the angle grinder on the bath. It sparked a lot. I made an incision. It took a lot of doing. Eventually, 4 cutting wheels later, and a lot of wrangling as I still ended up having to move the bath, so I was cutting through it from its outside - which meant rotating it in the already confined space I was cutting it up to free it from - I made the last cut and it fell into two pieces, both too heavy for me to lift alone. D'oh! Along the way, I'd created a lot of sparks and soot, and even managed to blow the fuse on the machine, which, I guess, is better than burning out its motor.

The bath was history (though not in the antique sense).

I stopped work, went around the corner for a coffee and an assistant, and then returned to move the head end of the bath out of the house and into the garage. This turned into a marathon session of moving rubble sacks out of the house and into the garage. I should order a skip. I'll easily fill it with all the crap that's in my garage.

The cut I made was a third of the way into the bath. I'm not sure why I didn't bisect it. Perhaps I intuited that I'd probably be unable to move half the bath. Either way, it didn't matter. Though there's 2/3rds of the bath still in the bathroom, I can deal with that later on, or maybe even ask the heating people if they wouldn't make doing the lifting with me or for me. The bathroom is now clear enough for them to put their pipes into the space we agreed.


The alcove in which the pipes will go.

Entertainingly (for me at least) the remainder of the bath looks a bit like it's taken a Titanic-style nose-dive into the floor:


A sunken bath?

Given my overall clumsiness and the difficulty of moving a cast-iron bath and capping mains-pressure water pipes, coupled with the use of a tool I'd never used before - one with a fast rotating cutting edge - I think I can be proud of escaping this weekend basically unharmed.

I did mention that I was injured. This was simple. I managed to get my hand trapped between the head of the chisel and the head of the hammer as I was doing some hammering. Not my whole hand. That would be a very incompetent grip. Just a little bit of flesh. The hammer hit the flesh and I got a small blood-blister under the skin. No big deal. What's the big deal? I'm clumsy. I'll learn to be less clumsy more quickly if I have to go through a few minor nicks and scrapes.

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