We have a small problem in our kitchen, because our little electric water heater that is mounted inches over the sink, with a thick cable that plugs into the wall to turn it off and on, has finally packed up. The cable that has broken free of it’s wall mountings and has been dangling dangerously close to the water in the sink for some weeks, always gave me the fear of sudden death by electric shock and it has been five years of irritation banging your head on this silly protruding water heater box as you bend down to fish out rogue knives and spoons from the bottom of the washing up water. No doubt, it has driven Gladys and Florence mad over the years too, as they put in many hours of washing up by hand each week. It’s a very Heath Robinson/1950s system that is in dire need of an upgrade. The problem is that, now we have bought the house, I’m looking at everything with new eyes. One day I’d like a new kitchen, a new bedroom for our youngest daughter who sleeps in a box room under the sloping roof, a second bathroom upstairs hell – one day I’d even like a swimming pool! Not sure if or how any of this will take place but it leaves us in a dilemma re: fixing kitchen hot water heater because one day I’d like to pull the whole lot down and start again, therefore much more than a temporary fix would be a waste of effort and money.
It’s tiresome washing up in cold water, or boiling the kettle to wash up, or carrying buckets of hot water from the upstairs bathroom, but yet another antiquated water heater system seemed so old fashioned that I asked the plumber: ‘Couldn’t we just run hot water into the kitchen from our upstairs boiler perhaps, like in 21st century houses?’ At this point I might just explain that strangely enough our water pipes are mounted on the outside of the house. There is a ground tank for water storage which is sporadically topped up by the mains supply that comes in on one or two random days of the week (if at all). We then have a small electric pump that we switch on and off to get the water from the ground into the roof tanks. The water must be routed around the house (ie upstairs/guest room extension/outbuildings) via a complex system of turning on and off of valves mounted on the pipes outside on the wall. We switch the pump off when precious water starts pouring out from the various overflow pipes onto the ground.
Finally I get to the point – the plumber shook his head and said, that my plan might be difficult; however, he said he would be back the next day with all the necessary equipment. Sure enough he returned, with a long ladder, a length of pipe and a sledge hammer. I returned from a quick shopping expedition to find that the plumber’s assistant was up the ladder and proceeding to knock a large hole in the side of the house: ‘STOP!’ I yelled. It was then that I learned about the plumber’s ‘grand plan’, whose details were as follows: knock a hole in the side of your brown stone Nairobi house, big enough to poke a human head through in order to locate roughly where the upstairs bathroom taps are mounted. Then try to make an ancillary connection with the hot water pipe under the upstairs bath to a new pipe, that will poke out of the external wall, run vertically down the outside of the house (in amongst all the other ones in the maze). A guess will be made at roughly where the underside of the kitchen sink is, knock another hole in the house for the pipe re enter, run it up to the kitchen sink – then bodge a new hot water tap and hey presto! Hot water in the kitchen!
‘OK, forget it.’ I said to the plumber and his mate. ‘Sorry to be awkward and to have wasted your time, but we are going to have to think of another solution.’ I then proceeded to have a row with my husband, in front of the bewildered plumbers, who was insisting that all houses, even in England, have water pipes that run down the outside walls. However, at the risk of believing I was slipping into insanity yet having just been to England, I was sticking to my guns. ‘No more horrible pipes on the outside of the house!’ I insisted. ‘Houses in the developed world do not have pipes on the outside, with little electric pumps plugged into a stupid socket and valves dotted here and there. I’d rather do without the hot water than knock huge holes in the side of the house – this is crazy!’ Finally, my husband acquiesced.
On closer inspection, under the sink were two disused pipes which suggested that once there was a hot and cold water supply to the kitchen, however, we are now back to square one, with no progress made. A week later, we’re still boiling kettles for washing up and still living in the 1950s in Nairobi. It seems that I can only dream of hot running water, dish washers and no more unsightly exterior water pipes.