If it takes two minutes to fill a 10-gallon bucket with boiling water, how long does it take a naked woman with blistered thumbs to lose the will to live?
I know the answer to this one. I am pressing my thumbs to a leaking, scalding radiator valve, and the will to live is draining faster than the radiator. If only I'd got dressed first. If only I'd found the necklace I was looking for. If only I were not the kind of person whose life is scripted by the ghost of a disappointed comedy writer who never made it on to I Love Lucy, I wouldn't be in this situation, wishing with all my heart that Desi Arnaz would walk through the door and sort it all out.
Here's how it happens. I'm taking a bath in the middle of the day because I'm going on a big night out, and sometimes it's nice to do girly things in the privacy of one's bathroom without children coming in to pee and be tested on their spelling. Luxuriating in scented steam (the bath salts that I hide from Clara), I plan my outfit and decide on a particular necklace that I haven't worn in ages. Draped in a towel, I grope for the necklace on top of the bookshelves (where else?) and find, instead, the radiator key I have been looking for since last winter.
As luck would have it, I am in one of my competent moods. "No time like the present" and all that. I've never actually bled a radiator, but I've watched the porter do it. You just need a tea-towel to catch the drips, then you fit the key on to the little square pin and... Oh shit! Oh God! Oh no! The little square pin has come off in my hand and a jet of boiling water is already blasting the paper from the wall.
Quite calmly, considering, I review my options. I can stand there, staunching the flow with my bath towel for, let me see, five and a half hours, until my date arrives ("Sorry darling, you find me in a spot of hot water"), or I can release the torrent and race around finding clothes/buckets/porter while my flat fills up like a fish tank. The second option seems marginally preferable, until I try it. The porter isn't there and when I race back upstairs to my flat, the water is ankle-deep. Juggling buckets, bins and mobile phone, I call a plumber and agree to a 75-quid call-out fee, the hand of my first-born, anything, if they will only get someone with a spanner round here sharpish.
When, an hour and a half later, lovely Liam the plumber arrives, I practically fall on his neck, babbling about square pins and the amount of water required to bring down a ceiling.
"Ah, the little square pin," says Liam, understandingly. "They can be the divil, so they can."
Minutes later, the devil is defeated and the tideline starts to slide down the skirting-board. The phrase "hell or high water" comes to mind. "Yeah, right," I think, wringing sludge out of the towels. "Like there's a choice."