BOXES IN THE ATTIC: Number 11

By Sallie Lloyd-Jones

When my firstborn, Glyn, was still a baby, in the early sixties, I had an accident with a calor gas oven. I was making breakfast, porridge, coffee, eggs and bacon on the hob, and in the oven, rolls heating. I opened the oven door to see how the rolls were doing, and the oven blew up in my face. The low pressure, as with North Sea gas, had caused the flame to blow out when I closed the door. When I opened it to look, the oven was full of gas which instantly reignited from the flames of the hob. There was a deafening explosion. My hair was frizzled, likewise the front of my jumper, I’d lost my eyebrows and lashes, my face was bronzed and stinging and the inside of my nose was red and sore and I was in shock. I became an instant fan of electric cooking.

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When we first moved into this house, in 1972, I phoned the gas company and asked them to cut off our gas permanently. They obligingly sent someone to remove the meter. I tried to ignore the smell of gas, telling myself that I mustn't be neurotic, until the joiner who was effecting various repairs, said ‘I'm not coming back till you get that gas leak fixed.’ So I wasn’t imagining it. Again I summoned the gas company. A man arrive and painted the stump where the meter had been with some cream-coloured substance, and said ‘if there was a leak, this would bubble, and it isn’t.’ and went away again. I phoned again. Another man appeared with a gadget like a giant thermometer on a flexible pipe to a dial. He poked it down the hole in my floor where the meter had been removed.

‘If this were leaking, it would show on that dial, and it isn’t.’ he said, and went away. I’d had enough. I told them ‘come and cut off my gas at the road so that no gas is anywhere on my property.’

A whole team appeared and asked where my pipes were under the drive. I told them I had no idea, I’d only just moved in. They asked if I had a torch? I hadn’t unpacked one yet. Candles? They asked hopefully.

After digging about in the drive for some time, one of the men came to the door. ‘Come ‘ere, hen’ he commanded. I followed to a newly dug ditch about a third of the way down the drive. It was hissing loudly. ‘There’s yer leak, hen,’ he said triumphantly. I shrieked indignantly ‘do you mean it's been hissing away into my house all the time they were telling me there wasn’t a leak?’ ‘Ye neednae worry, hen, it’s nae poisonous.’

‘I know it’s not poisonous (at least, not very) but it’s highly explosive!’

‘Och hen, you’re thinking aboot that man that was blown up in Dumbarton, but he was one of us’ Hardly a surprise, if they are in the habit of looking for gas leaks with candles.

This wasn’t the end of it, though. I returned from a shopping trip to Glasgow to find a whippet bedded down under the cooker (electric) and a huge hole in my kitchen floor. What’s going on, for goodness sake?’ I asked Robin. ‘It’s the gasmen, looking for a leak.’ You see why I deal with the practicalities. Shortly three men with lighted cigarettes (no, I’m not making it up) emerged from the underfloor, and told me they couldn’t find my leak. I said that indeed they shouldn’t be able to, since I’d had the gas cut off outside my property some months ago. They agreed that that would explain it. I was left very thankful that they were not there to install gas.

I act as Robin’s medium between the real world and the planet he inhabits  along with characters from his novels and other things that the rest of us aren’t aware of. The result is that, as much as for my own sake as his, it is my job to sort out the practicalities of life – what house or car we can afford, what central heating we should install, when the car needs servicing, how to clean the boiler and whether we should change insurance companies.

If someone comes to the door to say that we have a slate missing, will they attend to it? Or they have leftover tarmac, would we like our drive done? Robin calls ‘Sallie, it’s for you’

And if I’m out, he says ‘you’ll have to come back when my wife’s in’

However, a few years ago I came back from shopping to be greeted by Robin with an obvious smirk on his face. ‘A man came to read the gas meter,’ he told me smugly, ‘and I showed him the meter (I was supposed to be impressed by the fact that he knew where to find it – and I was) ‘He took a reading and went away.’ said Robin, visibly swelling with pride. ‘That’s not just clever, darling.’ I said ‘it’s nothing short of miraculous. We haven’t had gas for fifty years!’

I would like to leave it there, but Robin said, a trifle sulkily ‘well he read something, and seemed quite happy.’

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘it was a man from Scottish Gas to read the electric meter.’