He has a strong Mancunian accent over the phone. He tells me he's downstairs. I instantly warm to him.
'Be down now!' I chirp.
I have a problem with my toilet. Every three to four flushes the water runs and runs and runs, forever. I have managed to live with it for ten days now, by a careful, considered poking at everything in the cistern until it miraculously stops. This, of course, is not a long term fix. Since it started, I have been panicking about a whole host of undesirable outcomes: coming home from a day at work to ankle deep toilet water, an extortionate water bill at the end of the month, complaints from my downstairs neighbour of dripping through his ceiling. All of these things seem unlikely, but you can never be too sure.
I was quoted an absurd fixed price of £105 when I first called Plumb Force Direct. Following my incredulous gasp, the voice on the other end of the phone immediately dropped it to £70.
'And I won't get any nasty surprises when it's time to pay, will I?'
'It won't go up once the plumber gets here, will it?'
'And he won't leave until it's fixed?'
'So that's confirmed, £70 to fix my toilet and no call-out charge? Right? Is that right?'
'Provided there's no major part to change...'
'Do you take card?'
I lead Paul the plumber through to my bathroom, cheerily.
'Excuse the mess!' I say, even though the flat is much tidier than it usually is.
I linger by his elbow while he pokes and prods away with seemingly no logic or pattern.
'Hmm,' he says.
'I know,' I say. I'm not sure why I say this. I obviously don't know.
I sense his discomfort at my proximity and leave the bathroom to linger in the hallway. I resist for about a minute and a half before going back in.
'What's the verdict?' I say.
'It's not good,' he says.
My heart starts racing. I wanted him to tell me it was good.
'Oh no. What do you think's wrong?'
'For a start, I don't know why they've built the toilet in behind the tiles like this...' He glances at me quickly to check it wasn't my decision to build the toilet in behind the tiles like this.
I shake my head, as exasperated as him, giving him permission to carry on.
'I can barely get my hand in,' he says.
His hand is pretty far into the cistern at this point. I nod my sympathy.
'Stupid idea, wasn't it?' I say. 'Looks cute, until you actually have to get in and fix something.'
I don't know what I am saying. He has removed his hand from the toilet cistern now and is banging the side of the bath quite hard.
'You'll be stuffed when something goes wrong with the bath. No way of getting behind there without smashing all those tiles off.'
Smashing is a very violent word that I wish he wouldn't use about my sweet little bathroom.
'One problem at a time!' I say, voice not quite as neutral as I planned it to be.
This isn't going how it was meant to. Paul the plumber is yet to do anything that I haven't already tried myself.
'This part needs changing,' he says, indicating one part of the cistern. 'And you might as well change this one too while you're at it.'
I don't want to change parts. Changing parts sounds expensive.
'Honestly, if you ask me, your best bet is a new cistern. Would work out about the same in price.'
It's only a bit of running water. Surely it doesn't merit a whole new toilet.
'Is there not a temporary solution I could try?' I say, beginning to sweat.
Paul the plumber shakes his head. 'Could turn your water off.'
He wanders into my kitchen, and without invitation, plunges himself below the sink. He groans as he tries to unsuccessfully turn a dial. 'Too stiff, that.'
He has knocked over every upright bottle under the sink and doesn't pick them up. I'm not sure how switching my water off would be even a temporary solution, but I stay quiet.
Instead, I say, 'so what would you do?'
I already know the answer before he says, 'change the cistern.'
'How much would that be?' I wince.
He picks up a stack of papers and starts to write. I know that when a figure has to be written down rather than said aloud, it is a figure which is too high for me. He has the decency to frown as he hands me the paper.
'I don't think you'll be happy with that,' he says.
I am not happy at all. The figure dancing on the page is eyewateringly close to £500.
'I can't pay that,' I squeak.
He shrugs. 'Have a little think and let us know. If you decide you do want to, we can always take off today's fee from the total.'
I register what he is saying. 'Don't tell me I still have to pay you the £70.'
He nods. 'That's how it works with the company.' He is removing himself from all responsibility.
'But you haven't done anything!'
'I know. That's how it goes.'
I look up at his expressionless face, and say, 'I'm going to cry.'
His expression doesn't change.
I realise very quickly that I really am going to cry. 'I really am going to cry,' I say, just in case he had any doubt.
I cry so much that he takes a step back and says, 'are you... alright?'
'No!' I say, tears streaming. 'I can't afford this!'
Paul the plumber looks incredibly uncomfortable. He is a Northern man. He is not built for dealing with sobbing strangers.
'Shall I give you a few minutes?' he says, inching towards the door.
'Please,' I sniffle.
As he shuts the front door softly behind him, I call my mum and ask her what to do.
'Stop crying, for a start. It's just a toilet,' she says, with annoying logic.
The many times she's cried in frustration to me about the internet not working again, she must have forgotten this flawless rationale.
'But it's not fair!' I say, a stamping toddler moonlighting as a functioning adult.
Paul the plumber interrupts my wailing by calling me and ringing my doorbell at the same time. I briefly consider ignoring both and pretending I'm not in.
I traipse downstairs and force a smile in my doorway. He is standing on the bottom step and seems unwilling to come any closer.
'I'm sorry about that,' I say. 'I'm very embarrassed.'
I am not at all embarrassed and am only sorry that I will have to pay him £70 for knocking over all my sauces and treading mud into my carpet.
'I called my boss,' he says. 'You don't, of course, have to pay the call-out charge.'
'And if you want,' he continues, 'we'll take off £100 for the new cistern.'
I am grateful for the gesture, but know for a fact that I would rather drown in my own piss than ever call Plumb Force Direct again.
Paul the plumber hurriedly hands me the paperwork and nods his goodbye.
'Wait!' I shout. 'Can I shake your hand?'
He complies, offering a limp five fingers.
'Thank you for being kind,' I say.
I don't think he has been particularly kind, more nervous and then terrified, but it seems like the right thing to say.
Pausing for a second to watch him half-jog back to his van, I turn and go back upstairs to my running toilet.