Stephen Clarke wrote A Year in the Merde, Merde Actually and Merde Happens about life as an Englishman in France. But has he ever experienced merde, literally? I have. In my shower, on my bathroom floor and in other places I’d rather forget.
We were washing up dishes from the previous evening’s cheese and wine, getting ready to leave Paris, when the sink pipes let out a low, belligerent gurgle. The gurgle, or snarl as it has become in my mind, reverberated up through the toilet on the other side of the wall and manifested itself in a puddle of dirty water in the shower. Shit. Literally.
We had two hours before we had to leave for the airport. They were spent dashing back and forth to the supermarket for increasingly potent drain cleaner. They didn’t work and in the end we had to leave the flat with an inch of dirty toilet water pooled in the shower.
Maybe it was always going to happen, after my smugness at how smoothly the renovation had gone, but now we had a genuine plumbing emergency on our hands.
I had to leave for Germany the next day and would be in back-to-back meetings with no time in-between. It was up to Mr A Little Piece of Paris to take care of it. He found a page listing English-speaking plumbers in Paris and started to call. None of them spoke English. On the fifth or sixth call he reached a girl who, yes, spoke English and yes, could send a plumber. We arranged for a bnbsitter to let him in. He plunged the shower and the water started to drain. We had guests arriving the next day. We heaved a sigh of relief that everything would be ok and paid the bill for €280.
We were due back in Paris a month later. This would be our first trip there without anything that had to be done. The renovation was complete, the furniture was bought and assembled and we had no more meetings with the bank or the syndic. Finally, we were free to enjoy Paris as property owners!
We were delighted to be back in our gorgeous little flat. On the first morning, after a breakfast of freshly baked croissants and baguette, I flushed the toilet. There was that ominous gurgle again. I showered and there didn’t seem to be a problem. Then Mr a Little Piece of Paris went in and the water stopped draining. Shit. Not literally this time, but shit. Back to the supermarket for drain cleaner, which we later learned is not recommended because the acids can mix with those in other products and burn a hole in your pipes. Next, we headed to Leroy Merlin, a one-stop shop for all DIY and home improvement. There, we were advised to buy a semi-professional plunger that would sort out 90% of blockages. We were optimistic and set to work pumping and plunging. Lots more dirty water started coming up out of the drain. We plunged and we plunged, taking it in turns to do the heavy, dirty job. Youtube videos told us to be patient and that with enough elbow grease, whatever was blocking the drain would eventually appear. We called the plumber. He came over, pumped away at the toilet drain and with a lot of drama pronounced that this one was compliqué. Très difficile. He chuckled at our attempts at doing it ourselves. Oh ho ho, you’d never get it out with that tiny thing. Something nasty was down there. It wasn’t hair, paper or soap, someone had flushed something down the toilet that wasn’t meant to be there. He would return the next day with some industrial equipment to unblock the pipes – guaranteed.
The next day he surprised us by showing up two hours early, defying the reputation of French artisans for always being late. With a lot of huffing and puffing and mutterings about how difficile this job was, he heaved his equipment up the stairs. A long, metal coil, called a snake, was inserted into the toilet and run through with a motor. It was over in under 10 minutes. He said that he encountered two blockages, far down in the pipes. He couldn’t tell us what they were, but the snake had pulled up some metal which looked like the remains of one of those metal pot scrubber things. Le left us with a bill for €800 euros, making sure once more that we realized how difficult this one was, and a warning that nothing more robust than toilet paper should find its way into our unusually narrow toilet pipes.
The gurgle is gone and the water drains beautifully, but shit, what a mess it was.