"Weather bomb! Weather bomb! Watch out for the weather bomb!"
The newspapers and the television were full of dire predictions for the next day's weather. Torrential rains and 150kph winds were forecast. Everyone was advised to hunker down and not travel anywhere unless it was absolutely essential. The weekend promised to be stormy.
On Saturday morning the weather bomb exploded. Robin and I awoke to howling gales and torrents of rain smashing furiously against the windows. The whole house was shuddering under the impact. Bess tied a knot in her bladder and refused to go outside. Harpo said, "Ha! It's only weather," and pranced out into it. His fur streamlined itself as the wind hit him and he staggered slightly under the impact. Then he vanished bravely into the bushes.
"Lunatic!" said Bess, and she tucked her nose firmly under her tail and went back to sleep.
"Alan," said Robin in worried tones.
"There's a big pool of water in the kitchen."
I wandered into the kitchen. A large puddle looked at me. I looked at the large puddle. My first thought was to blame Harpo, with Bess a close second. "I wonder if it's cat pee?"
I squatted down next to the puddle and sniffed. Then I dipped a finger into it. Then I sucked my finger.
"Yuck!" squealed Robin.
"Watch closely," I said. "I'll do it again."
I did it again.
"You weren't watching closely," I said. "I'll do it slowly."
I dipped my first finger into the puddle, raised my hand towards my mouth and sucked my second finger. "See? It's just a trick to disgust the audience. Works every time. Nobody ever notices you change fingers."
"So what's the verdict?"
"I don't think it's cat pee." This time I sucked the proper finger. "No, it's just water. I wonder where it's coming from."
As the words left my mouth, something went Plop! on my head.
"I saw that," said Robin.
We both looked up to the ceiling. Slowly, a drop of water formed and then dripped down to the floor.
"Damn!" I said. "Looks like the weather bomb might have broken the roof."
Robin cleaned up the puddle and I fetched a bucket. We ate breakfast to the accompaniment of a rhythmic plinking sound as, one by one, drops formed and fell into the bucket.
Robin went towards the room where her computer lives. She wanted to play Skyrim. She had monsters to kill. But on the way there, she walked into trouble.
"Alan! There's another puddle outside the bathroom."
Water was dripping down from the trapdoor that covers the loft entrance. I got the stepladder and climbed up to the ceiling. The trapdoor isn't hinged, it's a box which sits in a little well. I lifted it up, turned it slightly and slid it out of its housing. Water poured out of it all over me. I climbed down the ladder and showed it to Robin.
"Water's been dripping into this for quite some time," I said. "Look, the weetbix board that it's made of is absolutely saturated. And once it couldn't absorb any more, the water started dripping out onto the floor below. I wonder if I can see where it's coming from..."
We put the loft trapdoor into the bath to drain and dry and I climbed up the ladder again with a torch.
The loft stretched out before me, dark, gloomy and cobwebby. The torch cast small circles of light on the huge silver tubes of our dehumidifier system which snaked hither and yon, looking for all the world like alien caterpillars exploring the dark and hidden recesses of the roof space. The cold water tank, a tall copper cylinder, lurked just to my left. I examined it carefully in case it was the source of the leak, but it seemed sturdy and watertight. I shone the torch up towards the roof. Two damp tracks traced their way across the ceiling beams. Even as I watched, a drop of water formed at the base of one of them.
I climbed down the ladder. Robin placed another strategic bucket beneath this second leak.
Stereophonic drips. One for each ear, each drip slightly out of sync with the other, just for maximum annoyance.
"It's definitely coming from the roof," I said. "We'll have to get a roof man. It could be expensive..."
"Well there's no use calling anyone now," said the ever practical Robin. "The weather bomb is booming and it's Saturday. Nobody can do anything until things calm down, and even if they could they'd charge us several large fortunes to come out after hours. It will have to wait until Monday."
I resigned myself to two days of plinking noises. However by the next day the wind and the rain had died down. Small streaks of sunshine peeped shyly from behind thick, grey clouds. The drips from the ceiling died away. Dry silence descended on the house. On Robin's advice, I replaced the trapdoor into the loft even though it was still quite damp.
"It's really hot in the loft," said Robin. "That and the dehumidifier will dry it out a lot faster than anything else we can do."
Them there interweb tubes proved to be very helpful when it came to identifying people who fixed roofs. And so, on the following Monday morning, I rang a local firm and spoke to a nice man called Simon.
"You were lucky to catch me," said Simon. "The phone's been ringing off the hook."
"I'm not surprised," I said. "I'm sure that I'm just one among many. Though I am, of course, the most important."
"Indeed you are," he agreed gravely. "I'll pop round in an hour or so to see just what the damage is."
He was as good as his word.
"Come in," I said. "Let me show you what happened."
First I showed him the buckets with a derisorily small amount of water in them. "A lot of it has evaporated over the last couple of days," I said somewhat shamefacedly.
Simon nodded wisely. "It happens," he said.
I picked up a torch. "Let me show you what I found in the loft," I said.
I climbed up the stepladder and removed the trapdoor. It was bone dry. I shone the torch on to the beams that the water had been dripping from. They too were bone dry. There was not a trace of water in the loft.
"There's not a trace of water in the loft," I said to Simon. "This is embarrassing"
"Let me have a look," said Simon. He climbed up the stepladder and looked around, but he had no more success than me. "Nope," he said. "Nothing there. I'll have a look at the roof. It's probably loose nails or something."
He went outside and got his ladder. The cats and I listened to him clomping about on top of the house. "That sounds like a bloody big bird up there," said Harpo. "Can I go on to the roof and kill it?"
Eventually Simon reappeared. "The roof is in quite good condition," he said. "But they've used lead nails to attach it to the beams and the nails have reacted with the roofing iron and it's started to corrode."
"Galvanic corrosion," I said. "I know about that. We studied it in my physical chemistry courses at university. Two metals in contact with each other generate small electrical currents which can accelerate corrosion."
"Simon looked surprised. "Most people have never heard of galvanic corrosion," he said. "They accuse me of making it up just to pad the bill. Anyway, you really should have the nails replaced with more modern screws which have an insulating layer on them to minimise the ion migration. The corrosion is particularly bad around the area just above where you saw the water coming in."
"How much will it cost to fix?" I asked.
Simon made a face. "Well, it's quite a long job," he said. "It will probably take most of a day. We'll have to extract the old nails, treat the rust and then put the new screws in. Hmmm..."
He did calculations in his head and came up with a final total that was somewhere between 'wow' and 'boingggggg'. I did a double take. "Can I have a discount for knowing about galvanic corrosion?" I asked.
He rounded down to the nearest dollar. I decided to put the 40 cents I'd saved straight into my piggy bank. "When can you start?"
"March 15th, weather permitting," said Simon.
The weather permitted and Simon knocked on my door early in the morning of the 15th.
"Can I plug this cable in somewhere?" he asked, proffering a dirty orange cord with a three pin plug on the end.
"Of course," I said and headed off to the laundry where there is a spare power socket and a small window to feed the cable through. Simon gave it the Simon seal of approval and clambered on to the roof, his body festooned with complex roofing tools. Soon the sounds of banging and power screwing began to echo through the house.
Harpo, the cat who isn't afraid of anything except the things that he is afraid of, ran out through the cat flap never to be seen again until tea time. Bess, the cat who isn't afraid of anything at all, stared curiously at the roof and then went back to sleep.
One by one, Simon pulled out each roof nail, cast a magic spell on any corrosion that he found, and then screwed a screw into the hole the nail left behind. On and on and on...
What a mind-numbingly tedious job.
There was a knock on the door.
"There you go," said Simon. "You've probably got the most securely fastened roof in the whole of New Zealand. I've never seen so many nails in a roof before." He showed me the box he'd been putting the nails in. At a rough estimate there were at least umpteen and three of them. "The original roofer must have been really worried about the high winds."
"Well this is Wellington," I said. "It's a notoriously windy city. And I do live on top of a hill."
"I suppose you are a bit exposed," said Simon. "Do you get the northerly winds or the southerly winds?"
"Yes," I said.