22nd September

The Triple-Lock Fail-Safe Emergency Valve

‘See that?’ Mike the plumber said. ‘Know what that is?’

He was pointing at a lever on a pipe under the kitchen sink.

I shook my head. ‘No idea,’ I said.

‘That’s your triple-lock fail-safe emergency valve.’

‘That sounds quite important.’

‘It’s very important. And it’s also in very poor condition.’

Mike had a pretty low opinion of most of the plumbing in the house.
The old plumber, Joe, had generally expressed the view that there was plenty of life left in things. Joe was a ‘hit it with a hammer’ kind of plumber, but he’d retired, and somebody had given me Mike’s name. Mike was more hands-off. He took a lot of readings with a gadget that beeped.

‘So, should we replace it?’ I asked.

‘It’s your decision, but I would say so. It could go at any time.’

‘What happens if it goes?’

Mike looked very serious.

‘If your triple-lock fail-safe emergency valve goes,’ he said, ‘you’re in
trouble. It triggers a blowback situation in the cold-water system. When that happens, the outlet can’t handle the pressure, and it explodes, and then you have a knock-on effect all down the street.’

‘Explodes?’ I said. ‘All down the street? Just because that little valve stops working?’

‘That’s right. That’s why it’s a triple-lock fail-safe mechanism. If that goes, so do the ones in the other houses. Then the main under the road bursts. Then you’ve got the road collapsing, trees down, probably the houses too. You’ve got floods like you’ve never imagined – more like a tidal wave in fact. You’ve got major disruption to transport and services, electricity and gas supplies cut. You’ve got oil tankers smashed like toys, harbours washed away, two-thirds of the country underwater. You’ve got tornadoes, forest fires, plagues of locusts, crop failure, famine. You’ve got a mini ice age, the sun blocked out by ash, perpetual winter, total anarchy.’

‘That’s terrible,’ I said. ‘You go ahead and replace that valve right away. Can you manage it all right?’

‘Oh, it’s a simple enough job,’ Mike said, ‘but even a new valve can go at any time. You just can’t tell.’

He took a reading with his gadget. It beeped.

Reader: Keiran Duncan
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium: Kit Downes
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