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The Toby That Had No Jug

Early one morning Jake the Dog and I set out for our habitual amble around the district. Somewhat to our surprise, we found that there was water all over our driveway. Closer investigation showed that it was bubbling up through the council toby which appeared to have sprung a serious leak overnight. Jake, who is genetically programmed to investigate each and every puddle of water that he comes across, lowered his head and drank deep draughts of it. He rolled the water around his tongue with the air of a connoisseur, swallowed it and then delivered his verdict. "It has an earthy, sandy taste," he said, "with overtones of chlorine and a delicious after taste of E. Coli. It's authentic council water and it's really quite yummy."

It was far too early in the day to report the broken toby to the council so we decided to finish our walk before doing anything about the leak. When we got home, a couple of hours later, I rang the council...

"City council," said a voice. "You are speaking with Samantha. How may I help you?"

"My council toby has sprung a leak," I said.

"Oh, that's a shame," said Samantha, "I'll get someone from Water Care on to it right away. Now just let me confirm your details. Am I talking to Alan?"

"You are," I said, vastly impressed since I hadn't yet told her my name.

"And you are reporting a leak in the toby that controls the water supply to your house at..." she quoted my address.

"That's correct," I said, even more impressed, because I hadn't given her my address either. Clearly she had picked up my phone number from her caller ID and used it as a key to find my name and address in the council database. "That's a brilliant bit of information retrieval," I said. "Aren't computers wonderful?"

"Oh we don't use computers here," said Samantha airily. "We do it all by magic!"

"Even better," I said.

There are times when people accuse me of making up the dialogue and events in my stories just for comedic effect. So let me put that foul rumour to rest once and for all. My conversation with Samantha has been reported verbatim. I have not made anything up and I haven't exaggerated a single solitary thing. She really did tell me that she got all my information through the use of magic. And naturally I believed her! I was certain that she was doing nose wiggles. I could feel the vibrations...

"Right," said Samantha briskly, "I've put the job on the list for Water Care, but they are rather busy at the moment, so it might be two or three weeks before they get a round tuit. Just be patient."

We said our goodbyes and Jake and I settled down to wait.

Over the next couple of weeks many thousands of litres of water flowed out of the broken toby carrying topsoil and sand from my lawn onto the driveway and down into my neighbour's front yard where it eventually clogged the drain and started to form a small lake. A family of ducks came and made their home in its shallows and paddled happily in it. A grey heron stalked tetchily around looking like a bad tempered Victorian accountant in pursuit of a lost farthing. Eels slithered through the slimy depths lying in wait for tasty, tender ducklings. Jake drank as much of the water as he could on our daily walks, but he was no match at all for the toby which continued to pour out water as if its life depended on it. So much water flowed out at such high pressure that it even pushed the plastic top off the toby cover and floated it away. I found that very impressive because the toby cover was a very tight fit, and I'd been completely unable to lever it off when I first tried to investigate the leak.

I rang the council several times to tell them that the situation was getting worse and to complain about the huge waste of water. Unfortunately I never got the delightful Samantha again. I always got boringly mundane people who were using computers rather than magic and in every case I had to tell them my name and address explicitly. My admiration for Samantha's magical nose wiggling increased tenfold.

One and all, the council people told me that Water Care was very busy and they'd get to my leaking toby as soon as they could. I would just have to be patient...

Three weeks after I first reported the leak an alarmingly lopsided van splashed itself into my driveway. An enormous spherical man clambered out of it. The van heaved a huge sigh of relief and assumed a more even keel. The spherical man flexed his battleship biceps and strode over to examine the toby.

"That's some big leak you got there," he said to me. "You really should have told us just how bad it was. We'd have been here a lot sooner if we'd known." I didn't bother to enlighten him. By now it was all water under the toby.

A loch ness monster poked its head up from the sullen depths and examined the spherical man carefully. Clearly it didn't like what it saw because it submerged again quickly. The spherical man hauled a cell phone out of his pocket and had a long conversation with somebody back at the office. Then he climbed back into his van and sat there waiting. The van sagged in the sunshine.

About half an hour later a flat bed truck with a huge tank on the back of it turned up. The spherical man and the driver of the truck set a pump going and sucked all the water up into the tank. The ducks and the heron flew away, the eels slithered down the drain and the loch ness monster howled pathetically as it got sucked into the tank.  "Don't worry," said the spherical man, "we'll see that it goes to a good home. I'll take it to Lake Taupo with me over the weekend."

The toby kept trying to fight them, but the pump was stronger and the toby proved unequal to the task. Once it sullenly accepted that no matter how much water it spat out the pump would simply suck it up,  it gave up trying and just sat and sulked in its hole. The spherical man enlarged the hole so as to make it easier for him to get at the broken toby. He quickly disassembled it and started bending brass pipes into shape with his bare hands. Soon the toby was as dry as a bone. The spherical man put a new toby cover by the hole and carefully positioned two witches hat cones by the side of it to stop people falling into the hole. "There you are," he said, rubbing his hands. "All fixed. There'll be someone coming round next week to fix the new cover in place and fill the hole in. We don't do that – it's a different department."

Of course it was. Everyone knows that the men who dig holes are quite different men from the men who fill them in again.

One morning, almost exactly a week later, Jake and I went on our customary morning walk. As we left the house we each saluted the witches hats in our own particular way. An hour or so later we got back from our walk and we discovered that in our absence we'd been visited by the hole fairies. The witches hats had gone. The new toby cover was in place and the hole was filled in. The nice fairies had even scattered grass seed over the new topsoil and every bird for miles around had come to stuff their faces with free food. The sound of their squabbling filled the street.

That evening Jake and I celebrated our new toby by going for a walk with Jake's best friend Booki and Booki's mum, Melissa. We walked down to the river and ambled along the bank. Jake and Booki exchanged gossip, as did Melissa and I. The riverbank is a nature reserve, so the dogs have to stay on the lead. They didn't seem to mind the restriction – they had a lot to say to each other.

Eventually we reached a bridge and we crossed over it intending to walk home along the opposite bank of the river. A steeply sloping ramp led down from the bridge to the riverbank and at the bottom of the slope was a black labrador about to make its way up towards the bridge.

"I hate black labradors," declared Booki, launching himself at the dog, intent upon mayhem.

"I'll help you," said Jake, racing after Booki. Dogs always support their friends.

I lost control of him. Jake pulled me off my feet and I fell into the fence that bordered the slope. He dragged me down the fence and I reached out and wrapped my arm around one of the posts in an effort to stop my headlong plunge. Eventually Melissa, who was ahead of me near the bottom of the ramp, got the dogs calmed down and I was able to scramble to my feet. That was when I found that something on the fence had ripped a huge gash in my hand. The wound was about four centimetres long and it gaped wide open. I could see right down inside my palm. Blood gushed like the water from my broken toby, and it formed red pools on the ground. Strangely I felt no pain whatsoever. Until I actually saw the blood streaming out of my hand, I hadn't realised that anything at all had happened to me. I shook my hand experimentally. Droplets of blood flew everywhere. A young boy who was skateboarding down the slope looked a bit sick and quickly made himself scarce.

Melissa, who is a nurse, took charge. She held both Booki and Jake on their leads. The dogs looked puzzled. What was going on? "Have you got tissues?" Melissa asked.

I nodded and used my other hand to pull a bunch of clean tissues from my pocket. I pressed them into the wound and elevated my injured hand. "Keep pressure on the wound," said Melissa, and I did. The white tissues turned red in seconds. "Don't worry about saturating them," said Melissa. "Just keep pressure on the wound. How do you feel."

"A bit faint and dizzy," I said. "I think I'm in shock. That wound needs stitches. Sticking plaster isn't going to do anything for it."

"Lean against the fence," said Melissa. "I'll phone my husband to meet us with the car. He can take you to a doctor. I'll take Jake home and wait for you there.

It wasn't long before Melissa's husband Karl arrived. He took me to the health centre which was only a few minutes drive up the road. Soon I was surrounded by nurses who sat me down on a chair and supported my bleeding hand on an absorbent surface.

"Oooh, that looks pretty," said one of them as she cleaned the wound. "Nice and wide and deep. How did you do it?"

I explained.

"Well, we'll just put a few stitches in it to close the wound up," she said, "and you'll be right as ninepence in no time at all. When did you last have a tetanus injection?"

"About eighteen months ago," I said.

"That's all right then," she said. "You won't need another one. But I think we'd better give you a course of antibiotics. Who knows what nasty bacteria might be lurking on a dirty old fence?"

She sewed up the wound and put a dressing on it. "Come back on Monday," she said, "and we'll change the dressing." I was feeling a bit less faint now as the shock wore off. I filled the prescription for antibiotics and Karl drove me home where Melissa and Jake were waiting for me.

Melissa examined the dressing critically. Blood was already leaking into it. "That's probably going to need changing again before Monday," she said. "Give me a call if it gets too bad and I'll come round and change it for you."

"I will," I promised. And I did.

Melissa changed my dressing a couple of times over the weekend, and eventually the bleeding died down. I went back to see the nurses on Monday. "That's not one of our dressings," said the nurse suspiciously. "What's been going on?"

I explained about Melissa.

"That's a really expensive dressing," said the nurse, sounding slightly shocked at the obvious waste. "I'm tempted to leave it in place so that we get our money's worth out of it."

"No," I said, "I really think it needs changing. The wound is still leaking a bit."

By the end of the week both the official nurses and Melissa, my unofficial nurse, had changed my dressing half a dozen times. But, on the bright side, the wound was starting to close up and heal nicely. Therefore Melissa and I decided to take Jake and Booki for a walk again. The dogs both had a lot of catching up to do. We retraced the steps of our original expedition and when we reached the fence, Melissa examined it closely. Suddenly she let out a squeal of delight. "Look," she said, "I've found what caused the gash in your hand!"

Jake and I walked over to have a look at what she'd discovered. There was a nail standing up proud from the handrail. "That's the guilty party," said Melissa triumphantly.

"How do you know?" I asked.

"Look closely at it," said Melissa. "It's still got some lumps of you stuck to it..."

"Cor!" said Jake, getting all excited. "Can I have a nibble?"


About four weeks after the accident I revisited the bridge with a friend who, quite by chance, had a hammer in his backpack. When we got to the bridge he examined the nail carefully. "It's still got bits of you sticking to it," he announced. "Clearly the local birds and insects don't like the taste of Alan." He took the hammer out of his backpack and slammed the nail flat. "There," he said, "It won't injure anybody ever again!"

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