The first warning sign was probably the grinding slide of the toilet seat that morning, proof that it had come loose from its moorings and was quite separate from the toilet’s base. Closer inspection revealed the seat was attached by a single screw, giving every sedentary moment on our only toilet a cool new feature; the relaxing, meditative feel of Charlie Brown sledding down a snowy hill on an upturned tray.
A further layer of doom descended an hour later, when an unedifying crack reverberated inside the cistern as I turned the toilet’s handle. A peek beneath its lid revealed the plastic bit that connects the lever to the handle had, conveniently, snapped in two.
An unedifying crack reverberated inside the cistern as I turned the toilet’s handle
This would have been annoying at the best of times. The fact it took place 45 minutes before my son’s birthday party was due to start propelled me into an almost zen-like state of stress. It was, I decided, very like what Nasa must have felt like during the Apollo 13 mission if Houston was filled with bunting and Spider-Man balloons.
Soon I was on the streets of Walthamstow, chasing down any hardware store that could help. Of the four in my vicinity, one was closed and another two had gone out of business. Before I could say ‘death of the high street’ I was face to face with the sympathetic owner of my last and only hope, who told me her shop didn’t sell plumbing materials, but she did have some superglue. As I’d spent this entire errand carrying the snapped component in my hand, like a child proffering vegetables in the hope an adult might cut them up for me, I glued it back into one piece while holding it firmly in place for the rest of my walk home.
I’d barely registered the snap it made on the first turn of the handle before the doorbell rang to announce the first of our guests had arrived. I met them with hugs, smiles and a calm lecture on how we now flush toilets in this part of the world by bending over the bowl and plunging our hands into the cistern so as to manually operate a metal lever suspended in tepid water. They received this warmly, as any dear friend will when you greet them by immediately addressing the fact they take shits.
I deliver this address several times over the next few hours as more people arrive and rudely expect to be able to use our toilet. Was I subjected to several rounds of Wildean wordplay based around the inevitable effects of the shiitake mushroom tortillas I’d made? Did I regret devising and cooking an entirely vegetarian feast of black bean chilli tacos? Who’s to say? We all make choices in this life.
Luckily, my son was oblivious to all of this, and spent the afternoon overjoyed with cake, pizza and the febrile ecstasy one gets from gift giving, sugar imbibing and hosting a dozen playmates. As I heard him laughing to the point of tears, at the sight of his exhausted, blindfolded dad attempting to pin a horn on to a wall-mounted triceratops, I felt content. Happy, for the first time that day, to have made so big a splash.
Did Ye Hear Mammy Died? by Séamas O’Reilly is out now (Little, Brown, £16.99). Buy a copy from guardianbookshop at £14.78
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July 17, 2022 at 02:28PM Séamas O’Reilly