Lynne Mortimer: What to do when you think you may have sprung a leak

lynne aug 31

lynne aug 31 - Credit: Archant

I don’t know what gas smells like, writes Lynne Mortimer.

I used to when it properly smelt but since we’ve had natural gas (put your hand down, not that sort of natural gas - we all know what that smells like) who can say? It doesn’t have an aroma of its own, unlike coal gas and people/dog gas. Thus, a smell was introduced so that we could tell if there was a leak.

So last week, when, first thing in the morning, I put the kettle on for a cup of tea and was almost overcome by stinky fumes, I panicked.

I decided I must have a leak (no, stop making up your own jokes, I’ve told you about that before). Grandson George, nearly three, was in the sitting room playing with his rail track– trains weren’t running due to Lego on the line while six-month-old Wil looked on, longing to be big enough to play too.

I couldn’t take any chances so looked up the gas emergency number and rang it. I was surprised to get a recorded message but waited until I got through to a person.


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“Hello, AA.”

“Could you put me through to gas emergency please.”

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“This is the AA – Automobile Association – we do insurance and breakdowns.”

As I was now on the verge of a breakdown, I almost reported myself.

“You can’t put me through to the gas people?”

“No, this is the AA.”

“I’ve dialled the wrong number, sorry.”

I dialled the right number and immediately got to speak to a human being. I explained I might have a gas leak.

“We’ll have someone there within an hour,” she said and told me to keep everything switched off. As I hadn’t turned anything on (not for a few years, anyway), that was all right.

I was still in my pyjamas so my husband showered and dressed while George went down the rabbit hole. This is a game in which when he and a variety of knitted animals get under the duvet on grandma and grandpa’s bed and I have to try to find him. Wil looked on, longing to be big enough to play too.

Ere long, the gas man cometh. A really nice chap. He could smell it but he didn’t build a wall of sandbags and hand out gas masks. Instead, he asked my husband if we had been painting. Cue pause and rewind.

The previous day, in response to furious tweeting in the garden – did I mention the blue tits are on Twitter? – I went into the garage to get the industrial bag of bird food I use to sustain what seems to be the entire bird population of East Anglia. Picking it up, I knocked over a plastic container of brush cleaner. It fell off the shelf, the neck broke and the whole lot spilled over the floor. The smell was overpowering and this is when a logical person who has not been woken at 5am by a hungry baby might have put two and two together and reached the correct sum.

I put two and two together and made gas leak.

The thing is, nice Mr Gas Man explained, that when you light the stove the vapour from the brush cleaner warms up and smells like paraffin... not like natural gas. So, not a leak.

He also said there are a lot of young people these days who don’t know what paraffin smells like. Obviously I do. But the real question is, what does natural gas smell like? According to the interweb: “Natural gas and piped propane smell like rotten eggs or sulphur.” Well thanks for that, guys. So, it actually does smell like breaking wind, then... of the particularly pernicious sort that, if emitted on a crowded London underground carriage, has everyone, including the culprit, looking around innocently. The ones that, if detected in a sitting room, usually end with the blameless family dog being ejected into the garden to reflect on what he has done... even though he hasn’t.

My husband feels we really should have known how a gas leak smells and has come up with the answer – scratch and sniff gas bills (patent pending). If we had a little panel infused with a sulphurous odour that we could scrape off in order to acquaint ourselves with the smell of natural gas, it could be a life saver or at the very least, a face saver.

See more from Lynne Mortimer here

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