The Diary: Bathroom sink drama in Middle Kensington

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IT IS not a pretty thing to discover at six on a depth of winter morning that the water in the washbasin will not drain away. My shavings and tooth brushings (how glutinous toothpaste has become) could not be the cause of blockage, for these are tipped into the lavatory, nor could combings and nail clippings, nor am I a man of creams and unguents, nor yet of hair restorers, and nothing but soapy water ever goes down that drain - but on that bitter morning it would go no more. Impatient dogs compelled me to desert the problem, and as we walked in the dark park I consoled myself with the conviction that when we returned, the water would long since have seeped into the mephitic depths that lie beneath the house and a modest quantity of caustic soda could be set to work.

I was in error. With a bucket under the basin to catch the torrential slop, I set to work on the convolutions of piping immediately below that could have been installed by Fernand Leger in his most fervent Tubist Period. Three junctions had to be unscrewed, one clockwise, two anticlockwise, two with the left hand, one with the right, and both 3D twists of pale plastic were inordinately heavy as they came away - not altogether surprising, for both were rock solid. Rock is indeed the word for what wholly occupied them - rock of the kind that one finds in the wilds of Cappadocia, excavated by anchorites to make themselves a home, deposited millions of years ago by now defused volcanos. This, however, was rock recently deposited by Thames Water Utilities Ltd, the firm to which I pay hundreds of pounds each year for a supply of pure clean water. What next to do? Neither screwdriver nor potato-peeler had much effect on it, but a teaspoon had more bite - it was with teaspoons that the Byzantines scooped out the eyes of the Mandelsons of their day, heated spoons that cauterised the wounds; slowly, inexorably, the excavation progressed, first from one end, then the other, until the tunnels met and the pipes were clear and could be reinstalled. The admirable teaspoon, a stainless steel trophy of some forgotten flight with British Airways, is now a treasured tool, ready for another battle with this extraordinary by-product of Thames' drinking water.

What is this rock, and what, one wonders, if it can so consolidate in plumbing, is its offset on human intestines and other organs? When surgeons remove stones from our kidneys, bladders and urinary passages, all the parts for which we use the euphemism "water works", is the truth that these are as much the responsibility of Thames Water Utilities Ltd as the deposit in our household pipes? How can it be that water sold as perfectly pure and potable can block the pipes through which it runs? Is it a miracle at which we should stand in awe, or have we been deceived, and the water that we drink in lemonade and tea and coffee is slowly ossifying the soft organs in our bodies and our goldfish in their tanks?

ONE VERY local consequence of the to-do over Iraq and unarguably post hoc, ergo propter hoc, was an explosion in the street. An American diplomatic residence lies nearby, a handsome house, discreetly proclaiming nothing of its nature but too obviously betrayed by diplomatic police cruising too slowly past in their red cars. When a wretched youth in dungarees had the impertinence to park an unmarked van nearby, suspicious neighbours called the constables, who dutifully blew it to smithereens - here in Middle Kensington one must never be dishevelled, coloured, poor or the wrong class, as I know from the disdain of uniformed nannies and the broomstick wives of Conservative Party knights. Two dozen motorcycle men in creaking leathers guarded us against ourselves, ordering us back into our houses, refusing to answer any questions, though one inscrutably replied "Go home - this is something that we are doing" in much the same way as older boys forbid younger to be spectators at their masturbation.

It was a remarkably efficient business and within half an hour not a trace remained - no bomb-squad men, no blue van and not even a scorch mark where it had been. It was as though nothing had happened, but the noise of the explosion had triggered memories of war and National Service, and proof lies in the doubling of diplomatic police patrols, now in pairs of cars at 30 second intervals, as well as the miserable men permanently on guard outside. They are, of course, the perfect signal to the terrorist.

THE DEAD days between Christmas and New Year brought disaster for Jemima. She has a certain showy style but no obvious evidence of income, and I have always thought her our local Miss Whip or Swedish Booby new in town, her clientele perhaps a cut above the readers of intriguing cards in telephone boxes. Belatedly, one of her gentlemen, snatching pleasure on St Thomas Becket's Day, put a white mink under her Christmas Tree - a whole long coat of it so perfect that a hundred animals were slaughtered to ensure its quality - but a black boy was to be their avenging nemesis. She ripped the wrapping paper, squealed with pleasure at the proud name on the cardboard box, threw off her Marks & Spencer's housecoat, pink and quilted, and stark naked donned the peerless garment, for fur coats are always at their most seductive when covering bare flesh. Enchanted by her mirror, she contrived an errand - to Partridge's, the local grocer, for the extravagant titbits that befit the supper of a woman in white mink - and that was her undoing.

Oh, the mischief of it: glorying in the nakedness that lay within the coat, imagining admiring glances, salivating at the thought of caviare and goose liver, she stood on the kerb waiting to weave her way through the traffic, and it was there that the black boy struck with the deft skill of the expert. He did nothing that any of us would do to steal a coat; he simply stooped to seize the hem of it behind her and lifted it with speed and strength; she was muffled within its luxury, blinded and stifled by the silken skins, her yelp of dismay inaudible, her hands tugged from the pockets, her arms yanked suddenly above her head as the coat was peeled into reverse. It was the work of a mere second, and then the boy ran.

How could he run? He should have been doubled up with laughter at what he had done to her in his role as Time unveiling Truth. Imagine it; on impulse you take the chance of robbing a woman of her luxurious fur coat and get the shocking bonus of her total nakedness. She was not, of course, half as naked as the slaughtered mink.

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