Kitchen sink chaos

I had a few things I needed to get done this weekend, and one thing (or a set of things, time permitting) I particularly wanted to do. That was to export the new draft graphics for Drop Rock as bitmaps, and convert them to RISC OS sprites. That in turn would have allowed me to update the game code in order to try it out with the new (larger) tiles, take some screen grabs and post an update about that.

Instead I had a major problem in the kitchen. After popping to the shop yesterday, I returned and entered the kitchen to put the shopping in the cupboard, only to be faced with the kitchen sink full of mucky black water, to the point that it was also all over the draining board and a (thankfully small) pool on the floor – though on investigation some was also in the cupboard underneath the sink/draining board.

My kitchen sink filled with black, mucky water, spilling over onto the draining board
My kitchen sink filled with black, mucky water, spilling over onto the draining board.

In that first picture, the washing up bowl is in those murky depths, containing a plate, some cutlery, and a saucepan – all from my breakfast earlier. All you can see, though, is the handle of the saucepan peeking out. This next photograph, I’ve pulled out the washing up bowl and contents out of the sink.

My kitchen sink filled with black, mucky water, now with less spilling over onto the draining board
My kitchen sink filled with black, mucky water, now with less spilling over onto the draining board.
The small pool of water on the floor
The small pool of water on the floor.

The obvious question: Had I left the tap on or something?

The simple answer: No.

Initially, I didn’t think about where the water came from – my initial reaction (after a loud “What the fuck?”) was to try and deal with it – I did an initial clean up. I pulled the washing up bowl (and the dishes and pans it contained from the sink) and put it to one side, used the saucepan that was previously in the sink to scoop water from the sink into another washing up bowl, and took that bowl into the bathroom to empty down the loo. It took a few bowls of water (because I didn’t fill it all the way, given that I needed to traipse it from the kitchen to the bathroom).

And then I realised that it was a bloody good job I got back in and found this problem when I did, because as I was tipping away the last bowl of muck, this appeared:

The sink half full again
The sink half full again!

Yup. A load more water, this time foamy.

So again, I used the pan to scoop the water into the washing up bowl, and a few trips to the loo later I had all but emptied the sink for a second time – and then I saw what was happening; I saw more coming up through the plughole.

I repeated the previous exercise of using a pan to scoop water into the bowl, and took it to the bathroom to drop it down the loo. Then set about mopping up the water on the floor with a towel, wiping around the worktop and draining board, opened the cupboard below to empty it of its contents and mop up what was in there.

At this point I remembered an letter sent to all tenants in this block a few years ago, letting us know that on a particular date the landlords (Bristol City Council) were going to be doing something (I can’t remember what) with the drains, and advised filling the sinks and the bath with water and putting the plug in, so that the weight of water would hold in the plug and prevent any backflow. Or something along those lines.

And very soon after that date came and went, I remember a tenant in the nearby block reporting that he’d come home to discover his kitchen flooded with black mucky water.

Two plus two… whatever they were doing then, they were doing again yesterday, and I’d somehow missed (or not received) a letter warning me. As it happens, that conclusion was incorrect – but that was what I thought at this point.

So figuring that’s what was happening, I did what I remembered the letter advising – plug in, and the sink filled. In fact, I used the bowl – I filled that and sat it on top of the plug. And cursed Bristol City Council for not ensuring all tenants (i.e. me) were aware that they were working on the drains and this preventive measure was needed.

A short while later, I heard a trickling sound and went out to the kitchen… more mucky water was coming in, this time through the overflow. Which makes sense, with the plug in and weighed down, the water was just took the next best path.

And because the bowl of water was in the sink, there was less empty sink to fill – I’d caught it just in the nick of time to prevent another flood.

I had an idea at this point – with the water coming in through the overflow, I can hear it from the other room as it pours into the sink – so I needed to force it to do that, while keeping the sink reasonably empty.

An old plastic tub to the rescue!

A plastic tub filled with water providing weight on the plug, while leaving room for more incoming muck via the overflow
A plastic tub filled with water providing weight on the plug, while leaving room for more incoming muck via the overflow.

That worked a treat, and I caught the sink filling several times in plenty of time to prevent a flood. And eventually, it seemed to stop happening, though the small amount of water still in my sink didn’t drain away when I pulled out the plug – so something was still not right (or based on my earlier conclusion, they were still working on it).

Along came the end of the day, and I went to bed… and woke up this morning to a trickling sound. Once I’d woken enough to remember the events of yesterday, I rushed to the kitchen to see an even worse mess than the first one yesterday.

Another overflowing sink, full of mucky water
Another overflowing sink, full of mucky water.

This time the water covered the floor in front of the sink, and around – and under – my cooker. There was even more in the cupboard under the sink than yesterday, as well as the drawer under the draining board (which somehow had avoided it yesterday) and some of its contents were mucky and wet. And so on.

The pool on the floor in front of the sink, and under the cooker (to the left)
The pool on the floor in front of the sink, and under the cooker (to the left).

Lots of mopping up – and pretty much all of my towels later – I thought about my assumption yesterday, and realised it must be wrong; amongst other things, if it was because the council were doing something they’d have been doing it overnight to have caused this latest flood.

I realised then that what was happening was that my sink was the beneficiary other other people’s sinks being drained.

I searched the council’s website for the number to report this, rang it, and ended up putting the phone down when I heard another lot of water coming in. Emptied that as before, then got another…

Then I rang that number again, cursed at having to listen to a privacy notice on an emergency line before I could report the issue, and finally got through to someone to report it.

A couple of hours (and quite a few rounds of emptying the sink) later – around 11:00am – two men turned up from the drainage company the council contracts to deal with this sort of thing, and got to work trying to solve the problem.

This involved checking the flats above and below to see if they also had issues, using a tool called a ‘worm’ to try to clear any blockage, directly from the sink (sending it down through the plughole) and then after opening the U-bend and doing it from there, trying the same to clear it from the flat above, and more. It also involves calls to colleages, a new face, one of the originals leaving, another new face, and the previous new face leaving…

So that they could access the pipes from a different point, I had to empty the bottom part of my larder – it used to be a big empty space until I put a free standing wire rack shelving unit in there, so that I could properly make use of it. The snag is while the shelving unit fits, it doesn’t fit through the door – I have to put it together in situ, so now I had to empty it, and dismantle it in situ.

At one point, one of them commented that he’d been elsewhere to deal with a similar problem a week or so back, and having arrived at around 11:00am, they finally finished at around 9:00pm. Eek!

As it happens, though, they finally had the problem licked by just after 5:00pm!

Part of the cause of this problem is that some people are more than a little careless about what goes down their plugs.

Another part is that, apparently, this is becoming more common now that the council no longer has them routinely jet the stacks (where the waste pipes in the flats lead) to keep them clear. This used to be done approximately every six months.

So while my original conclusion that Bristol City Council were the cause of my flooding due to something they were doing was wrong – in fact, it can instead be argued that Bristol City Council were the cause because of something they no longer do.

So well done and thanks for that, BCC!

Still, at least it happened at the weekend and not on a day when I was at work – imagine the mess I’d have come home to face if I’d had a working day’s full of people’s kitchen sink waste coming up into mine.

Or even worse, what if it had happened while I was away – whether a weekend for a RISC OS computer show, or longer for a holiday. That is not a pleasant thought!

I now have a lot of cleaning/clearing up to do – as well as working out what I need to replace. The main muck I was able to mop up as it happened, as I noted earlier, and the drain guys cleaned up their own mess (mostly, anyway). But, for example, the stuff that was in the cupboard and is now strewn across part of the kitchen floor – some of that I can just wipe off and return to the cupboard, but some will have to be thrown out and bought again (e.g. the rolls of kitchen towel in an open packet), or from the drawer my kitchen foil (I don’t want to let that go anywhere near food I’m preparing, and sandwich bags – no way my sarnies are going in them). just about all my towels are soaked and mucky and in the bath, and may even be ruined given that I was getting muck from the stack in my sink – so new towels, then.

Then there’s the washing up bowl, I’d have to clean that quite a few times before I’d be willing to even think about putting my washing up in it again, so I think a new one of those is in order, and the saucepan I used to bail out the sink? Nah, that’s not staying. And probably the plate and cuttlery that was in the bowl as well.

So I’m taking tomorrow off work (a day’s earnings lost – nice) to do that clean up/sort out, and take a trip out to buy what I need to replace. And because my bath is full of those towels (and is itself mucky as a result), I’ll then nip to my parents house to make use of their shower.

And that, folks, is why the things I planned to do this weekend, not least the Drop Rock work, didn’t happen.

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