This comic article by Ashley Sterne was published in The Royal Magazine (1921), Volume 45, p. 308. I had assembled most of the article from snippets for a previous blog entry, but now the article is available whole from the Hathi Trust.
Plumbing for Pleasure
Now that the long winter evenings are once more close upon us we are confronted with the ever-perplexing problem of how to employ them. Father, with his three Masonic Lodges and two Worshipful City Companies, is happily catered for, as for him the winter months are pleasantly punctuated with a succession of indigestible banquets, the eating of which and recovering from the same serve to pass the time congenially enough.
Mother, too, will work as strenuously as ever in a laudable endeavour to get at least one of her daughters off before the fox-trot goes out of fashion, while the girls themselves will all be perpetually making jumpers.
There remain only the young men of the family to consider, and to them I offer the humble suggestion that plumbing as a winter pastime provides allurement both useful and amusing. To be able to mend a burst water-pipe or a leaking gas-tube is an accomplishment which few people outside the plumbing profession possess or care to cultivate; hence the plumber is regarded with a kind of superstitious reverence, as if he were endowed with some superhuman gift or virtue which it is beyond the power of the ordinary person to attain.
But this is sheer fallacy; for, after all, plumbing is only stopping up a hole, than which there is nothing easier once the hole has been located. This truism grasped, all that is needed for the veriest tyro to become an expert and highly-respected plumber is a little common-sense, a plumb-line, a few pounds of putty, and possibly a dog specially trained to scent out leaks – just as there are dogs specially trained to scent out truffles. Then the services of the professional plumber can be dispensed with, with much saving of time, temper and money.
Everybody has experienced the farce of sending for the plumber. The hot-water cistern, let us say, has been burst by the frost, and is rapidly disgorging its contents all over the floor. Little drops of water and little grains of zinc are percolating through, and falling into the best bedroom. The crisis is getting very critical when the plumber, who has been urgently summoned an hour ago, puts in a belated appearance. He at once takes in the situation, goes back for his tools and that mysterious individual known as a "plumber's mate," and meanwhile the water has dissolved the best bedroom and is falling through the floor in a monotonous cascade on to the grand piano in the drawing-room.
After another hour the plumber returns with tools and mate, the latter urging that his 'ere's a job requiring the services not only of his own tools (which he hasn't brought, of course) but also of a plumber's mate's mate; and by the time all these individuals have eventually assembled you find that the hours is 1 p.m., and the day is Wednesday, which means that the job cannot be taken in hand that day because the Amalgamated Union of Plumbers, Plumbers' Mates, and Plumber's Mates' Mates decree that no plumbing work shall be done after 1 p.m. on Wednesdays.
And so, of course, your house is ultimately washed away, forcing you either to emigrate or enter the workhouse.
Yet all this bother could be avoided if some member of the family adopted plumbing as a hobby.
Then, no sooner is the hot-water cistern reported burst than Reggie promptly gets out Our Boys' Box of Tools and some putty, and repairs to the scene of the disaster.
Carefully gauging the extent of the burst with his plumb-line, he selects a piece of putty large enough to cover the orifice and take up the back-lash, slaps it in place, and affixes it with a few tintacks, or a little solder, or – failing these – a strip or two of stamp-paper. The whole job is thus over and done with almost before the first drops of water from the leak have had time to comply with the law of gravity and fall to the floor.
Gas-escapes, too, may be similarly treated, though care must naturally be taken that in searching for the leak the amateur plumber does not meet a stuffy end through asphyxiation. A simple precaution which I earnestly recommend is to carry a few white mice in the pocket, as these charming little rodentia possess the peculiar and amusing property of fainting or developing slight hysteria when in the presence of raw gas. The proximity of the leak can hence be readily ascertained, and after stopping up the hole in the manner already described it only remains to revive the white mice by loosening their clothing and administering artificial respiration.