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Piping hot and cold

It was predictable that of all the tasks involved in replacing the kitchen in our house, fitting and plumbing the new sink was always going to provide the most challenge for us; we are, after all, just amateurs in this game.

First of all the sink has to be sunk into an opening in one of our worktops (these are things that arrive on our doorstep as three metre long pieces of chipboard weighing in at forty five kilograms). Any item this size is long enough and heavy enough to cause all sorts of problems when being manoeuvred around inside a house. Lifting it requires one person at each end and once we have it off the ground and moving, its momentum is transferred back to us making us weave around like drunks. We stagger towards the line of recently assembled kitchen units and gently lower our burden into place, only then realising that the worktop needs to be reversed; the rounded edge is not usually fitted against the wall. Spinning it around is a black art, an exercise in brinkmanship that could easily demolish much of what we have created since we started the refurbishment project back in September, but thankfully between us we manage it successfully so that I can take a saw to the thing and trim it down to a more manageable size.

Next comes the hole. A large rectangle has to be removed from the worktop, positioned exactly where one day we would like the sink to rest. I have a tool for this, an electric jigsaw, which grinds along noisily converting chipboard and laminate to a fine choking dust which it sprays into the air around me. It requires focus and concentration for one thing is certain – cutting with a saw is a one way process; there is no way back once the blade has done its work. Just a few carefully measured millimetres can separate a good job from a complete disaster. Make the hole too small and it can be adjusted. Make it too big and it cannot.

We let the dust settle for a while then breathe a sigh of relief as we watch the shiny new stainless steel sink drop into place. Round one to us. kitchen waste buildNow for the next bit of fun. Nestling innocently in the box alongside our sink was a large pack of plastic pipes and connectors, silver in colour, just the sort of thing an alien in an episode of Doctor Who might wear. There are so many ways these items might be connected together, all of which except one are wrong. But if we can solve the puzzle in a particular way then all our washing-up dreams come true. What we really need for this is that little blue pen-torch thingy the Doctor uses to open doors, analyse cryptic diagrams and find his way back to his police box space ship. The diagrams supplied with the pipes are translated from Italian into a strange dysfunctional English that on first read seems to make sense but then again doesn’t quite.

After many hours, and despite the lack of blue light, the puzzle finally starts to come together in a way that makes sense. It is not the most obvious solution, of course, but it is reasonably elegant and the best my brain can come up with. Maybe I need to park the problem overnight and let the sub-conscious do its work.

While all this indoor activity takes place the world outside is reeling under an early winter weather-fest. There is no mystery as to why when meeting for the first time, the first topic of conversation the British generally come up with is our own weather. The immense variability and variety, inevitable given the position of our isles on the globe, still directly and profoundly affects our lives.

Take this last week. We returned from a light shopping spree via our favourite footpath which follows the River Yeo through what in modern parlance is termed a ‘country park’, an area of undeveloped or abandoned land considered unsuitable for habitation or commercial building which is allowed to revert to nature in a managed sort of way. The light was fading and the land around us was monochrome, trees pointing their leafless branches skywards to where, high above, an airliner glowed orange as it caught the dying sun. front garden treeThe branches were a black tangle against the sky but each one was also picked out in white, as if someone had taken a white crayon and carefully drawn a line from trunk to tip. The thin lines of snow, frozen in place so they could no longer be dislodged by the wind, picked out every fine detail. Bird nests high in the treetops, normally invisible, were etched in white too and even the finest twigs could be seen clearly, despite the poor light. It was a frozen landscape and our feet crunched loudly through a crust of leaf litter where the snow had not fallen, pigeons flapping away noisily at our passage.

Our own front garden tree, festooned with bird feeders, has become a fast food stopover for the neighbourhood and it too carried a snowy burden, locked on firmly by several days of penetrating frost that looked set to continue. Then, startlingly, only a few hours later we peer out in amazement as the rain falls, warm rain that is melting away the snow, brushing clean the white-etched twigs and branches. It is as if Yeovil has time travelled into another season, from winter to spring in the blinking of an eye. Come the dawn and every house roof has shed its winter load, the pavements are still a lethal mix of residual ice but the air has lost its familiar nasal nip. For a short while we experience a warm maritime blast and we store up the experience to talk about with strangers.

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