I gingerly opened the door to the shower room and was greeted by a cloud of cement dust heavily laced with the musty stench of rotten wood and mouldy cement. Having discovered that all was not well with the floor of the shower cubicle in our bathroom thanks to a suspicious squelching noise emanating from a couple of the tiles, Mr Blue-Shirt had immediately set about chiselling up all the offending tiles and stripping away most of the sealant round the shower tray. This had enabled us to establish at least the source, if not the extent of the problem: water was clearly getting in somewhere, and doubtless had been for quite some time. There was black mildew everywhere, and the timber holding the shower tray and surrounding tiles in place was little more than a spongey pulp. This was going to be no quick patching-up job.
Over the following days, Mr Blue-Shirt prised up more and more tiles, trying to find where the mould and damp ended and dry cement and timber started. All those around the shower tray soon went, then those at the base of the stud wall, through which ran the pipework for the shower, and then the shower tray itself.
“Well, I know now why I kept having to replace the sealant,” said Mr Blue-Shirt, surveying the remains of the sodden timber frame in which the shower tray had sat. “It was completely unsupported underneath, and it’s only plastic, so it flexed every time someone got in the shower. No wonder the sealant failed.”
“So you think it’s been leaking since before we moved in?” I asked.
“It will probably have been leaking within a few weeks of being installed. I’m amazed it’s lasted this long.”
“I’m amazed the ceiling in the sitting room hasn’t fallen in, then!”
“It was never going to get that far, to be fair. They had at least putting tanking under the screed,” he conceded. Mr Blue-Shirt, whose personal strap-line is ‘never knowingly under-engineered’, shook his head in dismay, jabbing his crowbar at the sodden, smelly cement floor.
“I just don’t get why people cut corners like this, especially as they’d taken the trouble to do the tanking. It would’ve cost buttons to sit the shower tray on a pad of cement to make sure it didn’t flex – and would’ve taken less time than assembling that thing,” he said, nodding towards the soggy tangle of distorted, discoloured wood.
Mr Blue-Shirt still hadn’t reached dry timber and cement, though, so he had no choice but to continue working upwards, prising and chiselling at the mix of large, medium and small, square and rectangular, apparently randomly arranged tiles. The next time I stuck my head round the shower room door, a couple more rows on the stud wall had gone, and, to my surprise, several rows from the outside wall, which formed the far wall of the cubicle.
“This bloody job is growing arms and legs,” chuntered Mr Blue-Shirt from behind his dust mask. He gestured towards the far wall with his chisel. “Most of that lot had to come off too because each time I chiselled one off, it chipped the one above or next to it, so that one had to come off too. And then that one got chipped too so the next one had to go…”
“Well, at least it looks as if it’s all dry on that wall,” I said, keen to find something positive.
“Yes. Thankfully they’d tanked that wall too.”
“So how come the tanking on the stud wall has failed?”
“Well, it hasn’t failed as such; water has tracked behind it, from the frame holding the shower tray to the stud wall and is now working its way upwards. God only knows how far it’s got…”
“…but there’s only one way to find out?”
And so it went on, with the cure for one problem only revealing another to be resolved, and that one leading to another on – and another one, and another one. Because the shower tray had flexed, it had pulled away from the narrow rim of tiles that surrounded it, and they had been needed because the cubicle wall was set too wide for the size of shower tray. So then the wall had to come down too because it wasn’t set quite wide enough to accommodate a shower tray the next size up, which was the main way to minimise the risk of the same thing happening again. Then all the tiles on the far wall had to come off to avoid an ugly join where the timber-framed wall to the cubicle had been because the way the tiles were arranged inside the cubicle didn’t line up with the way they were arranged outside the cubicle. And once one wall of the cubicle was down, the original design concept was lost, so the other timber-framed wall had to follow. But as this was actually built into the stud wall (rather than simply up to it), the entire adjacent vertical row of tiles, as well as the shuttering behind them, had to come off too. And Mr Blue-Shirt still had to keep working upwards as well, since even several rows up from shower tray level, he still hadn’t reached dry timber. By the time he did, there remained just one small square patch of tiles extending about half way across the now ex-shower cubicle from the top far corner of the stud wall and down to about waist height, leaving a broad L-shaped section that had been stripped right back to the battens and pipework.
“So should they stay or should they go?” he asked, echoing The Clash’s old hit.
I batted the question straight back to him.
“It’s surely not for me to decide. You’re the one doing all the work.”
“Yes, I get that, but what do you think?”
For all his know-how and ability, I’m always touched by Mr Blue-Shirt’s keenness to involve me in all decisions – even when he knows I’m not qualified to make them.
“You know I’m always reluctant to create extra work for you, but….”
“Well… if you leave that section of tiling and shuttering and replace what you’ve removed, that will leave a great big seam between the old and the new parts, won’t it?”
“So how can we tank the whole wall properly? I’d have thought that with any join, there’s always going to be a risk of a leak.”
“So you think we should take the whole lot down?”
“I’m asking how confident you are we’d never have another leak.”
“There’s your answer, then.”
And with that, down came that final square of perfectly intact tiles, followed by the final section of bone-dry shuttering. I think they call it a blank canvas…