Capitalist plumbing

When I lived in the former German Democratic Republic, I was forced (grudgingly) to admit that there was some truth to the old cliché about the horrors of socialist plumbing: my first two weeks at Karl Marx University coincided with the annual shutting-down (for maintenance) of the hot water system; one of the joins at the end of the S-bend of  a brand-new toilet was leaky and required masses of superglue in a risky do-it-yourself job to fix it; plugs of the right size for kitchen sinks were hard to come by; plumbers generally had to be found by word of mouth, bribed with the offer of real West German coffee to come after hours, and paid in exchangeable currency.

But today I was amused to find that capitalist plumbing is no better.

The tap on my mother’s shower — a perhaps too-ingenious piece of 1970s technology that mixes hot and cold water without increasing the overall amount or pressure of either — broke, just a month-and-a-half after it had last been fixed (twice, at a total cost of nearly $AUD 500). And of course, it was a Sunday.

My mother’s partner, an 87-year-old mechanical engineer, fixed it in a matter of minutes with Swiss precision and despite needing a four-wheeled walker to actually get to the shower recess. Unlike the plumber, he had once taken the trouble to learn how these 1970s cartridges work, and how they should be mounted.

I told him he should go into business.

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