For a Haporth of Tar

For a Hap’orth of Tar

Percy Pigmondswipe (known as Percy the Pig to his friends) was working late. He’d got a ship to finish and it wasn’t a little ‘un, this was a seriously large ship that was having some major modifications. They’d cut down all the trees in the wood, a good few from next door and the churchyard was starting to look a bit sparse.

He and the lads had got all the new woodwork done, new decks had been installed, the rigging was in place and they were on the last lap, a little bit of caulking along the keel and she’d be finished. Unfortunately they had hit a bit of a snag, they had run out of caulking tar with only a foot left to do.

Percy turned to the foreman, Angry Jack McTaggard, and being aware of his somewhat temperamental disposition asked as politely as he could for some money to buy a small pot of tar.
“The budget’s spent laddie” bellowed Angry Jack,
“But we need the tar to seal the joints, keep the water out like.”
“Do you think money grows on trees laddie?“ came the somewhat assertive retort.
“Only a hap’ny for a bit of tar” persevered Eric.
“It’s on the bottom laddie, no one will ever notice. Get her in the water.”
“Now laddie.”

And so it was that the newly renovated Mary Rose, the pride of Henry VIII’s battle fleet, was launched.

The next morning with 200 crew and 180 fine English bowmen aboard, each waving their famous two finger gesture as a sign of friendship to the French, the Mary Rose set sail. Henry himself was watching and in full rig she looked a glorious sight as she left the dock, keeled over……. and promptly sank.

Percy turned away.
“Don’t spoil the ship for a hap’orth of tar” he muttered.

Some say this story is a right load of old codswollop and blame the naughty nautical architects for making the Mary Rose too top heavy, others blame the motley crew for leaving the gunports open, yet others blame over exuberance among the bowmen who all ran to one side of the ship to extend their gestures of friendship to their French counterparts (and other parts for that matter). The French insist that they sank it (but they would wouldn’t they?) Some people even dispute the quotation and say the actual wording was “don’t spoil the sheep for a hap’orth of tar” referring to the use of hot tar to cauterise sheep’s injuries and stop them becoming infected (a hap’orth means a halfpenny worth).

But even today people with the surname Pigmondswipe know the true tale – not that they would ever admit that Percy had anything at all to do with the unfortunate British flagship.

Either way the message is still the same – trying to save even very small amounts of money can have serious consequences.

If there is one single factor that creates more problems than any other for those building, renovating or maintaining property or buying household equipment, it is the all consuming desire to attempt to save money. All too often the minute amount of money saved is out of all proportion to the cost of later rectification or the more serious possible consequences of an ongoing negative survival situation.

All too often what might seem like a small matter can have unforeseen consequences and the exploding water heater is a case in point. It all started rather innocently when a plumbing “pretender”, who had learned his skills from a passing professional in the art of training performing fleas, was called in to sort out a small problem with a water heater that was dripping from the pressure relief valve.

In his flea borne wisdom he decided that a new pressure relief valve was called for. Rather than paying the Rp60,000 ($6) that a genuine spare part would cost he thought his pocket would benefit by buying an alternative item manufactured in the land of poorly manufactured goods and that he could buy for a mere Rp25,000 ($2.5). The charge to the customer would, of course, be the same, his pocket would be a little more replete and the customer wouldn’t know the difference anyway. Or so he thought….

In fact the pressure relief valve was not the problem and it was dripping for a reason. The actual problem was a faulty thermostat which was not switching off the power as it should when the heater was up to temperature. The heater was overheating, the pressure in the tank built up and the pressure relief valve was doing what it was meant to be doing and relieving the pressure and so it was dripping.

The substandard replacement valve, however, didn’t work and thereby created an additional problem. One night a horrendous sound filled the air as a pipe joint ruptured spilling 100 litres of very hot water onto the bathroom ceiling which promptly collapsed. This lead to a great gnashing of teeth and venting of spleens but alas, the pretender was gone with the money in his pocket.

The occupant of the house was not at all happy and, quite understandably, had lost trust in the water heater and so a new one was installed. As you can appreciate, dear reader, the repair bill was in the order of 300 times the amount the pretender saved on the replacement part which turned out to be the wrong part anyway.

Water heaters without effective pressure relief valves can be dangerous and what might have happened if the tank had exploded just doesn’t bear thinking about.

In another water heater case a very expensive imported water heater (Rp22 million – around four times the price of a perfectly reliable standard unit) needed a new heating element. In Indonesia where electrical power fluctuates more than the mood of a schizophrenic chef it is not unheard of that such things as heating elements self destruct in pure frustration.

A new element cost a very expensive Rp750,000 (not surprising considering the cost of the heater) and so the somewhat peeved owner decided to save money by buying a dodgy brand for a mere Rp400,000. The cheap substitute didn’t fit and so the more expensive one had to be purchased anyway. Understandably the cheaper item could not be returned.

I have mentioned in the past the case of an electrical installation in a high class establishment in which a small girl was nearly electrocuted. The cause of the problem was traced back to an electrical contractor who decided to save money by installing two core cable instead of three core cable to the plug sockets. The third core in the cable is the wire that carries the earth connection which is the most essential safety system in any electrical installation. For saving what, in relative terms, was a minute amount of money the contractor’s actions nearly resulted in a child’s life being lost.

Then there is the case of the much repaired water pump. In this case a row of expensive rooms in a high class villa complex was having problems with water pressure. A large pump had been installed to get sufficient water pressure to all the rooms but the pump kept breaking down and had been repaired many times. People suggested a new pump but the owner of these expensive units declined repeatedly insisting the old pump be repaired.

In a way he was correct because the pump was not the root of the problem. There was a single small pipe supplying the water to all the units and so at times (such as morning shower time) this small pipe simply could not supply enough water and the large pump was working very hard attempting the impossible task of pushing large volumes of water through a very small pipe. The real solution was to install a new larger bore pipe but it was still necessary for a new pump to replace the damaged one.

It is surprising how often very valuable properties are compromised by owners who wish to save a bit of money and are not willing to invest in adequate maintenance or even adequate products in the first place.

The list of cases goes on and on but, on this high earthquake risk island, it would be remiss of me to not once again mention an all too common occurrence of irresponsible builders who decide to jeopardise the ongoing survival of expensive buildings just to save a bit of money by reducing the size or even leaving out a few concrete reinforcing bars.

Over the years thousands of people around the world have died in collapsing buildings and other totally unnecessary accidents and all for the sake of “a hap’orth of tar.”

Phil Wilson
Opinions are those of Phil Wilson.
He can be contacted through the websites at or through the office on 0361 288 789.

Copyright © 2014 Phil Wilson
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