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The Birthday Present

One Sunday evening, round about 11.00pm, after a particularly strenuous and difficult flush, the toilet decided that enough was enough and so it gave up the ghost and sulked. At first it was hard to tell that anything out of the ordinary had happened. The cistern made the usual swishing and refilling noises. But Robin felt that they were going on for far too long, and they were showing no signs at all of stopping. She listened suspiciously for a while. Then she noticed that water was puddling on the floor around her feet. That’s unusual, she thought.

Jake the Dog came wandering in. "The floor’s wet," he pointed out in case Robin hadn’t noticed.

"I know," said Robin. "It’s all leaked out of the toilet."

"Really?" said Jake in an excited tone of voice. "What a red letter day this has turned out to be!" He slurped all the water up, leaving the floor as dry as a bone. "Yum," he said, licking his lips. "Tasty! Did someone say something about a dry bone?"

"Dry as a bone is just a saying," Robin warned him. "Don’t take it literally and don’t try to eat the floor. We like it the way it is." Jake’s tail drooped in disappointment. "Spoilsport," he said, but he did as he was told.

Robin took the top off the cistern and peered inside. A thin layer of scummy water swirled around the bottom of it. A pipe was gushing madly, trying its very best to fill the cistern up. Sullen bubbles floated out of the pipe and as fast as the water flowed in to the cistern, it flowed out again through the bubbling hole and dripped on to the floor. Robin turned off the water supply to the toilet. The noise and the flow of water stopped. She came and told me what had happened.

"Fortunately we live in a house with two toilets," I said as I headed determinedly for the other one.

"I wouldn’t if I were you," advised Robin. "I think that one’s buggered as well."

"What’s wrong with it?" I asked.

"It appears to have broken away from whatever was fastening it to the floor," she said. "It wobbles rather alarmingly."

"At least it still flushes," I said. "If we’re careful, we should be able to use it safely until the plumber arrives."

"That’s a relief," said Robin.

"No, that’s not a relief," I said, as I unzipped and took careful aim, "this is a relief."

She threw a toilet brush at me.

Bright and early on Monday morning I rang the plumber and explained the situation. "Hmmm," said the plumber, thoughtfully. "Sounds like you need a plumber."

"That’s a good idea," I said. "Do you think that you could arrange such a thing?"

"Well," he said, "I can definitely promise to have someone there at 8.00am on Friday."

"But that’s five days away," I pointed out.

"I might be able to get someone there before then," he said. "It depends how well the jobs we’ve currently got scheduled go. I can absolutely guarantee Friday, but it might be sooner. With luck..."

"OK," I said and I settled down to wait with anticipation and crossed legs.

"You can borrow my lawn, if you like," said Jake, the ever generous Dog. "There’s a really good bit just over there in front of the fence where the neighbours have the best possible view. Let me show you how it works." He demonstrated copiously.

"No thank you," I said. "The ground is too squishy."

By Wednesday, Robin and I were both well practised at using the wobbly toilet. Fortunately neither of us are prone to sea sickness, so it wasn’t too unpleasant an experience. That morning Robin woke me with a kiss. "Happy birthday," she said, for it was indeed my birthday. I was a whole decade older than I had been the day before and everything around me had changed dramatically overnight. The country was clearly going down hill fast. It was full of rude, humourless and ignorant young whipper-snappers who lacked all respect for custom and tradition. One and all, they listened to terrible music performed by screeching people who were too stupid to remember their own surnames. I hoped that all their toilets would break. That would teach them a lesson they wouldn’t soon forget!

At precisely 8.00am on my birthday morning the plumber arrived, eager to start plumbing. I showed him the flushless toilet and the wobbly toilet and he frowned. "Well, I can easily replace the broken pipe that is preventing the cistern from filling up," he said. "But I can pretty much promise you that I’ll be back again in three months or so to replace whatever it is that breaks next. The toilet is about a quarter of a century old and it’s on its last legs. Repairing it is just throwing good money after bad. I recommend that you get a whole new cistern rather than trying to repair the old one piecemeal. It will be a lot cheaper in the long run."

Because I was myself extraordinarily old, I felt that I fully understood what he was telling me. The parallels between me and the ancient toilet were all too obvious. Bits of both of us kept breaking down, and sometimes they fell off. I could easily appreciate how the toilet must be feeling at the moment. It must be very frustrating to be completely unable to flush. I hate it when that happens to me. Perhaps I should have a new cistern fitted as well… "Good idea," I said to the plumber. "Let’s do it. What about the wobbly one?"

"Back in the day," said the plumber informatively, "they used brass screws to attach the toilet to the floor. After twenty five years of soaking in unnameable fluids the screws start to dissolve and disintegrate. I doubt there’s anything except the head of the screw left down there. These days we use stainless steel screws. They last for ever."

I contemplated the positive benefits of a stainless steel screw. Perhaps that was just what I needed to make me feel young again...

"I’ll go and get a replacement cistern for the dead one," said the plumber and off he went. A few minutes later the phone rang. I answered it. "Good news!" said the plumber. "They’ve got a sale on. For only an extra $13 you can get a whole new toilet bowl as well as a new cistern! It’s a bargain."

I discussed it with Robin. "The toilet bowl is rather chipped and grubby," she said thoughtfully. "And that makes it a bit hard to clean. Scrubbing really doesn’t seem to have very much effect at all, and the toilet duck just quacks in frustration every time I put him in there because, no matter how hard he tries, he never manages to peck much of the grime away."

"I think whoever lived here before us used to clean the toilet with wire wool and and an industrial sand blaster," I said. "I’ve noticed that the porcelain is covered in fine cracks. They are a perfect place for bacteria to hide in and breed. Eldriitch horrors lurk unseen down there. Sometimes I hear eerie music in the night when their mad, passionate parties get out of control. And in the morning the toilet is often green and sprouting wavy tendrils of bacterial fur."

"I don’t like the fur," said Robin thoughtfully. "It tickles."

"New toilet bowl?" I asked.

"New toilet bowl," she agreed.

"New toilet bowl," I said to the plumber.

"What about the wobbly one?" he asked. "I’ll have to take the toilet off the floor anyway so that I can drill holes for the new stainless steel screws. Why not put a new one there as well instead of replacing the original? It’s just as old as the first one and in just as poor a condition."

Robin and I repeated our previous conversation word for word. We agreed that the plumber made a very persuasive case. "Two new toilets," I confirmed.

So that was my birthday present to myself. Two new toilets delivered and installed. Best birthday present ever.

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