In Praise Of Honest Mechanics, And The NHS

Ten days ago, I wrote about my car failing the MOT test, and needing two new tyres.

Always Something

I didn’t use it after driving it home, and then three days later, Julie used it to take her daughter and grandchildren out for the day. They did a fair few miles, and had an enjoyable day. However, when she returnd home that evening, she said she could hear a ‘rubbing noise’ when turning right. I drove into town and back, and couldn’t hear it.

Last Friday, she cut her hand at work. It was in an awkward place on the edge of her right hand, and bleeding badly. So I drove to collect her, leaving her car in the car park. We had two options then. Either drive the shorter distance to the main Norwich Hospital, and possibly wait for many hours to be seen, or drive up to Cromer on the north coast, where there is a minor injuries unit open from 08:00 until 20:00. That seemed the better option, and off we went.

Arriving close to 7:30pm, we wondered if we were going to be too late. But no. An efficient receptionist booked her in, then asked me to wait in the car park due to Covid-19 restrictions. Less than ten minutes after I got back to the car, Julie appeared, her wound closed with steri-strips, and a dressing covering the injury. When you hear so many complaints about our health service, I think it is only right to balance that with praise for the marvellous service we received last Friday.

Well done the NHS.

On the way home, we used the main relief road to avoid Norwich, and it has many roundabouts. Once negotiating those, I could hear the ‘rubbing noise’ that Julie had spoken about previously.

On Sunday morning, I returned to the car repair dealership I had used for the MOT, service, and tyres, and asked them to investigate the noise. The manager drove the car around the forecourt, and agreed he could hear the noise. However, after some examination of the wheels and steering, he was unable to speculate on what might be causing it. He suggested I leave it there overnight, and he would get a more experienced colleague to examine the car today. (Monday) I agreed, and Julie collected me and took me home. Although this Monday is a public holiday in England, they were open from 10:00 until 16:00.

Me being me, I feared the worst. Major repairs just before our holiday, and yet more eye-watering expense. While I was out walking Ollie, Julie rang them just before 1pm, and they said the car was ready. They had found a loose back plate on a front brake disc, and that was moving enough to cause the rubbing sound on full right lock. As they had worked on the car recently, they said they would not be charging me anything at all, because of the possibility that they may have caused the temporary fault.

When I collected the car, they gave me a Diagnostic Wheel Alignment report, telling me they had additionally checked the alignment to put my mind at rest. This alone usually costs £59, but there was no charge. I think good service like this should also be praised, especially for a large chain of car repairers that doesn’t always have the best reputation here.

So, well done to Dereham branch of Kwik Fit too.

Always Something

In the UK, once your car is three years old, it legally requires a certificate of roadworthiness, and has to be tested annually. This is known here as the MOT test. (Ministry Of Transport Test)

My car was already five years old when I bought it in 2012. On the first of June 2021, it celebrated (quietly, with no fuss) its fourteenth birthday.

(Not my actual car, but the same year, model, and colour.)

Despite being old by car standards, the mileage of 76,000 is relatively low. Many cars of that age have done twice as many miles, if not more. This is helped by the fact that I rarely drive any great distance. My trips to town or to the supermarket only total an 8-mile return, Ollie’s vet is 12 miles each way, and short trips to take Ollie somewhere different to walk rarely exceed 10 miles. The nearest beach is only 18 miles away, and if I go into Norwich, I usually take the bus.

Other than a long haul to the Lake District, two trips to London, and two holidays in Lincolnshire, my car has an easy life.

But they always found some reason to fail that annual MOT test. Usually things that are hard to argue with. Brake pad wear, exhaust emissions failure, or headlights being unaligned. Most of the time, that doesn’t add a huge amount to the bill. Except for a few years ago when one dealership failed the car on parts in the catalctic converter, and the bill came to £200 more than the car was worth, as well as being off the road for months waiting for the part.

In 2019, I changed testing companies, and it passed first time! I was so relieved, I used that company again in 2020, and to my delight, it passed again. Keen to make it three times lucky, I booked them for this year’s test, and took the car in on Wednesday morning.

It had been in there just over two hours, when I received the ‘dreaded’ phone call. They had failed the car on one tyre. It had a ‘gouge’ out of the rubber, probably caused by a pothole in the rarely-maintained country roads around here. There was also a warning that another tyre had low tread. Not enough to fail it, but a replacement was ‘recommended’. I bit the bullet and authorised two new Yokohama low-profile tyres, at a cost of £130 each.

The bitter pill to swallow was that the tyre with the ‘gouge’ had only been fitted recently, following a puncture on my driveway.

I heard myself saying it again. “Always something”.

Why can’t things just work?

My lifelong battle with technology of any kind appears to be continuing.

And I am definitely on the losing side of this latest skirmish.

I am one of those people who never expect anything to ‘just work’. And even if it does, I hover around nervously waiting for it to fail. Instruction books are normally about as much use as toilet paper, and the two fail-safes seem to always be ‘Factory Reset’, or ‘Turn it off, then turn it on again’.

After a lifetime of being let down by everything from a mobile phone, to the air-conditioning system in my car, the latest assault troops in technology’s personal war against me are revealed as a recently-purchased PVR, my Kindle Fire Tablet, and the miniature camera delivered just this week.

When I got the camera, it seemed to be working fine. I even discovered (eventually) how to change the German menu language into English.
Keen to try it out, I put it on charge.

The next day, it wouldn’t turn on.
So I plugged in the charging cable, and it worked.
I pulled out the charging cable, and it went black.

It seems that the supplied battery, apparently new in its packet, had not taken any charge at all. This despite the flashing light showing it was charging, then stopping flashing, to let me know it had charged. So I have a camera that works, as long as it is connected to its one-metre charging cable. Short of buying a five-mile long cable to trail behind me on my countryside walks, I seem to have two options. The first is to return it and try to get a refund. That might be tricky, from a German seller who does not trade in my language. Besides, I waited years to get one of these, and they are as rare as hen’s teeth. The next option is to consider that it might be a battery failure, and to buy a brand-new replacement battery online for very little money. So that’s what I have done.

Fingers crossed that the camera actually recognises the new battery when it arrives…

On to more technology, the Amazon Fire tablet. This actually worked pretty well from day one. However, early attempts at reading books on the Kindle App showed pages advancing at will, even when I wasn’t touching the screen. Sometimes, they flew by so fast, they almost got to the end of the book! I was constantly having to restart the books, and then ‘flick-forward’ to where I had been reading. Perhaps I was giving off a lot of ‘electricity’? I had no idea why it was happening. I was just about to consider returning the thing to Amazon, when that glitch stopped, and I enjoyed many months of ‘normal’ Kindle reading. On Wednesday night, the dreaded ‘flick-forward’ started again, happening before my eyes when I was not even actually touching the thing, just holding it by the protective case.

Unable to face the stress of trying to sort it out late at night, I turned off the bedside light and went to sleep.

Last night, I wanted to check the time of a TV programme on the PVR that we use to view and record all our television through. The machine is only six months old, and I have already suffered one compulsory ‘Factory Reset’. When I pressed the button for the Electronic Programme Guide on the remote control, only one channel (out of more than 100 available) was displayed. Naturally, it wasn’t the channel I was interested in. I checked through the instruction book, to find absolutely no mention of any fault like this. As I followed the suggestion that I could alternatively source the channel information via the device’s main menu, the screen went blank.

So that was it. No TV, unable to record anything, and a small black electronic device sitting there sniggering through its metaphorical fingers at me.

I remembered Fail Safe Option Two. The power was disconnected, then reconnected.

After a lot of strange whirring noises and an indicator light flickering on and off, it came back on. With a fully functional programme guide too.

But I know it’s only playing with me…

So, whoever you are, you Gods of Technology, I surrender. My hands are up, the white flag is flying, and I have had enough.
My capitulation is complete. You win, I’m a loser. I admit it. You are the boss, not me.

Now will you please just work?

How one thing leads to another…

You may remember me posting recently about a leak inside the house. That necessitated the fitting of a new shower pump, which I mentioned previously. At the time, the plumber suggested that due to the hard water, it would be an idea to have a water softener fitted. I agreed for him to this, along with new taps in the bathroom sink.

And there was all that new guttering. Remember me mentioning that too?

Today, the plumber was due early, to get on with the arranged jobs. I went out into the shed to make sure his access to the heating boiler was free, and noticed the sound of running water. A quick investigation showed that part of the new guttering had come adrift, presumably unable to cope with more than two month’s worth of rainfall in four days. So I rang the guttering company, and arranged for a man to come and look at that.

Meanwhile, the plumber arrived, and needed to turn off the hot and cold water supply so he could get on with the jobs. But the valves wouldn’t turn off. They were both seized up, no doubt also corroded by the notoriously hard water, and the resulting limescale. So the tanks had to be drained, and a new master valve fitted on the mains water. No point leaving the faulty hot water valve, so that was replaced too. Then the stopcocks in the cupboard, necessary for isolating the bathroom supply. Also unable to be moved, so both replaced as well.

So to replace the taps and fit the water softener turned into an all-day job that required replacing four valves and four stopcock handles.

Then the man arrived from the guttering company. He was unable to get the curved piece of plastic piping to remain in place, so ended up securing it with four screws. But he warned me that the problem might actually be in the way that the rainwater drains away once it goes into the ground. He mentioned this might be a ‘big job’. (When is it ever a ‘small job’?) At least there was no charge for screwing the guttering in place, as his previous work was guaranteed.

So as I sit here with substantially depleted savings, four new valves, two new taps, a new water softener, and the recently-installed shower pump; safe in the knowledge that the guttering section will not come adrift any time soon, I should finally be content.

But you will forgive me when I say that all I can think about is “What’s next?”

An Englishman’s Home

With work going on around the house, I got to thinking about the old proverb, ‘An Englishman’s Home Is His Castle’. I looked it up, and it dates from 1581, used in legal terminology to assert the right to defend and protect your own home. In 1781, Pitt The Elder made this law, with his famous quote.
“The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown. It may be frail – its roof may shake – the wind may blow through it – the storm may enter – the rain may enter – but the King of England cannot enter.”

Home ownership is something of a national obsession in Britain. Unlike many other countries, especially France and Italy, where rented houses and apartments are the norm, owning a house, flat, or even a humble hovel, has always been the aspiration of the British way of life. Since the 1970s, the steady increase in property values in most parts of this country has also made it good financial sense to buy your own home, as it can often make you a great deal of money too. As a rented tenant, you have less rights, can be asked to leave, or be subject to rent increases that make it increasingly difficult to balance your finances.
Home ownership has come to represent security.

In more recent times, it has also become something out of the reach of all but those with good regular incomes, excellent prospects, and substantial savings. The last ten years have seen a steady increase in the number of people returning to renting, as the only way to be able to move with jobs, or leave the parental home. The selling off of state and council-owned properties during the time of Margaret Thatcher has also severely reduced the amount of homes available for social rented housing, and many young people are stuck in the family home well into their thirties, or beyond.

But owning your own home also brings with it great responsibility. It needs to be repaired and maintained, and if you are unable (or unwilling) to do this yourself, you can expect to spend a great deal of money above and beyond the purchase price, just to keep that much-desired roof over your head.
So perhaps it is time for us to rethink that national obsession. Relax about home ownership, and stop worrying about our ‘castles’. We will hopefully see a time when you just live somewhere, and nobody asks how much you paid for your house, and what it is worth now.

Napoleon once famously described the English as a ‘Nation of Shopkeepers’.

I wonder what he would make of our now empty shopping streets, and Amazon deliveries?

Ollie gets his car back.

In May, my eleven year-old car was due to have the annual government inspection, and a full service. Despite its age, it was running well, and has only done 66,000 miles from new. I don’t use it that much, but living in Beetley with one car is not really an option, as long as Julie is still working. I transferred the money into my current account to pay for the work, and dropped off the car at the dealership as arranged that morning. It was a nice day, so I walked the almost four miles back to the house.

Whenever I go further afield with Ollie, he loves to get in the car. It is a spacious 7-seat MPV, (I think you call them mini-vans in America) and he has his own bed in a large area at the back. I only have to say the word ‘car’, and he runs to wait expectantly for the tailgate to be raised, before jumping in. There is no doubting that he thinks it is his car, reserved for those special trips to dog-walking pastures new.

Late that afternoon, the service manager called me. His funereal tone didn’t bode well, and the news he imparted confirmed my worst fears. It seemed that my (perfectly running) car had fallen foul of the new stricter emission laws introduced just three weeks earlier. It had not only failed the inspection, but would need a great many new parts if it was to ever pass. On top of that, those new laws forbade me driving the car away, to seek other estimates, or even to dispose of it by driving it off a cliff. No inspection certificate meant the insurance was not valid, so it was either agree to the work, or employ a recovery company to trailer my car somewhere else.

The cost of the parts and work required exceeded the resale value of the car by over £100. But the alternative was to arrange for someone to scrap the vehicle, and the costs of getting it trailered to the scrap yard would wipe out anything I would be due in return. Besides, it would leave me with no car, and just enough funds to only be able to replace it with something almost as old, and decidedly inferior. I bit the bullet, and agreed to the huge price.

Thus began the saga that will henceforth be known as ‘The Summer Of The Car’. One week later, I was contacted to be informed that they were unable to get a crucial part. This was called a DPF, something I had never heard of, and that alone cost £900. I did some research, and discovered this was a Diesel Particulate Filter, an integral and important part of the catalytic converter and exhaust system. In one afternoon with Google, I increased my knowledge about car engines by 100%. I found a suitable part on Ebay, from a supplier with good feedback. It was much cheaper too, less than £600. That cheered me up, and I resolved to contact the service manager the next day, with the good news.

That phone call was met with yet more gloomy tones. They could not guarantee the work, if they used a part supplied by anyone other than their own company. In fact, they would not even consider putting it into my car, even if I bought it, and walked to the workshops with the small parcel. It was their way, or the highway, and of course, I could always pay someone to trailer it somewhere else, if that was my choice. I reluctantly agreed to let them carry on, as I didn’t want to spend so much money, without a 12-month guarantee on the work.

Twenty-one days later, and they still couldn’t get the part. They cited problems with the supplier, and a national shortage of the elusive DPF, due to the very changes in the law that had caused my car to fail in the first place. I looked up the issue on online forums, and discovered they were right. Many owners all over the UK were in exactly the same boat. The day after, they rang to inform me that they had ‘no onward delivery date’ for the part, and that my car could potentially be in their car park for the foreseeable future. I suggested that they might as well fit some wings to it while they had it, as flying cars would be the thing, by the time it was repaired. They offered to lend me a car in the meantime, as a ‘gesture of goodwill’, because I was a valued customer of long-standing.

Julie dropped me off the next day, to collect my ‘loan car’. It was one of their new range of tiny hatchbacks, with an engine similar to that found in a food-mixer. The manual gear-shift was a shock, after six years using an automatic, and the driving position so low, I felt as if I was sitting on the floor. Once I got going, the sensation was something akin to being on a large roller skate, that just happened to have windows. And of course, once they had given me what passed as replacement transport, I dropped off their ‘waiting customer’ radar.

Using the car, I soon found it to be the vehicular equivalent of a chocolate teapot. The boot could take three carrier bags at a pinch, and certainly not a good-sized Shar-Pei dog. Performance was acceptable, when compared to a hairdryer, but the finish and quality of this Indian-built impostor left much to be desired. So it sat on the driveway, unable to be used for anything dog-related. My weekly supermarket trip necessitated using all the seats to store the shopping bags, and the one comfort I could glean from having it, was that the air-conditioning worked well, during that very hot summer.

Fast-forward, to cut a very long story short. Almost four months pass, and I have come close to forgetting I ever owned a car. Numerous phone calls, some acrimonious and heated to say the least, and eventual threats on my part. The job was finally done, and I drove their excuse for a car back, and handed it over with pleasure. I paid a bill in excess of what most people earn in a good month, and was handed the keys to my car, which sat washed (by them) and shiny in their car park.

Ollie is very glad to have his car back.

Saturday thoughts, for a change

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’.

Countryside car woes

I recently told a story about having to postpone buying a camera, due to problems with my car. I got the car fixed, at least some of the repairs required, and retained a list of outstanding jobs, to await the time when I could afford them. Heading off to my windmill shift yesterday, the car suddenly stopped dead, in a very inconvenient spot, right in the centre of Dereham. This caused some consternation for the local shoppers, who could neither enter the nearby car park, nor exit it. I eventually managed to get the car into a place where I could try to establish what was wrong. Initially, I feared the worst, failure of the automatic gearbox. The eye-watering cost of a possible replacement would exceed the value of the vehicle, and make it worth little more than scrap.

After a bit of fiddling with the ignition key and the gear selector, I managed to restore drive and power, but noticed that an ominous warning light had appeared on the main dial. I carried on to the windmill, so as not to let them down, and once there, I perused my owners’ manual. The light warned of problems with the engine management system. The information was vague, as it could refer to anything from the exhaust system, to the catalyctic converter, and any of the electronic signal systems involved. I had no choice but to book it into my local dealer, for computerised diagnostics.

There was a time when cars where a lot less reliable. During the 1960s and 70s, when I had my first cars, they broke down all the time. The big difference was that they were easy to fix back then. Everyone carried a hammer, a screwdriver, and a set of jump leads. Add a tin of easy-start, some WD-40, and a lot of blowing into crevices, and most problems were generally solved in a few minutes. Cars today are far more reliable, with the result that a breakdown is always unexpected. The downside to this is that they are also far more complex, and it is near-impossible to fix anything yourself, without extensive electrical knowledge, and specialist tools. The other main consideration for me, is that we now live in the countryside. No chance of just hopping onto a bus or tube train, when the car leaves you stranded. Mobile phone signals tend to be intermittent, or completely absent, and there are almost no public phone boxes left. With all this to consider, you soon become aware just how dependent you become on a vehicle, and how important it is that it doesn’t let you down.

So, in it went this morning, to be plugged into the General Motors computer, which will tell them what is to be done. After an hour, it had settled on a stuck valve in the manifold inlet. This was freed, cleaned, and tested. The warning light went out, and I was back on the road, for a reasonable fee of £48. I received a warning from the staff though. Should this happen again, and it might, I could be facing bills of many hundreds of pounds, for new parts throughout the inlet system. These are small parts, and rather insignificant in themselves. The trouble is, the engine has to be almost completely dismantled to fit them. That takes time, and it is that time that costs money.

When a car reaches the age when many things need replacing, and parts fail like falling dominoes, you start to think it might be sensible to just cut your losses, and replace it with a newer model. A few years ago, I would have done just that, without a second thought. But I am retired now, and have to think very carefully about what I spend, as I am using the income from a pension, not a substantial salary. So it looks as if the car will have to be repaired piece by piece, the most important things first; as the cost of new, or nearly-new cars in this country has to be seen to be believed.

On Saturday, Julie picks up her brand new car. She is very pleased to have her first ever new model, and has chosen a Hyundai, with a five-year guarantee, and lots of modern extras. At least we will have one reliable car between us. For five years anyway.

Cars and cameras

I posted a couple of articles about cameras recently. I wanted to change my elderly SLR, and discussed the option of getting a modern compact camera that would give me all the features and functions I desired, alongside more traditional operations, as well as having a decent lens. I arrived at my shortlist, and asked for suggestions from my fellow bloggers. I got some very helpful comments and recommendations, which was only to be expected, given the number of enthusiastic photo-bloggers out there. I said that I would let you know the outcome, so that is what I am doing with this post.

Today, my car went in for the annual major service and MOT test. (For readers outside the UK, an MOT test is a compulsory safety check. There is a strict list of requirements to be checked, and if your car fails any of them, it is essential to have them rectified.) This is always potentially expensive. The service alone is around £250, and the test fee is £49 on top of that. Even on a good day, I was going to be £300 out of pocket, but I had budgeted for that. I left my car with the dealer at 08.45, and headed off for a walk into Dereham, in bright sunshine. After a quick trip around the town, I went into the library, to use the one hour of free Internet access allowed for members. I thought it would kill some time.

No sooner had I logged on, than the garage called my mobile. The car had failed. A rear tyre was damaged, possibly from a pothole in the road. As well as that, there were some other issues he wanted to discuss, and he thought it best that I return to talk to him in person. As soon as he emerged from the back, and showed me into his office, I knew that the news was not good. He went down the checklist, advising me what would have to be fixed to pass the MOT, and what needed doing in addition to that, but could be out off until later. Front brake discs, front brake pads, the offending tyre, all would have to be done, no question. These items added well over £300 to a bill that was already well over that figure. Wheel alignments and tracking of the steering (again probably caused by potholes), another £50. As these were fairly big jobs, it will have to go back in again tomorrow, but at least they will collect it free of charge, and leave me a car to use too.

And the other jobs, the ones that need doing sooner rather than later? Cam-belt and water pump, well over £300 the pair. Rear suspension mounts; a big job, not yet priced. Tailgate struts, (they don’t keep the big rear door up properly) £150. Best part of £800 the lot, was his best guess, on top of the more than £600 I have to pay tomorrow. So, those extra jobs will have to wait a bit, until after the summer, I expect. That leaves the new camera, its budget blown on keeping the nearly eight-year old car on the road. It looks as if I am going to have to rekindle my relationship with my old SLR after all.

Still, try as you might, you can’t drive a camera.

What’s next?

Believe me dear readers, I do not ask for much out of life. I have given up on the notion of holidays, home or abroad. I am content to pass my time in retirement, writing my blog, spending time with Julie, and walking my dog Ollie, in all weathers, usually bad. I volunteer in the community, and give my time freely, to help the disadvantaged, and local children. I try to be a good neighbour, and to support local businesses and endeavours. I do not claim to be a saint, far from it, but I do try my best to be a decent person, and to have a social conscience.

So, why do things keep going wrong, and mysteriously so? Is it bad karma, from a previous life, or retribution for forgotten bad deeds? Do I expect too much, from my relatively simple life? I rack my brains constantly, to try to imagine what would cause me to be plagued by such a run of bad luck, and misfortune. This may appear to be perceived, but there is plenty of tangible evidence to support my contention. I don’t like posting these ‘woe is me’ articles, I really don’t. However, I feel the need to share all this, in the hope that problems shared are somehow reduced in importance. Of course, I am well aware that many others, perhaps most others, have greater cause to complain than I do. I am not suffering from a serious illness, struggling to pay debts, or looking for employment, in a world where that is almost considered to be pointless. My life seems comfortable, compared to many, and my niggles and complaints no doubt appear to some to be churlish, and whining. None of this helps unfortunately, as the impact of these small events, running one into the other, has no less effect on me than one far more serious occurrence would create.

Earlier this year, I posted frequently about the rash that plagued me. It did diminish eventually, but never went away. It seems this itchy condition will stay with me for the remainder of my life. I just stopped writing about it, as there seemed to be no point going on about it. More recently, I wrote about bad luck with those things that make life more bearable, such as not having floods in your shed, and having a heating system that worked. On Tuesday, the engineer will return once more, in the seemingly endless quest to solve the riddle of my radiators and boiler. Meanwhile, we continue to burn expensive oil, to heat only two of the seven radiators, and to provide hot water. We have replaced almost all the parts that can be replaced, spending even more of our rapidly diminishing savings, to no avail.

We woke up early today, as the archaic practice of putting the clocks back one hour was once again enforced. To our surprise, and immediate concern, we saw water on the top of the wood burning stove. This is not inside a hearth, or fireplace, but free-standing, with extensive pipework going through the ceiling, and out via the loft. We had this installed, again at considerable expense, in September 2012, so the work is out of guarantee by twenty-eight days. Scrabbling around in the loft space did not show anything untoward, but there were discernible drips on the outside casing of the pipes visible in the living room. With precision irony, the wood we had ordered locally then arrived. Half a trailer load, enough to last the winter, supplementing the (not currently working) heating system. This was unloaded onto the driveway, and had to be manhandled piece by piece into the back garden, to fill the log store. The spare wood that was left over was stacked into the back of the garage. It was all spit hardwood, cut to size to fit in the burner, so we thought it a good deal. The local supplier even agreed that I would drop the money off next week, an example of trust in a small community.

After a couple of hours spent sorting the wood, I got changed, and took Ollie for a walk. the weather was dry, despite storms being forecast, but the strong winds made the long walk wearing and tiresome. By the time I got back, I had a bad headache, not helped by Julie’s report that the heating system seemed to have failed completely during my absence. I checked the stove once more. The water seemed to have stopped entering from its unknown point of origin, and I had the (very bad) bright idea of starting a fire in it, in the hope of drying out any water left inside the chimney pipework. Within moments of the wood catching, the room began to fill with smoke. It could be seen issuing from the joints in the pipes, and even from around the well-sealed door joints. As the fire took hold, the smoke got progressively worse. I shut down the valves and dampers, hoping to kill the flames, and eventually put the fire out. The living room was so smoky by now, that we had to open windows to clear it. So, now the wood burner isn’t working either, and we have a house that smells as if we have been in a fire. I have to spend tomorrow trying to chase someone down who is capable of fixing it, or at least diagnosing the problem. We now have no source of heating, and a forecast for the worst storm since 1987. The piles of newly purchased logs can rest easy, as they will not be consumed by fire anytime soon.

On Tuesday, I will stand watching the engineer struggle to come up with a solution to the main heating system, hoping my back isn’t too itchy, as it is embarrassing. And I will undoubtedly cast a glance at the stove, dominating the room as a centrepiece, a cast-iron ornament awaiting costly repair. I might even consider that the installation cost as much as Julie’s car, or that it failed one month after the guarantee period. I will hopefully have got rid of the headache, and the buzzing noise in my head by then as well.

But perhaps not.