I like our landlord. He’s helpful, trustworthy, generous and friendly—he treats us more like guests than tenants. The only problem is that he has a secret identity: he is Kaptain Kombinować. When a problem needs solving and no one else can help, he swoops in dressed in his elastic-waisted sweat pants and inside-out Duran Duran T-shirt and wielding the mighty Hammer of Kombinować (except when he forgets it and has to borrow mine).
Kaptain K’s latest adventure began with a seemingly innocent visit by the electricity meter inspector. The evil inspector was not pleased. “This meter must go,” he insisted, “and in its place, one that isn’t quite so blatantly illegal must be installed,” he added. Kaptain K swung into action 48 hours later. Thankfully he was accompanied by his sidekick Presumably Fully Qualified Electrician Boy, otherwise I would now be writing this via a seance.
The new meter was successfully installed, in the sense that it didn’t immediately fall off the wall or cause any deaths. It was less successful at dealing with more complex challenges, such as allowing us to turn on anything electrical. The boy wonder performed certain technical adjustments with a bent screwdriver and all seemed well, until we tried the hot water. Everything in my flat is electric. The water heater switches on when you open the hot water tap. We opened the tap, and were immediately plunged into darkness. Further adjustments were made but the ensuing darkness was, if anything, more profound than the first time. This amusing game continued for some hours. I began to enumerate the benefits of cold showers for future reference.
For reasons known only to ancient and hidden intelligences greater than man’s, and the electricity company, I have a pre-pay electricity meter. This means I have to buy my electricity before I use it. It’s a bit of a hassle because it means visiting the electricity buying office every month or so, but I don’t mind too much because it’s amazing how much more conscientious about electricity use you become when you’re burning something you’ve already paid for. When you visit the electricity buying office they don’t just give you the electricity in a big bag, they give you a 20-digit code to punch into your meter. Exactly why it has to be 20 digits is another mystery for the ages. My credit card number is only 16-digits long, and it would take most of the computing power in the known universe to crack that.
Kaptain K called me from Kombinować central some hours later. Through his network of underworld crime-fighting chums he had learned that the only way to solve the problem was to hack the meter’s software by entering the code that would force it to allow the huge wattages drawn by rare and arcane appliances such as super hadron colliders and electric water heaters. I was skeptical. Military-grade encryption is not the kind of thing you can circumvent with a large hammer, no matter how hard you kombinować it. The afternoon passed in a blur of whispered phone calls consisting exclusively of 20-digit numbers and creative Polish swearing. I began to have imaginary Enigma machine flashbacks.
Kaptain K’s next plan was to install a night-storage water heater. This had the double advantage of bringing the hammer back into play and sidelining the crypto-mathematics. The Kaptain arrived in full regalia heaving a 20-kilo water heater up the stairs. It was surprisingly new-looking, despite the obvious signs of having recently been forcibly removed from a wall—chunks of masonry clinging pathetically to wires and water pipes.
Water storage heaters are large and heavy things. Fill them with 50 litres of water and they start to approach the mass and density of collapsed stars. One of Kaptain Kombinować’s superpowers is the ability to negate gravity by sheer will power alone, at least I assume this is the case since the selection of screws he had bought for attaching this 60 kilo lump to the wall would clearly have been about as effective as dry spit. I’ve never seen a screw inserted by hammer before. I’ve also never seen a 60-kilo water heater successfully hung on a plasterboard wall, and I think I never will. My nerves got the better of me. I insisted that luke-warm showers were bearable for the time being and suggested that the water heater be placed on a firm surface under United Nations supervision.
He’s out there somewhere, even now. Ready for the call. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find him, maybe you can hire Kaptain Kombinować.