How to clear a blocked toilet

You don’t realize how much you take your toilet for granted until it suddenly becomes blocked. That’s when the bottom falls out of your domestic world and you discover novel uses for a washing up bowl. You know when a toilet’s blocked because when you flush, the water rises up the bowl instead of running away freely. Clearing a blockage isn’t a very nice job to tackle but at least it’s simple and you only need a couple of tools. It also saves the embarrassment and expense of calling someone out to deal with it.

Here’s what to do to shift the vast majority of blockages yourself.

Most likely a ball of toilet paper mush will be causing the blockage at the point where the pipe bends back on itself in a U shape to form a water trap.

This trap is attached below sinks and toilets to hold a standing reservoir of water after you flush the toilet or empty a sink. It provides a seal to stop germs, insects and sewer gas coming up the drains, through your pipes and into your home. As it’s an 18th century invention, let’s first try a suitably low-tech way of shifting it. If that doesn’t work we’ll move onto plan B and C before resorting to blasting it away.

Plan A.  Ye Olde Pail of Water

You will need a large bucket, an empty yoghurt pot (apricot flavour) and a pair of bright yellow rubber gloves. Wait for any water in the toilet bowl to seep away, If the level doesn’t gradually go down, it normally means a more serious clog.

Don the gloves and use the yoghurt pot to bail out that devil’s broth into the bucket. Tip it over the neighbour’s fence when they’re not looking as payback for their cat crapping in your garden.

Slink back into the house and feel as far as you can into the U bend of the toilet pan to pull out any material you can reach. Cotton buds, a kilo of heroin, an old plastic toilet freshener, a little rubber duckie, you might be surprised what you find down there. Even if something small is trapped down there, toilet paper could build up around it, eventually clogging up the pipe.

Drag out all the solids and semi-solids you can and empty them into your neighbour’s bin. Go back and fill the bucket with water. Pour it from a height, all in one steady pour, into the toilet bowl and see if that does the trick.

If it’s still clogged after a couple of tries, move onto Plan B.

Plan B- the trusty plunger

There is a special, rectangular-shaped rubber plunger with side flaps especially designed to fit a toilet. If you can get one of these from a specialist plumbing shop, great, it’ll give you the best chance of success.

Pour a little water in the bowl to cover the plunger head and shove it in to seal the opening. Use an even pumping action until you hear the pipe burp and the water level goes down. Flush the bowl.

If the water is still slow in draining away, give it a few more goes.

If you can’t get your hands on a specialist toilet plunger, the plastic style of sink plunger with a corrugated head is your next best bet. They’re more flexible than the old rubber cup and wooden stick stick type and will form a better seal.

If the Plungers-R-Us superstore is shut and you’re desperate, try using an old fashioned mop with the head tightly wrapped in a plastic bag as a plunger; you never know your luck. Just remember to have a little water at the bottom of the bowl so you have something to help form a vacuum.

If neither mop nor plunger or swearing works, move onto plan C.

Plan C-screw it

You can get one of these screw style devices from most hardware stores. Designs vary, but essentially they’re just a really long length of springy metal with a hand crank at one end and a corkscrew tip at the other.

You just feed the corkscrew tip through the bottom of the bowl, turning the handle clockwise as you go. The spring will worm itself around the U bend, along the pipe and hopefully screw itself into what’s causing the blockage. When it’s gone in as far as it will go, keep turning it clockwise as you pull the thing back out.

You’re trying to drag whatever’s causing the blockage back into the toilet bowl rather than push it further down the pipe. If there’s horrible stinky stuff hanging from the end of the auger, that’s promising. Flush and keep repeating the action until the blockage is cleared.

If the tip always comes out cleanish and you can’t feel any resistance to the rod, then the blockage may be much further along the pipe. Time for Plan D.

Plan D- blow it away

At around £30 for a half decent one, a ‘power plunger’ clears blockage by shooting a burst of compressed air down the pipe. Don’t worry; it isn’t as scary as it sounds. You just pump the canister, stick the nozzle down the toilet, making sure the tip is well covered with water, and pull the trigger. The force of of the compressed air creates shock waves through the trapped water to jolt the debris free. As the turbulence can travel a long way along the pipe, it can clear blockages that are out of reach of many augers. Power plunger models vary so be sure to read the instructions properly before you start blasting away.


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Child-proofing your home

If you’ve got young kids you’ll know they turn everything upside down. How you organize your daily life, your priorities, even how you look at your home.  It may have been a nice safe place for adults, but that’s all changed now. Ask yourself how it looks to little people who haven’t yet learned to say the word ‘electricity’ let alone understand the dangers of it.  With inquisitive little minds and fingers on the loose, we adults have to see our home through their eyes.

Let’s put ourselves in their place for a few minutes. Let’s see what mischief we can get up to, as we look for hidden dangers around the home.

 Looking at safety from a kid’s point of view

Right, just get down on your hands and knees and crawl into all the rooms. No, I’m serious, you’ll get a much better idea of the situation. Are there any nail heads or screws sticking up on the threshold strips that could damage little bare feet? Make sure they’re all secure and recessed below the level of the wood or laminate.

Kitchen cupboard capers

How easy is it to open kitchen cupboards where you keep cleaning fluids? Can you do it with one finger? Kids are naturally curious. Most hardware outlets have a wide range of security fittings to stop them getting into places they shouldn’t. Strong magnetic catches are easy to fit using just four screws. Take a pencil and mark the positions of the magnet on the inside the cupboard and the striker plate behind the door.Use a ‘bradawl’ (a pointed hand tool like a screwdriver) to make starter holes and poke through the hard melamine top to the chipboard below. It helps the screws go in a lot easier

The catches add enough resistance to keep out very young kids but still make it easy for adults to get stuff in and out. And because they’re fitted internally they don’t spoil the look of the front of the unit. Just all the fun.

With kids you don’t just have to think about retro-fitting safety devices to what you already have, but think more carefully about any design choices you may make in the future. Take a gas hob for instance, it’s obviously safer for the knobs to be mounted on the side, rather than the front, where they wouldn’t be visible to a little one and also be much harder to reach.

In event of a toddler tripping, a coffee table with rounded edges is a safer option than one with sharp angles. It won’t look that great anyway if you decide to stick bright rubber protectors on the corners.

Poking about in power sockets

While we’re down there, let’s check the low-level power points. In the UK it’s actually pretty challenging for a toddler to electrocute themselves- if the socket isn’t damaged. Firstly is the plate screwed flush to the wall? Good. Are the two bottom holes covered by white plastic when you look closely? Good.

Can you see blackness? Not so good. Does the plug slip in and out of the socket really easily? Bad. That means the cover that should slide down when you take out the plug is stuck in the open position.

If you look at a 3-pin square plug you’ll notice that the top (earth) pin sticks out slightly more than the bottom 2. When you put the plug in, the top pin, pushes against a plastic lever to slide open the holes for the bottom two, live and neutral, pins to enter. If this internal sliding plate is broken then the live and earth holes will be permanently uncovered and dangerous if kids decide to poke about in there.

Use one of those blank plastic safety plugs to seal it off while you arrange to get that damaged socket replaced.

Don’t forget the trailing blind cords

All loops and cords from blinds should be kept well out of reach. At best, a child could swing on it and bring down the fitting. At worst it could get entangled around a child’s neck, which doesn’t bear thinking about. You can shorten many cords in a few seconds using just a pair of scissors.

First drop the blind fully to see how much excess length you can get rid of without mucking up the action. Slide the toggle up the cord to a shorter position. Make a couple of knots in it. Cut off the excess below the new knot. Done.

Beaded chains are just as simple to shorten, only instead of the scissors you need a pair of pliers. Any type of pliers will do that has an anvil wire-cutting jaw at the back.

Just look for an shiny, capsule-like fitting somewhere on the loop. This is the snap-in fitting used to join the two ends. Just bend one end of the chain at a right angle to the fitting so the beads pops out of the retainer. To cut the chain to length, slide it to the back of the jaws of the pliers between two beads and it’ll pop apart. Reconnect the shortened chain to the joiner in the reverse order you disconnected it.

Lifting the lid on bathrooms

Kids love messing about in bathrooms, it’s one of their favourite play areas. So make sure you they can’t lock themselves in, either by accident or on purpose. Remove or disable any low-level lockable fittings on the door and move them to a higher position. It’s a much better idea than keeping a fire axe handy.

Bang, bang, bang. Opening and closing a toilet lids is really good fun isn’t it? Well we’ll soon put a stop to that. If your toilet seat needs replacing think about a ‘soft close’ design that won’t drive you nuts or suddenly crash down on little fingers.

It’s a really simple job to change a toilet seat including one with a cushioned, soft close mechanism, and with a bit of luck you don’t need any tools. Most are adjustable to fit different toilet bowl configurations, but check before you buy because you can’t return unpackaged toilet seats for obvious hygiene reasons.

First, remove the old one by reaching to the back of the bowl and feeling for the two knobbly wing nuts either side that hold the seat in position. All toilet seat fittings are designed to be undone and fixed by hand because they’re in an awkward position to use a spanner.

If it won’t budge because you’ve got something like an old metal fitting that’s corroded, you need a small, adjustable, self-gripping type wrench. Adjust the jaws to the diameter of the nut, reach underneath and clamp it on. With the nut firmly attached to the wrench, it should now turn easily.

Clean up the area and assemble the stud fixings for the new seat according to the instructions. Don’t forget to place any polythene washers on top of the big holes in the porcelain before you push the bolts through. Reach behind and slip the nuts onto the bolts. Waggle the seat to make sure it’s centred before doing up the nuts as tight as possible by hand. Be careful about using any gripper tool on plastic nuts and bolts because you can easily damage the thread and then you’re stuffed.

Well done. Now wash your hands. Ooh! Is the water a bit too hot?

To avoiding scalding hazards, make sure the thermostat that controls the temperature of the water is working properly and set at a safe level. All home heating systems vary because of different pipe runs and the thermostat only controls temperature at fixed points on your boiler or immersion heater.

Let the hot water run for a while and check the temperature of water that’s actually coming out of the taps in your home with a thermometer. Then adjust your thermostat until you get a maximum reading of no more than 44 degrees Centigrade from any of the taps.

I hope you’ve found these hints useful. Of course kids will always find other ways to give you sleepless nights and do unimaginably stupid things, that’s their job. All we can do is try not to worry too much and stay one step ahead. Happy parenting.


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Possible 2 second fix for dead wireless mouse

I have to admit I don’t like track-pads. You need the manual dexterity and precision of a fighter pilot to work them properly and I haven’t got those sorts of motor skills anymore or the inclination to try. Touch screen is the future but I look like a lab monkey when I’m jabbing at some random back-lit button in the hope of getting the reward of making a phone call or opening a box file. Mouse suits me fine, I’m a whizz with them. After decades of practice I consider myself a world class mouse wrangler. I crank them up to the fastest response times in ‘Preferences’ plus I go for the option of leaving a meteor trail so I don’t need my reading glasses to see where that pointer’s heading. Quickly got to love my new wireless 1000 from Microsoft, fantastic battery life and get this; it doesn’t have a cord. It’s wireless. Thrilled. You can use your thigh or chest or head as a mouse mat. Then it suddenly upped and died on me after a few months.Distraught. It was like I’d lost a personal masseur not a rodent. I went straight out and bought a new one. No sooner had I ruptured the blister pack then, for some inexplicable reason, I thought I’d give the old one a final chance. I breathed on the terminals of the nano receiver before putting it into the USB socket.

The pointer on screen suddenly twitched and came alive again. A miracle. Works fine to this day.

I think it has something to do with a build up of static electricity causing weirdness and the moisture in your breath discharging it. Fact, I’ve noticed this a few times since when I’m plugging things into a USB socket. If it’s not recognized or playing up, try breathing on it before plugging in. Might just work for you. Eating raw garlic just beforehand seems particularly effective for me.

By the way,wireless mice can never intermingle. The receiver is unique to the mouse and it won’t respond if you mix them up, even though they are of identical make and model.Done that a few times with my pair of Microsoft mice.

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Repairing a broken slat in a wooden blind

The first time I broke a slat was about 5 years ago. I was devastated. They’re all matching, we have them on the doors of the conservatory. After a bit of a  look and a think I  replaced it within 10 minutes and for free.

Last week it was far more dramatic. I was on the phone when I saw one of the ever increasing number of cats in the neighbourhood about to take a dump on the lobelia I’d just planted. So anyway I flew at the chocolate brown, white-pawed devil and it ran off. When I turned round I’d somehow managed to break two slats on the door blind clean off at the ends and my caller had nearly rang the police thinking I was under personal attack.

Anyway back to repairing the collateral damage.

Most wooden blinds come with hidden spare parts

When they come to measure up, the blind people normally allow a few extra inches on the drop, aka the length of the blind. If it comes up short, it will obviously be rejected by the customer and they don’t want that. This also gives a bit of leeway for the fitter of the blind in case they hit a snag. This means that you probably have two or three spare slats stacked at the bottom of the blind that you have never noticed before or ever needed to. Until the day you accidentally break one or two for whatever strange reason.

Cutting out a broken slat

The first thing you have to do is get out the broken slat or slats. This is a good time to test out your cutter as the slats have to come out regardless and you’ll be using the same technique to replace them with new ones taken from the bottom.

An anvil pruner will do just fine. This is normally used as a gardening tool with a straight blade that compresses onto a flat surface. The blade must be sharp to get a clean snip. Curved pruners might work but may splinter the wood.

Give it a go and see what happens. It’s a broken slat, it looks rubbish so there’s nothing to lose. The slat has a squashed capsule shaped cut out where the cords go through. Snip the leading edge of the slat at the bottom of the u with the cutter. With luck you’ll have a nice clean cut. Do the same at the one or two other places that are holding the slat in place. Be careful not to cut any of the nylon cords that thread through the slit otherwise you’ll be in real trouble.

Press unevenly around the cut marks you’ve just made to get  just enough flex and space so you can wiggle the nylon cords through the gap to free them. It’s wood so it will flex, but not much. When you’ve freed the the slats from the vertical cord, they will slide out sideways.

Replacing a slat

Take one from the bottom. Use the same technique described above. Snip the leading edges of the cut out holes, slip the cord through the cut you’ve just made and slide out the slat.

Flip it so the cut marks of the replacement slat are at the back and will only be visible to prowlers from the outside when you draw the blind. Actually the cut marks will hardly be visible at all.

Slide it into its new position, and waggle the nylon cords through. Done.

Preventing broken slats

Blinds on doors or any window that moves must be anchored or they’ll flap about and be more likely to get caught and damaged at some stage. There’s usually two little clear plastic fittings with a lug that engages a hole at the bottom of the blind to keep it taut. You have to spring these out sideways and gently to release the blind. They’re plastic and easily damaged – they should supply metal ones really. What happens is that you try to raise the blind to clean the window and break off the lug or forget to anchor it afterwards. Well that’s what happened to me, forgot to attach it back to that silly little plastic fitting. I still blame that cat though.

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Make an air feshener from stale bread

We throw away lots more bread than we can eat. It either gets hard when you leave it open or mouldy if sealed in its plastic bag. Personally, I have no qualms about putting mouldy bread into a toaster, perfectly safe and I think it makes quicker, nicer toast.

Stale bread is the inspiration for bruschetta. Poor people’s food and originally a way of using up leftovers in Italy and Spain. Now something of a delicacy in UK. Bruschetta does not work with fresh bread. It has to be hard enough so you can grate a fresh garlic clove over the surface before you start. If you’re not convinced about my bruschetta argument, just burn it. Burn that stale bread in the toaster or blacken it in the oven as a side product of whatever you’re cooking. Then chuck it in the bin along with the salmon skins. It’s not a complete waste, you’ve just made a great de-deodorizer by accident. And you were going to chuck it out anyway.

 How burnt toast works

You’ve turned that Mother’s Pride, French stick or chiabatta into charcoal with lots of free carbon. Carbon is a highly reactive, lonely element that will immediately latch onto most things to make new, non-whiffy compounds. Household smells are weak, transitory substances that cause annoyance, disgust or pleasure. Now unless you’re a bear, fish leftovers will not be pleasurable or attractive to you. Carbon works a treat. It’s a smell vampire. Your food bin will not smell fresher, it will just not smell of anything.

Gluten-free alternative

Get a fresh bag of Barbecue charcoal that contains lots and lots of carbon. Open it next to your cat tray and just leave it there. No smell in the morning.

Put a lump of it in your training shoes and seal it in a plastic bag overnight. Miraculous.

Great thing is, when charcoal has finishing killing off all those smells you can still use it to grill horse burgers when the weather turns nice.


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How to break into your own car when it’s iced up

According to the Met’ boys there could be a hard winter on its way to the UK . Squirrels are a good sign apparently. I’ve noticed they’ve gone madder than usual this year. One even tried to bury a hazelnut in my ear when I happened to doze off for a few minutes in the garden which came as a bit of a shock. I’ve given the description to the police, but I know the chances of catching my assailant are slim. I think it was grey and had a mad look in its eye. Anyway, rather than apprehend or kill the messenger, what if these rodents know more than we do about the Jet Stream? What if a full on White Christmas is on the cards after our Indian Summer?

What if it’s payback time for not having to put the heating on for a whole month?

Icicle weather is bad news for trying to get into your car in the morning.

It snows. It sleets, it hails. It thaws. Sun comes out for a few hours. The water trickles down the inside into all sorts of places where you don’t want it. It freezes there. Usually at night. The water turns into globs of ice jamming up your locks and door frame .

Preventative: Park up where the driver’s side is sheltered from winds. Against a hedge, fence, leave just enough space so you can squeeze out of the seat. If you have a garage, you’re laughing. Keep a big can of anti-freeze spray in the house, not in a boot that’s sealed in ice.

Panic: Piss on the driver’s side all around the frame if you’re male. If you’re female just tell your partner they need to provide a large sample in a suitable  container NOW!


Hot water freezes faster than cold water. Sounds idiotic but it’s true, I didn’t believe it myself until I looked it up online. Good news is that you’ll make ice cubes faster for a party if you fill up the trays with warm water before popping then in the freezer. Bad news is that you’ll only make things worse if you pour hot water over your car in the morning when it’s plus minus 3.


The glass will get ‘thermal shock’. Might not shatter into a thousand bits right there and then but it will be weakened and if you happen to have a chip or crack  in your windscreen may even, oh shit!!!!!!.


It’s an emergency right? So grab Sea Salt from the back of the cupboard , SAXA, black salt infused with octopus ink from Carluccio’s- any frickin’ variant of sodium chloride will do. Mix up a jugful in COLD water  and slosh it around the frame. Salt is corrosive but if you only tend to keep your car a few years that doesn’t matter. You just want to get into the damn thing turn the key and go. Salt is used on roads because it’s the cheapest chemical for anti-freeze. If you love your car, instead of salt, go buy a pack of washing soda aka soda crystals from a hardware store and use that instead. Same anti-freeze properties but none corrosive.


Battery efficiency drops off a cliff when the weather turns from hot to cold. A garage or one of a chain of car service centres can check it, usually for free. No point in breaking in if the thing won’t start. If your car is under 5 years old it should be fine though.


You need a stronger concentration in winter so it doesn’t freeze. Plus, you use your wipers and spray washer a lot more to get all the fine salt residue off your screen.If you look either side of the footwell of the driver’s side about 18 inches up there’s usually a little lever to release the bonnet. You’ll hear a ping when you pull it. Lift the lip of the bonnet and feel underneath the front radiator for a secondary catch to release it. This is to stop your bonnet suddenly flying up at speed if the main catch malfunctions. Now you have the bonnet up. In the engine bay you’ll see a clear polythene bottle with a windscreen wiper symbol on the top. That’s the bottle you fill up, don’t touch the one that says ‘brake fluid’!

After all that, maybe that squirrel wasn’t actually a harbinger of a bad winter, it just had it in for me.

See you on the beach Boxing Day?







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Adjust your new HD TV if you love films

Old tellies were simple, you just adjusted a few knobs until the test card looked fine and the reds stopped buzzing. New tellies are flat screen monitors controlled by an internal computer. You get a lot more choice about how you like to view things, maybe too much choice.

Live with the factory settings of your new TV for a while then start messing about with it if you find that your enjoyment of films and high production drama is strangely diminishing.

You can’t break anything. Just go back to ‘default’ or original settings if it doesn’t work out.

Some general film-friendly settings

I’m tempted to say RTFM though I don’t think it would be much help. Manuals are useless at helping you make aesthetic viewing choices.

Go to menu, setup, picture and deselect ‘dynamic.’ I think this is just a demonstration mode for showrooms.

Have you ever read a book that has black type on beige then the next page is brown on white and when you turn over again it’s jumped to green on lemon? Well that’s dynamic for you. You’ve already bought the screen so it’s already done its job but now you’ve got to live with it. Select anything that takes your fancy apart from ‘dynamic’. Otherwise you may find you just can’t settle down and get into the story. Directors agonize about colour grading of films to make one scene flow into another. With dynamic, a computer programmer overrides the artistic decisions of Oscar-winning directors every millisecond. Fine if all you watch is QVC.

Cool, neutral or warm picture temperature?

I’d try a warm setting. Pure white is unnatural and the last time I looked at the sun it didn’t have a blue tint.

Motion Control/Enhancement

I’d go for a middle setting rather than putting your TV on max spin setting. Just enough to look smooth but not clinical and weird.

If all this fails, watch better movies.

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