Morning rituals chez Robson are as predictable as the sunrise. About an hour before the alarm clock is due to go off, 8.3Kg of anxious fur jumps on the bed and whines worriedly in my ear. Porgy is a cat of low self esteem and he is convinced that unless he constantly reminds me of his presence in the house, I will forget that he exists and will not fill his breakfast bowl with goodies.
If the whining fails to rouse me, he paces up and down on my chest for a few minutes and tries a few experimental jumps, hoping perhaps to elicit an "Ooof!" from me. Sometimes he misjudges his target on purpose and crashes down from a great height, claws fully extended, right on my naughty bits. My "Ooof!" tends towards the soprano, and I begin to contemplate the advantages of felinicide.
Having succeeded in his aim of drawing attention to himself, Porgy then curls himself up around my head and purrs loudly in my ear. Sometimes he rasps his tongue over my nose, which feels rather like being rubbed down with wet sandpaper. Layers of nasal skin flake away as I lie there praying for the alarm to go off so that the day can begin.
Eventually it rings, and Robin screams with fright as she is dragged headlong out of a deep and satisfying slumber. I sooth her with calming soothes and then, yawning and stretching, she heaves herself out of bed. Porgy immediately forgets all about me. Robin is up! She'll do! Harpo and Bess, waiting politely outside the bedroom door, seem to agree with him.
Robin heads into the kitchen trying not to trip over three cats who are winding themselves backwards and forwards between her legs, crying with eagerness to be fed and holding occasional impromptu boxing matches. She puts biscuits in their bowls and then heads for the bathroom where hopefully a shower will bring her fully awake. I lie in bed, relaxed by the distant sounds of running water and companionable crunching. I turn on the radio and listen to the news.
Eventually a cloud of steam with Robin inside it floats into the bedroom.
"Lights!" warns the cloud of steam, and I close my eyes to protect my delicate corneas from the photonic rocks that electric lights always seem to throw out in the mornings. It's a good job that daylight photons out in the real world don't have mass otherwise we'd all be stoned to death every day.
Now it's my turn in the shower and off I go, leaving the cloud of steam to get dressed.
On the particular morning of which I now speak, all began as usual. My shower was a little lukewarm, particularly towards the end when it got decidedly chilly, but I simply assumed that Robin had soaked herself a bit longer than normal and used slightly too much hot water. I dried myself off and trudged back to the bedroom to get dressed. Robin, less steamy than when last I saw her, was now dressed and breakfasted and about to leave for work. I waved goodbye as I clambered into my underpants; a bit of multitasking that is very hard to do without breaking a leg, but nevertheless it is a skill of which I am an internationally acknowledged master. For a small fee, I am willing to give lessons...
When I got home that evening, all the taps marked Hot were producing only Cold water. Oh dear.
"Could it be a fuse?" suggested Robin.
I went to the fusebox. Somewhat to my surprise, I discovered that most of the circuits were protected by old fashioned ceramic fuses. One or two had been upgraded to circuit breakers, but a surprisingly large number were still using the old technology. The water heating circuit was one of these. I removed the ceramic fuse and looked inside it. There was no fuse wire to be seen and streaks of metal on the ceramic base suggested that the fuse had somewhat dramatically self destructed at some point in the not too distant past. I actually had some fuse wire in my tool cupboard (heaven knows why), so I repaired the fuse and put it back. All we could do now was wait.
The next day I turned on a Hot tap. High temperature water gushed forth. Yippee! Problem solved.
That sounded ominous. I went back to the fuse box and pulled the water heating fuse again. The fuse wire had literally exploded under the load and melted itself all over the inside of the ceramic. Somewhat foolishly, I replaced it again. It lasted about five minutes.
Time to call in the professionals.
Ken the electrician came armed with impressive gadgets that had digital displays. He poked probes into dark places on the water heater and looked at the numbers on his dials.
"Hmmm," he said thoughtfully. "I know the fuse is out," he said, "and therefore there is no current going through the circuit at the moment, but nevertheless I think I'll turn the switch to the water heater off, just in case I accidentally short circuit something."
He pressed the switch with his thumb.
"That's rather stiff," he said in surprise, and he pressed it again, using two thumbs this time. The switch refused to change position. "Aha!," said Ken. "A clue!"
He got down on his knees and examined the switch more closely. He sniffed it. He rubbed his finger over the top of the plastic box in which the switch was housed. "Feel that," he said to me.
I felt it -- the plastic under my fingers was slightly rough and bubbly.
"That's got quite hot at some point in the not too distant past," said Ken. "Hot enough to start melting the plastic. I'm surprised you didn't smell it; it reeks of rat piss as it melts."
"Oh we'd never have noticed that," said Robin. "Neither Alan nor I have much of a sense of smell. That's the secret of a truly happy marriage, you know -- when neither partner can smell anything."
Ken considered this solemnly. "You have a good point there," he said. "I always get on much better with my wife when we both have colds." He produced a screwdriver and began to dismantle the plastic box.
The inside of the box looked like a battlefield in miniature. The wires leading into the switch were black and burned and the switch mechanism itself was a solid, distorted lump where the plastic had melted and flowed into surrealistic deformities.
"No wonder I couldn't close the switch," said Ken. "That's never going to move again."
He clipped the wires and removed what was left of the switch. He examined it closely and broke away some bits of plastic. "Look at that," he said, pointing at a particularly interesting bit. "That got so hot it's partially melted the brass of the terminal. You're lucky the fuse blew when it did. If this got much hotter, it could have started a fire, and that would have done your house no good at all!"
He scraped away the burned insulation from the wires, fitted new rubber sleeves and wired in a new switch. He remantled the plastic box and replaced the ceramic fuse with a circuit breaker.
"I don't trust the fuse any more," he said. "It obviously exploded quite violently, so goodness knows what stresses that put on the ceramic. We don't want it disintegrating some dark and stormy night."
He turned everything on and poked his probes into dark corners again. The numbers obviously satisfied him for he began to pack away his tools.
"There you are," he said. "That should do the trick."
The next morning, the usual 8.3Kg of anxious fur jumped up on the bed. The daily ritual had begun and my shower, when I got to it, was satisfyingly hot.