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Alan and the Wet Spot


What? Was that a plink I heard? Surely not. It must have been on the radio. I hunkered down and listened to the music that the radio was playing, trying to distract myself from the weather that I could see through the window. Outside, the remains of Cyclone Ita torrented down from the sky. Ita had flooded the Solomon Islands and much of Queensland, and now it seemed hell bent on doing the same thing to New Zealand. Solid sheets of water flung themselves around with gay abandon as high winds blew the rain hither and yon, flattening the flowers in the garden and saturating the street. Rivers of storm water ran gaily into the drains. The radio told me that the farmers, who had been complaining about the drought, were now complaining that there was far too much water in their fields. Farmers are never satisfied...

Plink! Plink!

Strange how the radio was making that curiously metronomic noise. It didn’t fit the rhythm of the music at all. Harpo the Cat wandered into the lounge shaking his paws as if they were wet. “Hello, Harpo,” I said. “Have you been outside?”

“In this weather?” asked Harpo incredulously. “Don’t be daft. Who’d want to go out in rain like that? By the way, did you know that there’s a huge pool of water just by the front door?”

“No, I didn’t know that. I’ll go and look.”

I went out into the hall to see what was going on and there, by the front door, was a large puddle. My first thought was that Cyclone Ita had blown rain into the house through gaps underneath and around the door. It had always been a little loose in the frame. But as I bent to examine the door more closely, a drop of water fell on my head, right on the bald spot. Ouch! I looked up and all was revealed. Water was dripping regularly from the ceiling and plinking itself into a puddle. Damn! The roof was leaking. Bloody cyclones!

I mopped up the puddle, much to Harpo’s annoyance because he was drinking from it, and then I placed a bucket under the drips.

Plink! Plink! Plink!

The sound was getting on my nerves, so I lined the bucket with a towel. At least the drips were falling silently now. I went to my computer and examined the internet for roof experts. I found a man called Peter the Plumber who claimed to be a roof specialist. He lived just down the road from me. How convenient. I rang him.

“Hello. This is Peter.”

“Hello Peter. My roof has sprung a leak and I’m not sure what to do about it.”

“That’s not surprising,” said Peter. “It’s absolutely evil out there. I’ve just come home from my last job to get changed. I’m completely saturated. I squelched in my van all the way home. Good job it doesn’t have absorbent seats.”

“I can imagine,” I said. “I’ve never seen rain like this. It’s obviously exploiting a weak spot in my roof.”

“What’s your address?” asked Peter. “I’ll try and get round some time today.”

I gave him the necessary details.

Outside, Cyclone Ita carried on doing just what cyclones do best. The guttering on the house across the road was unable to cope with the influx of water and had overflowed, spilling dramatic torrents everywhere. Harpo the Cat and Bess the Other Cat sat on the windowsill watching the rain as it pounded the garden and smashed itself vainly against the windows..

“Make it stop,” said Bess. “I want to go out for a pee and a poo.”

“For once,” said Harpo, “she’s talking sense. You really ought to do something about it.”

“I’m sorry,” I said, “but there isn’t anything I can do. I can’t control the weather.”

“Bloody useless, you are,” said Harpo, and he turned his back on me.

“I can’t wait,” said Bess. “Sorry, gotta go.”

She raced off to the cat flap and shot outside. About five minutes later she came back, looking very pleased with herself. “There,” she said, “that’s better. I’m pounds lighter now.”

“You’re also soaking wet,” I pointed out. “You must be the wettest cat in the whole universe. I can get a towel and dry you, if you’d like.”

“Don’t bother,” said Bess. “I’ll just climb up on your lap and saturate your trousers.”

Plink! Plink!

What? I went out to the hall to investigate. Water was still dripping from the original place in the ceiling, but there was now an extra drip a bit further along from the first. There was no bucket under this second drip and so it was plinking steadily onto the floor again. Heaving a deep sigh at it, I went and fetched another bucket and towel, and I mopped up the new puddle.

I pottered around the house doing this and that. The radio took a gloomy delight in telling me about the many horrible things that were happening all over the country as Cyclone Ita wreaked havoc here, there and everywhere. Trees blown down, roofs ripped off, power cuts, landslips and flooding. A few drips from my ceiling started to seem quite minor in comparison.

Plink! Plink!

Oh, no. Not again? Out in the hall, a fresh drip had appeared. Another bucket and another towel. Perhaps it wasn’t a minor thing after all. I telephoned Peter and explained the situation. “I’ll be round about five o’clock,” he said, and he was as good as his word.

He was carrying a stepladder. “How can I get inside the roof?” he asked.

I showed him where the trapdoor into the roof was, and he adjusted his ladder, climbed up it and shone his torch around. “I can see the leak,” he said triumphantly. “Do you want to see it?”

He got down and I clambered up and pointed myself towards the front of the house. “What am I looking for?” I asked.

“There’s a dark brown patch on the beam,” he said. “That’s the water soaking into the wood.”

I saw it. “I can see it,” I said. “What do we do now?”

“I’ll have a look outside,” said Peter.

He wandered around the house looking up at the roof and shaking his head gloomily. “It’s a steel roof, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said.

“There’s nothing I can do while it’s still raining,’ he said. “Steel roofs are very dangerous when they are wet. They get very slippery. One wrong step and you slide off and crash down. Then you have to start looking for money as a down-payment on a wheelchair. We’ll just have to wait for the sun to come back.”

“I checked the weather forecast,” I said. “It looks like it’s going to be raining for forty days and forty nights.”

“Well, for the moment just keep collecting the drips in the buckets,” said Peter. “She’ll be right. But you might want to consider building an ark. I’ll be in touch when and if the sun comes back.” He squelched out to his van and drove off into the storm.

Plink! Plink!

Another drip, another bucket and another towel. I was rapidly approaching a bucket crisis. The rain continued to fall in Niagara-like torrents. The street looked more and more like a river and less and less like a street. The inter-islander ferry chugged slowly up the street against the current. A dead elephant and Russell Crowe floated past in the opposite direction. I stared suspiciously at my coffee – what on earth was I drinking? Once the hallucinations went away, I turned on the television. There weren’t enough pictures on the radio for my liking...

However the reality reported on the television was even more unbelievable than the visions I’d made up for myself. A farmer driving a 14-tonne digger rescued a woman trapped by flood waters on the roof of her car. He stretched the digger’s arm out to her and she scrambled into the bucket which then swung her ignominiously to safety. She and the farmer both took selfies as the rescue progressed. If there aren’t any films and photographs then it never happened.

Plink! Plink! Plink!

Oh no! Not another drip? Yes, another drip. The only remaining drip catcher that I could lay my hands on was a dirt tray which the cats didn’t use any more because they preferred to go outside. We’d long ago thrown away the kitty litter that was in it and stored the tray safely in the laundry in case we ever needed it again. I took it out, lined the tray with a towel and positioned it carefully. Harpo watched closely.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

I explained.

“Why are you using my dirt tray?”

“Because you don’t.”

“But I might,” said Harpo. He walked widdershins around the tray a couple of times and then he climbed in, curled up and went to sleep. He didn’t seem to care that Chinese Water Torture drips were falling on to him with monotonous regularity. Bess and I went to our more conventional beds and slept the night away. When I got up the next day, Harpo was still soggily asleep in his dirt tray.

Amazingly, the rain had gone away overnight and a weak sun was peering shyly through the heavy clouds. I checked the weather forecast. Today appeared to be an oasis of meagre sunshine which would quickly turn back into rain on the following day. I rang Peter the Plumber.

“It’s not raining,” I pointed out.

“I’ll be there in an hour or so,” he said and once again he was as good as his word.

He climbed up on the roof and spent a couple of hours loudly hitting things, then he climbed down again. “I’m about eighty percent sure I’ve fixed it,” he said. “You can never be completely certain with leaks, but I think I’ve got it. I’ve re-sealed some bits where the sealing seemed to have perished and I’ve fastened the leaky area down a bit more securely. But I suggest you keep the buckets there for a while just in case.”

He packed his gear away and drove off.

Despite what the weather forecast said, since Peter repaired the roof there has been no significant rain to speak of at all and consequently I haven’t heard a single plink for several days. Therefore the current state of the roof remains undefined. Fixing the roof guarantees sunshine for exactly the same reason that washing the car guarantees rain. Clearly the weather gods were insulted by what I did, and they have gone away to sulk. Because it is uncertain as to whether or not the repair has solved the whole of the problem, the buckets remain in place for the time being. Harpo has slept in the dirt tray every single night. He at least is very pleased with what I have done. When I finally come to remove all the buckets and wash all the towels, Harpo’s wrath will be terrible to behold. I do not expect to survive it unscathed.

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