This week, part of our electric oven stopped working. The fuse blew, and had to be reset on the board. When the cooker came back on, the hob was working, and the small top oven and grill seemed to be OK too. But the main oven, the ‘big one’ with fan-assisted cooking, was as dead as a dodo.
What to do? We can still cook of course, and there is always the microwave too. Modern convenience, and if all else failed, a small gas-bottle camping stove for emergencies. As well as that, it is still unbearably hot in the house as the heatwave continues, so no need to worry about cooking casseroles, or roasting meat.
I could get someone out to see if they can fix it. There will be a call-out charge, naturally. Then there is the potential cost of replacement parts. What if the fan has shorted out? Perhaps the heating element has failed completely too? It all starts to become one of those times when you have to think about whether or not it’s worth replacing something, even though it is only six years old. Some investigation revealed that it might cost as much as close to half the price of a new replacement cooker to fix the old one.
So we bought a new one, and it is arriving late next week.
This made me remember the ‘old days’, as such things do. When something broke when I was a child, replacement was rarely an option. The outlay on a new item was beyond the financial reach of most working-class families. I recall a hair-dryer used by my Mum. Not unlike the modern equivalent, it was much larger, as well as being heavier and noisier too. In use, the motor at the side would glow red, and one day it just went ‘bang’. There was no thought of buying a new one. It was a luxury, not an essential. My Dad had a go at fixing it. After what amounted to a full disassembly and rebuild, it reappeared covered in sticky black insulation tape, and it was working again, albeit with a strange whirring sound added.
Not long after, it went ‘bang’ again. This time, it was taken to a small shop located in a nearby shopping street. I went with my Mum, and was fascinated by the miles of jumbled wires, and the stacks of non-working valve radios, primitive toasters, and the rows of dead electric fires. The man gave my Mum a small ticket, and told her to come back in a couple of day’s time. When she collected it, the handle was a different colour to the rest, as the man had cleverly cannibalised parts from a similar model. The cost of the repair was less than 5% of buying a new one, and it worked well for another ten years, until I was in my late teens.
Much later, and I was married, living in a house in Wimbledon. We had a washing machine, something of a considerable expense in those days, at close to £400. That was almost a month’s salary then. One day, it started to leak as it was operating, and that leak turned into a veritable flood of soapy water all over the floor of the small kitchen. After managing to stop the machine working, I contacted a local company advertising repairs, and they came out. Something metal in the washing (later discovered to be the underwire of a bra) had damaged the main rubber seal, allowing the water to escape. The man replaced the seal, found and removed the wire, and charged us £15, including the cost of the seal. He had only been there for fifteen minutes or so, and was very efficient.
But now, we just throw everything away. If a hair-drier costs less than £20 to replace, who would consider paying that much to get it repaired? A washing machine is now less than one week’s pay in most jobs, and a similar repair close to £100 or more, including the dreaded ‘call out’ fees. And those shops with clever ‘little men’ surrounded by dead electrical items are all long gone, as business rates force everyone like them off the High Streets of England. These days, we have to make online appointments with ‘authorised repairers’, from companies who act as if they are doing you a favour by actually turning up at all.
We live in a disposable society, to the detriment of the environment.
‘Repair’ has become ‘Replace’.