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The time the hot water system almost killed me.

07 October 201101:27PMlife

If you've had the pleasure of talking to me in the last few days, you have no doubt heard me tell the story of how, last Wednesday, I was almost brutally murdered by a hot water system.

If you have not heard this story, brace yourself. You're in for a ripper.

It's a poorly known fact (because who broadcasts that kind of thing?) that I take showers in the morning in lieu of coffee or other divers stimulants as a means of waking myself up. I'm pretty much certain that in terms of hygiene this practice is redundant, but I do it anyway. And let's face it, taking a shower in the morning isn't exactly rare, but I need to make it sound like this is some kind of vice for the story to work, so that's how I'm telling it. I refer to this practice jokingly as 'boiling my head', because my sleep- addled brain finds that kind of remark funny, I guess.

Anyway, I'm housesitting this place, and it's my negative second last day. By which I mean, it was one day after the owner was supposed to arrive back, because there were flight delays in Kenya and they missed their connection. Which left me in kind of a pickle since I'd used up all my food in the preceding days in a sort of leftover stew, but that's another story.

I stumbled out of bed and grabbed clothes from the laundry and briefly considered ironing them before giving up and heading for the bathroom. And that is where the fun started. See, the taps in the bathroom - or more accurately, the pipes leading to said taps - are old, and small, and so what you have to do is turn the hot on, let the pipes expand, turn it on some more, and add in cold. Or, if you're lazy, turn the hot on all the way, and then wander off while the pipes do their thing.

So I turn the hot on all the way.

All that comes out, and I mean literally all, is about three drops of brown water. At least, that's the only liquid. The rest is screeching, billowing, superheated steam. In my demi-sleeping state, it takes a while for my brain to figure out that this is not what is supposed to be happening. Presumably I stood there slack-jawed and staring for at least thirty seconds beforehand, because the bathroom was filled down to about chest-height with steam before I dragged enough wits together to turn the damn thing off. Miraculously, I managed not to give myself third-degree burns in the process.

By this point I was awake, though pretty reluctantly. I reasoned that there must clearly be something wrong with the hot water system out the back, so I stumped around looking for the keys (probably mumbling something like "keys, keys, keys, keys, keys, keys" while they were right in front of me) and unlocked the back door. The hot water system is around the side, and as soon as I get around the corner it's pretty obvious there's something seriously wrong.

There are three clues. The first is that there are quantities of steam issuing from around the control hatch, through gaps which don't exactly look like vents. The second is that the release valve is running like a tap and whistling merrily to itself. The third is that, upon approaching, the whole thing seems to be making the sound a kettle makes right before it boils over.

It's at this point that I call my mum.

"Mum. Hi. It's me."
"Oh hi, Rock."
"I am standing in front of [redacted]'s hot water system"
"It's sort of bubbling."
"And there's steam coming out."
"What should I do?"

(Because my mum, expert plumber as she is, will totally know the answer. But that's what you do if something goes wrong, right? You call your mum.)

"Can you turn it off?"
"There should be instructions on the side. Look for something about holiday mode or standby mode"

(Good idea, mum. Why didn't I think of that?)

"Yeah, there's a little hatch with instructions on the inside... blah blah ignition, blah blah pilot light... yeah, shut down mode."
"Right, what does it say?"
"Step one, turn knob to zero, step two, turn off water."
"Okay, do that then."

(several seconds of silence ensue here)

"But I'm scared. I don't want to put my hand in that thing, it could blow up!"
"Okay, fine. Here we go."

I stuck my hand up inside the control panel. There were a few tense seconds where I turned it the wrong way, and I heard the whoosh of a gas burner igniting before frantically turning it back the other way, and finally figuring out that you had to push it in to get to zero. I stepped back. There wasn't a whole lot of change.

"Now what?"
"Now go to the laundry and turn the hot tap on to let all the steam out of the pipes."

(Seriously, how do mums know all this? And while we're on it, where do they get their limitless reserves of calm? I suppose the stress of raising two kids makes a murderous hot water system look like nothing.)

I did as she suggested. Now the whole laundry was full of steam, but at eventually it turned back into hot water. It's at this point I have a realisation.

"Mum, it's a storage hot water system, right?"
"Probably, yeah. Why?"
"Does that mean I can have a shower?"
"Sure, why not"

(In retrospect, taking a shower in water from an exploding hot water system is extremely stupid and dangerous. Marks off there, mum.)

I took my shower, being careful to keep it lukewarm to avoid third degree burns. They don't happen, obviously. And then, being fully conscious for the first time all morning, I forgot all about it and had breakfast and went to uni, until mum texted me at about 12. She'd called a plumber, and needs to pick up my key. I gave it to her. Then she texted me back, about two hours later, saying that the insulation had completely rusted through and that [redacted] would need a hot water system, and that she'd left the key under the cat bowl and a note explaining the whole situation on the kitchen bench.

(My mum's an absolute legend, in case you hadn't figured that out yet.)

That night I had a cold shower. But at least I didn't have to have mine after stepping off a delayed 15 hour flight at four in the morning.


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