Friday, 29 November 2013


It was the best of weeks, it was the worst of weeks...

It had started so well. The book was due to come out and the only problem was that Amazon had credited it to "Mr Philip Gwynne Jones". I liked the the fact that it made me sound like an elderly gentleman Victorian novelist, but it also sounded more than a little pompous so it had to be changed. But the main feeling was one of excitement.

And then, nine days ago, the boiler started making one hell of a racket. Shortly followed by lack of any heating and hot water. I got on the phone to our landlady who arranged for someone to call the next day.

La festa della Salute is not the ideal day to find oneself in need of a plumber. Still, I took a telephone call from one who talked me through how to restore pressure to the boiler. Success! For about thirty seconds. Followed by an ominous KERCHONKACHONKACHONKA sound. He advised me to bleed all the radiators. I did so. Three times. I discovered ones I didn't even know we had. Niente.

A plumber came round on Saturday morning. He looked the boiler over for perhaps thirty seconds and told me it was knackered. He phoned  our landlady and explained they might be able to start work by the end of the following week. No, they couldn't do it any quicker. If there were any children or elderly or infirm people in the house, they might be able to speed things up but - and at this point he stared at me for just a few seconds longer than I thought necessary - that didn't apply in this case.

This left us facing temperatures plunging below zero during the night with no source of heating whatsoever. We borrowed a two-bar electric fire from the Anglican church in the hope we could at least keep one room warm. The trouble is, the entire flat is open plan. The only room that can be closed off completely is the bathroom, and given the lack of hot water we were unlikely to be spending much time there anyway.

On Tuesday, a different plumber arrived and managed to restore a modicum of heat and hot water to the kitchen by cranking up the pressure to a possibly inadvisable level; and gave me a stern warning not to turn the heat up beyond forty degrees or it would pack up again. Or possibly worse.

On Wednesday, our landlady came to see the situation for herself, in the company of yet another plumber who took one look at the temporary fix before using the words molto pericoloso.

I didn't think it was possible to get any colder, but, on Thursday, the existing boiler was removed. This left a circular hole, perhaps 9" in diameter, in the outside wall.

At the time of writing, two guys are working away installing the new one. It is bitterly, punishingly cold, and the two-bar fire, perhaps six inches away from me, is keeping my left foot warm but little else. If I stop typing I worry that I will lose all feeling in my hands.

I honestly don't know how we would have managed this past week had it not been for the incredible kindness of a dear friend who is putting us up in her flat and looking after us. I'm not going to embarrass her by mentioning her name but simply have to say a very heartfelt thank you.

And yet, it's been a good week in spite of everything. I arrived at school on Tuesday to find the kids had written "We Heart Teacher Philip" on the board. One of those money-can't-buy moments. And, of course, there's the book. It cracked the Amazon UK top 10 for books about Venice, and, for one glorious day, it actually outsold Jan Morris. Things have calmed down a bit now, and Ms Morris is now back in her (let's be honest) rightful position; but, for one day, I felt like a street musician who suddenly finds himself outselling the Beatles.

It was the best of weeks, after all.


  1. 1. So, you're not really Philip Gwynne Jones, but perhaps Ladislav Czernitzke???

    2. How many plumbers does it take to assess and replace a failed boiler? Many, apparently.

    3. What is more precious than rubies? A kind friend who sees your need, and offers you shelter.

    4. What does it feel like to outsell Jan Morris (Jan Morris!) albeit briefly? Like no other experience you've had before.

    5. How long does it take to stop smiling when you see the kids have written a message of love on the board? The smile stays in your heart forever.

    Wow, what a week!

    1. Yeah, it was some week. And I feel very, very lucky indeed.

  2. Oh Phil...I feel your pain. We went through a boiler fiasco a few months back...complete with water running down 2 floors and into bookcases and closets. Final cost $8000. BUT it was during the we avoided the cold!!
    During last years hurricane....after I dropped my husband off at assisted living...the neighbors took me in....I'll be forever grateful!! We had a grand time huddled in the dark and drinking wine!
    I downloaded your book yesterday and stayed up until 3am....just couldn't stop reading.....I LOVE IT!!!

    1. Thank you so much Linda, you have no idea how happy that makes me!!


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