A little extra post this week, just to get something off my chest.
I woke up early on Sunday morning, it was probably about 6am and the Cape Town sun was beating through the window, it is going to be a seriously hot day.
As I laid in my bed in my semi-conscious state, just coming to terms with the prospect of hauling ass out of bed, my ears started to tune into the world and there was a noise that stood out. It was the faint sound of hissing like a toilet cistern wasn't quite closed and was still letting a tiny bit of water through. Being a water-waste conscious citizen, I thought to myself "better check that later if it doesn't stop" and I rolled over to enjoy the best moments of sleep, the last 5.
After my joyous five minutes, nature inevitably called and it was time for my morning ablutions, I swivelled out of bed and trudged across my bedroom in an awake but slightly man cave meets zombie kind of fashion.
I entered the bathroom and was immediately standing in a pool of cold water. "Winston!" was my first thought. I thought Winston the wonder hound had been caught short in the middle of the night, couldn't wake me to let him out and went to the damage limitation safety of the lino covered bathroom, but I soon realised the bladder of the thirstiest of labradors couldn't generate this paddling pool of disaster.
The water must have brought me out of my sleep state because then it clicked, hissing sound plus pool of water equals burst pipes.
Jesus tonight Mrs H! We've had a burst water pipe.
It was worse than that, a quick check around showed the pool was emanating from behind the wall, which meant the pipe was inside said wall which meant it was going to be a call to the insurance company.
Well that's my Sunday well and truly humped then isn't it.
And it was.
The first step was damage limitation so I hurriedly went and got dressed, went down to the garage to get a
wrench and headed out of the drive to go down the street to find the water meter to shut off the water. Now I'm not sure if it's a South African thing not to have a stop cock in the house or maybe I just can't find it but the only way I know how to turn off our water is in the street which feels pretty damned inefficient as it's hidden away in the undergrowth about as far away from my entrance gate as you can get. God forbid anyone is ever drowning, you could give someone a sea burial in the time it takes me to shut off the water.
Anyway, water dutifully turned off, I call the insurance company on their emergency line. It's now 7am on Sunday morning so after I've battled through the IVR endurance test, Makita is quick to answer the phone (I'm sure you don't spell her name like that but it's good enough for the purposes of this story). So far so good. Makita sounds like she's had a tough night on the emergency line and is all business and wants to get this thing done, which I'm good with. Her total lack of sympathy, empathy or the use of please or thank you considering my situation is a little irksome but I'm willing to let it ride in the spirit of getting my water back on.
A quick download to Makita and we're off to the races. She tells me that a plumber will be in touch. Satisfied, I go off to make a brew in the kettle I had the foresight to fill before shutting off the water (this is not my first rodeo).
At 8:33, SMS start coming through to say a plumber is going to call me in the next hour, happy days.
1 hour later, get another SMS to say if plumber hasn't phoned, phone him. Meh, why do I have to call him if he failed to call me? Swallow it Mr H, we'll deal with that later.
I phone the number provided, no answer, dead line, nothing. Bloody great. I SMS back on the messages I've received (which I know is completely pointless but you never know), nothing. I Google the plumbing company and find them on facebook. They have a Whatsapp button so I steal the number from that and try whatsapping the number. The Whatsapp profile picture is a pretty middle aged lady who looks a bit like my mum in her younger years. She looks helpful but the fact it's a female selfie and is supposed to be from a plumbing company (not that helpful looking middle aged ladies who look a bit like a younger version of my mum are not allowed to be plumbers of course) indicates my chances of it working are slim (she eventually did read the message but never replied, odd).
I decide to do nothing (i'm good at that) for a bit and see what happens. This was a good strategy because a young gentleman phoned around 9:30 to advise me he was a plumber and was on his way. Things are looking up and Sunday afternoon may still be mine. Around 10 am said young gentleman arrived in his bakkie and I showed him to the scene of the crime. He told me the challenge was going to be locating the exact location of the leak so it would require the least amount of wall removal to repair the pipe. It conjured up pictures of keyhole plumbing surgery, I'm impressed. I was more impressed when he whipped out his headphones and some special listening apparatus and started hugging the wall. He seemed less impressed when I joked " I bet you know everything your neighbours get up to?".
I decided to let him get on with his job.
A few moment later, he emerged looking triumphant to tell me "Yes sir, you definitely have a leak". I refrained from responding "No shit Sherlock, did the massive pool of water on the floor not give it away?". He also advised me I need to have a hole in the wall cut to repair it, to which I again refrained from responding "Roger, Captain Obvious". What he told me next was the beginning of things to come. he told me that he doesn't cut holes in walls, that needs a specialist and they would not come today. They would come some time later and then he could come back and do the repair. This is my first pet hate of insurance companies. There's not a lot of point my losing my pip with Inspector Gadget here as he's just been sent to do what he did and find out what the problem is. he doesn't work for my insurer and is only going to do what they're going to pay him for. he should however try and get his wall-hole-cutting badge at scouts on his next camp as he's missing out on a job here.
So off he went with his bat like ears and I accept that Sunday is going to be a sweaty one and once the kettle is empty, I'm just going to have to try and survive on the only other liquid in the fridge, beer. It's a dirty job, but I'm willing to sacrifice.
I wake up Monday having not had a shower despite the fact it's 32 degrees in Cape Town this time of year and I'm irritable to say the least. One of the good things about Insurance in South Africa is the fact you use a broker, which is kind of like a middle man who gets you a good deal and manages your claims and stuff. My broker is called Rochelle and she is a legend, she must be because I am a pain in the arse at the best of times, I would definitely not want me as a customer. I didn't want to bother her as I had already called the insurers emergency line as it was Sunday and well, an emergency. However, I could sense my irritability was not going to be helpful and would probably land me in trouble so I decided to pull her into the pantomime to at least have one person on my side.
Rochelle was as legendary as always and got right on it, by 9:50 am she contacted me to say that a cupboard company was on their way to make the hole. I thought that it was a bit strange they were a cupboard company but then figured TIA! (this is Africa) and maybe with Covid and all that jazz, they had a side line of cutting holes in walls. Whatever it takes right? Thirty minutes later a big jolly man and his trusted but skinny sidekick arrive and I take them to my boudoir to show them my wet wall (uurgh).
Batman and Robin have a puzzled look at each other and ask me "Where's the cupboards?"
"What cupboards?" I reply
"The cupboards we're here to remove"
"I don't have any cupboards that need to be removed"
"Well we remove cupboards so plumbers can fix leaks sir"
"But the leak is in the wall, I need a piece of the wall removed for the plumber"
"We don't do that sir, we just remove cupboards"
As scintillating as this conversation was, it was clearly going nowhere. Pinky and the brain were duly dispatched back to where they came from and I relayed the sad story to Rochelle. She's too polite to use profanity so used the monkey covering eyes emoji but I knew that was code for WTAF? She got back on the phone to the insurer.
About an hour later she gets told that a wall hole creation specialist has now been appointed and I should hear from them forthwith. It's now lunchtime so I go calm down with a cheese sandwich and a beer (well there's no water). At around 14:00 I still haven't heard or seen anything so I make the call to them. The lady is most helpful and tells me that yes, they were due to come but when they told the insurer the call out fee, they had been told to "standby". Standby in my vocabulary means not coming. Which was right, they never came.
Rochelle is now losing her cool at a similar level to me but by 5pm we decide to abandon it for the day and agree that we would go hell for leather on them first thing and try and get the water back on before 12 noon on Tuesday. By this point I'm stinking so decided to go for a swim in the pool with Winston and then settle down with an episode of Masterchef and a large rum and coke (we'd run out of beer).
It's Tuesday morning 7am and I'm up and about. Mrs H needs a lift to work as she's going out to dinner from there and will need the car back at home. I hassle her out of the house so I can get back as quickly as possible, there is no freaking way I'm going to be the one to blame if a plumber turns up and I'm not at home. I push every horse in Mrs H's little convertible engine to its limits and get back to the house at 8:30. Rochelle is already on it trying to get hold of the insurer.
At 10am she phones me to say she can't get through to the insurer, looks like their phone lines are down. I'm about ready to put the insurer down, never mind the phone lines. We agree that we should just use the guys they were going to send directly, I'll pay them directly and we'll claim it back from the insurer. That sounded plausible to me but I was not emotionally prepared for another day of being let down so we agree that I'm going into a meeting until 12pm, if nobody is at the house by then, we abandon the whole thing and I'll cut the hole myself, fix the pipe and turn the water back on. I have zero plumbing skills or knowledge but how hard can it actually be?
My meeting ran over but at 12:23 the doorbell was silent so I looked at the top 3 YouTube videos on "How to repair a burst pipe in a wall" and then went to the garage, filled my tool bag and headed for the en-suite of doom. I smashed all the tiles off the wall (whilst pretending each one was the insurance company)and started sawing into the wood paneling behind. I was taking control, "Screw you insurance, company, watch me fly". Just as I created my third hole (the tile that the original plumber had marked as the sport for the leak was 3 tiles away from the actual leak), the phone started ringing. One insurer and two plumbers later I was sick of repeating the line "Too late, you had your chance and you blew it, I've had no running water for 3 days" I just stopped answering the phone.
Now the only problem with trying to fix a leak on your own is you have to turn the water on to find it, then turn it off to fix it and then turn it on to test it. If only Winston could learn to turn a wrench it would have been less tiring but I trudged up the street and back three times turning the water on and off whilst I fixed the leaky pipe up two flights of stairs. I'm no plumber, but the actual repair took like 3 minutes, it had a hole in the pipe so I just cut it shorter, re-attached the pipe and that's that. I'm probably just going to try to fix leaks myself before calling anyone in future. I've left it uncovered today so I can check for any leaks tomorrow.
I cleaned myself up and instructed Rochelle to cancel the insurance and find me a new insurer. That insurance company left me without water for 3 days and had I not taken charge it would have been probably 5 or 6 days. Not having running water is horrendous, no washing, no washing dishes, no shower, once flushed, toilets cannot be used. Luckily I don't have young kids and we were able to swim in the pool in lieu of a bath and I may have taken a number 1 in the great outdoors in the last 3 days but overall it was pretty lousy.
My big issue is that my insurer made a mistake sending the cupboard company. I can forgive that, we all make mistakes. What I can't forgive is on Monday when they finally found a wall butcher that could make the hole, they chose to let me continue without water instead of paying the call out fee to get the job done. That is inexcusable and is a massive example that they value their profit so much more than me as a customer, that they were willing to let me go without water for 3 days in the middle of an African summer. They have no idea about my personal circumstances, my health, if I have a family, nothing. They arbitrarily decided not provide me with running water because it might cost them an extra call out fee.
That my friends is corporate greed at its finest and I only respond to that in one way, with my feet, my fingers and my mouth. I have cancelled my insurance with them, I will never take an insurance product with them again and I will tell everyone who listens not to be insured by them. I will also write reviews on Google and HelloPeter ( a local review site) to outline my experience. I hope it will cost them more in lost business than the call out fee they considered more important than me and my family and pets having access to fresh water.
This episode has me questioning how when an insurance company is trying to get you as a customer, it's all about how awesome they are and they're all matey and all about protecting you. The second you then become a customer, they take control and start to dictate what you can and can't do and when you can and what you need to do. They decide a large amount of your fate when something doesn't go to plan. In no other industry in the world is there such a shift of power from customer to supplier. The only exception I can think of is the armed forces. Weird.
This incident has spurred me on to start analysing the pros and cons of self-insurance so look out for the follow up post to this one to see if there's a more FIRE way of managing insurance.
Until next time, keep living.