My can can't

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A toilet is one of those things you never really appreciate until it refusesto cooperate, a bit like a spouse. In fact it's quite a surprise that atoilet goes on as long as it does, carrying out its thankless task withoutprotest when you consider it always sees the worst in people. On the rareoccasion it isn't getting mooned and finally does sees a friendly face, it'susually to do with food poisoning or excessive alcohol consumption and merelyprecedes another in-your-face delivery.

Our toilet, though, recently burped, coughed, spluttered and then threatenedto blow, which prompted me to do the unthinkable and open up the manhole totake a closer look.

We're newly moved in and one thing the brochure didn't tell us was that thehouse had a history of sewerage problems, namely the system backing upregularly. I'm sure a creative realtor could have made that into a sellingpoint, such as "luxury whirlpool-style flushing toilets with addedclimate-change simulators: feel genuine concern over ever-rising waterlevels" but no, this was an unexpected bonus for us.

After multiple call-outs of various friendly drainage chaps to unblock thesewer — all of whom helpfully said that they would have checked the drainsbefore buying a house — I decided there had to be something more going onthan, say, my kids flushing Teddy down the loo. Besides, I'd have noticed ifTeddy had gone missing.

So it was that a camera crew showed up to perform the equivalent of aColonoscopy. In went a camera on the end of a tube, ostensibly to filmwhatever it was that was upsetting our toilet. I had visions of tree roots ormaybe a smiling alligator waving at the camera but, unfortunately, no one hadgiven us a "nil by mouth" instruction concerning the toilet so the cameracrew couldn't see anything down there due to the murk.

They did point to clay on the end of the camera and said that this indicatedthat the pipe had collapsed. Excitedly noticing a patched-up piece of asphalton the road, they declared that that must be the cause of the problem andwhoever had patched the road must have damaged the pipe. Thankyou and goodbye. Having paid for this, I was somewhat underwhelmed. Insteadof having a clear picture of what was causing the problem, I'd ended up withScooby and Shaggy solving the case by pointing at the pavement.

Next stop was our insurer, who initially dodged the claim by citingnon-accidental damage. "But how do you know the damage is non-accidental ifyou don't even know what the damage is or what caused it?" I asked. "What ifthe road works were done to fix an earlier problem of the same type and thisis a recurrence?" At this point they hid behind the report saying that theroad scarring was the cause. Evidently, I would have to find out who had donewhat to the road if I wanted this fixed, and the sight of our toilet fillingup ominously every time we flushed was a constant reminder, like one of thosemultiple cliffhangers on 24.

One trip to City Hall and a whole lot of phone calls later, I was able toexplain to my insurer that it was the water company that had dug the hole inthe road back in April 1999, and it was unlikely that they would collapsetheir own pipe or that it would wait six years to throttle our toilet, so itmust be something else. It's at times like this that I'm tempted to bluffthat I'm a lawyer and that they had better sort it out or else, beforedeciding against it in case they put a real lawyer on the phone to discusslegal action with me.

Fortunately, my powers of persuasion prevailed, they sent out a repair crew. They opened up the road to find that a gas company had punched a gas piperight through our sewer and that this was the cause of our problems. The gascompany duly paid for the repairs and our toilet is happy once again in spiteof continuing to get a bum deal. Still, at least it no longer has gas.

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