Another Job Jobbed

When I was young, my parents would always say that anytime they finished doing something around the house. As young as I was, I always thought it was a rather silly expression.

Now I am older, I still avoid using it. However, I have come to appreciate the sense of relief, if not satisfaction, when those routine jobs are over.

After ten days with a broken heating/hot water boiler, and trying to remember to keep switching on (and off) the electric back up, the boiler has been fixed. My son-in-law arrived earlier, and has been working for three hours to replace faulty parts, and get it going. The amount of dirt and soot inside the relatively small boiler cabinet had to be seen to be believed, and I was once again glad that it is situated in the garage, rather than the house.

It didn’t help that it has been raining torrentially all day, and walking in and out has left the floors of the garage and connecting shed covered in a wet sooty sludge that cannot be walked on until it has had time to dry out. Unfortunately, the freezer and large second fridge both live in the shed, so I have had to dump old towels onto the floor to be able to walk back and forth to the house without treading in sooty footprints.

After a week when the kitchen cupboards were painted, and the flooring measured ready to order and have fitted, I am relieved that the boiler has been fixed too, allowing the possibility of actually having a ‘day off’ of household disruptions on Sunday.

And I found myself thinking, “That’s another job jobbed”.

Getting serious…

After yesterday’s lighthearted piece about mud, the torrential rain arrived late last night, as forecast. It has now been raining solidly for more than twelve hours here, and the whole place feels awash. The house has the impression of being surrounded by a moat, (not really) as water flows into the side entrance, and runs off the garden onto the patio. The gutters just cannot cope, so they overflow, adding to the deluge.

But there’s worse to come. Opening the large shed, we discovered it was flooded, up to a depth of almost two inches. Regular readers will remember that this has happened before, and it is always a real trial. This is a brick-based substantial building, added as an extension to the garage, by the previous owner. It is invaluable for storage, and we also have two freezers and a tumble-dryer installed out there. When the water seeps up through the ground onto the concrete floor, we face the possibility that the electrics will blow, and we will lose all the food, and the capacity to dry washing. Not to mention the cost of replacing three items of expensive electrical white goods.

The shed was built with a large concrete lip at the bottom of the door, to stop water getting in. This unfortunately works in the opposite direction too, meaning that all the excess water cannot be swept out. This leaves one weapon in my limited arsenal of water removal. Brushing the water into a dustpan, and flinging it out of the door. Each scoop is less than a cupful, so you can imagine how long it takes. Before attempting this, everything stored on the floor of the shed has to be moved outside. As it is still pouring with rain, this could not be done, so it all had to be dragged into the adjacent garage instead. This car-free zone, already full of the goods from two previous lives, is now at maximum capacity.

Once the deeper water is removed, I get to start on the worst part. This means getting onto the floor, with a selection of old towels, dustsheets, and anything else absorbent, and physically mopping the residue using the cloths. This is cold and wet of course, and hard on the knees. The sodden sheets and towels then have to be put straight into the washing machine, and spares placed around the base of the freezers and tumble-dryer. This is in the somewhat forlorn hope of stopping water getting underneath, if it floods for the second time later today.

The rest of this afternoon will be spent nervously inspecting the shed floor, and washing out all the soaked towels ready for the next time. Then later tonight, I will have trouble sleeping, anticipating the whole thing happening again tomorrow.

Country living. Ain’t life grand?

Back to normal

The good weather didn’t last after all. Much of the country has been hit by snowstorms. Airports are closed, trains are not running because of overdue engineering works, and we in Beetley were hit by a night of torrential rain, followed by hailstones at lunchtime. With one and a half days of the festive season still to run, life is pretty much back to normal.

As you might be aware, Norfolk is the driest county in England. That’s official. So you won’t be surprised to learn that we had a very bad flood in our shed again last night, caused by groundwater with nowhere else to go during the downpours. Wandering in there to get something this morning, I was shocked to discover 2-3 inches of freezing cold water sitting peacefully on the stone floor. It had seeped under the small freezer, but luckily was not high enough to short out the motor. The tumble drier was also safe, but my mood plummeted, as I knew that I had a big job on.

As this has happened before, I had made some precautionary defences, consisting of bundled-up dust sheets. They had been overwhelmed, and were sodden. Everything stored at floor level had to come out. The water cannot be brushed out, as there is a lip at the bottom of the door, to stop water getting in from outside. This stops me being able to brush it out from within. There’s an irony there somewhere that I don’t want to think about too much. Once the many items were removed and stored somewhere dry, (it was still raining…) I set about bailing out what water I could, using a dustpan. When this had achieved all it was going to, I then set to with towels. I used the towels that we normally use to dry the dog, then his blanket from the back of the car. These were nowhere near enough, and we had to resort to using our ‘reserve’ towels, ones that might be good enough for general use normally. We soon had a pile of grubby towels, drenched with freezing cold water. Julie started the long process of washing and drying them all, getting the first load into the machine.

I finished the job with paper towels, on my hands and knees, finally drying off the items that had been removed, before putting them back into the now very clean shed. Not for the first time, I considered that it might be better to demolish this building, and replace it with a boat of some sort. Trouble is, we would have a job getting the electrical items inside. After almost two hours of crawling around, kneeling in freezing water, on cold concrete, it was time to have a bath, and take Ollie for his walk. The meadow was a sea of mud; the small river had burst its banks, and was flowing like an Amazon tributary. The rear path was under water, so we had to head over to Hoe Rough, to make a decent walk of it. We found company with Oban and his owner, but much of the north side of the rough was under water too, so even walking over there was limited to the main paths.

I got back, pretty fed up, cold and damp, and pleased to be in.
I just thank my lucky stars that I live in such a dry county. It must be awful to live somewhere wet.

Ollie and The Mole

After another flirtation with fiction, I have decided to give it a much-needed rest, and return to what is actually happening!

When he was small, Ollie liked to dig in the garden. As he usually made holes in the lawn, we soon discouraged him from doing this, and made it clear that it would not be tolerated. Although he still rooted around for acorns, and other windfall of interest, he stopped digging completely, which was a great relief. After some heavy rain a while ago, he was let out for his usual late night excursion, just before we go to bed. He was let back in later, and trotted past as normal, rushing into the living room to see Julie. As I locked up, I suddenly noticed muddy paw prints on the tiled floor of the kitchen, and realised that this was a lot more than usual, even after some rain. I looked out of the back door, and switched on the outside light. Next to the shed, he had obviously been digging. This was not a normal dig, that you might expect a dog to indulge in, it was more like a trench, a substantial excavation.

The damage was considerable. It stretched for a length of two feet, and was at least a foot deep. We were angry with the dog. He was cleaned up, told off, and sent to bed. Luckily, the mud was able to be cleaned up easily enough, once it had dried. Sure enough, the next day, he was at it again. He came in from a trip to the garden, with mud caked on his paws, and in the large jowls that surround his mouth. No amount of chiding would stop him, it seemed. I was constantly cleaning him up, before going outside, to fill in the holes that he insisted on digging. There must have been a reason, surely? I couldn’t think of one. We had no mice in the shed, and there had been no sign of hedgehogs, or other animals that might cause Ollie to dig. We continued to tell him off, and to consign him to the shame of his bed.

After a few days, he had stopped the digging, so we felt vindicated. Leaving for a trip away, Ollie stayed with neighbours overnight. On our return, we discovered a large molehill next to the water butt. A day later, another appeared, two feet into the lawn. The mole damage originated near the shed, so it was plain to see that Ollie had detected the mole, hence his previous digging. After this revelation, we no longer felt justified in scolding him. After all, he was only trying to rid our garden of disruptive moles. They are still here. Notoriously difficult to discourage, I have decided to just live with them. Hopefully, Ollie will too.

A Windy Walk

Saturday didn’t start too well. On a routine trip to the shed, to get a fresh light bulb, I noticed that almost half of the floor was under water, once again. Presumably, the recent torrential rain has raised the level of the ground water, and it is finding its way inside, though it is impossible to work out how. This meant a complete evacuation of all the stuff stored out there, to gain access to the floor, so as to be able to ascertain the extent of the small flood. Sodden cardboard packaging had to be thrown out, and numerous things re-packaged, in plastic containers that will resist the worst of the water. Many items had to be found a place in the adjacent garage, which is now almost full, with only a narrow access passage left.

Once the space had been cleared, the mopping up process could begin, using any old towels, dust sheets, and paper. When the area was dry again, I resolved not to put anything back there that could be damaged, so a complete sort out was necessary. I know that this is insignificant, when compared to the devastation caused by severe floods in the South-West of the UK, but when it is in your shed, and causing a nuisance, it still seems like a big deal. After almost two hours of this chore, it was time to get ready to take Ollie out, for his later than usual walk. I decided to reward his patience, with a walk along the Wensum Way, to the back of the large pig farms, and around the plum orchards.

After ploughing through some muddy paths in Mill Lane, we emerged into the large area of open fields, home to a large plantation of recently pruned blackcurrant bushes. It was here that I discovered a new ‘enemy’ of the dog walker. Wind. Not a breeze, you understand, nor even something described as ‘blustery’, or ‘windy’. This was serious wind, a north-westerly coming at us like the back-draft of a jet engine. Flattening my long parka against my body, and whipping up stones and twigs, which clattered into and around me, as if hurled by some unseen poltergeist. Forward movement felt constrained, as if wading through deep water, and my eyes were soon streaming too. Turning my back for a brief respite, I felt that it would almost support my weight, if I leaned into it.

Ollie was oblivious, as he usually is. No extremes of weather ever seem to faze him, and his demeanour is the same, whether in torrential rain, or thick snow. If he noticed this wind, he certainly didn’t display any reaction to it, and carried on looking for rabbits, peeing up bushes, and trotting around, as if on a mission, only known to him. When he got thirsty, he took a drink from one of the pond-like puddles, and he ran on far ahead, sometimes looking back, to check that I was still there. When we reached the pigs, they sauntered over to the fence, no doubt hoping that I was a farm employee, bringing them more food. They all lined up to look directly at me, as their huge ears point forwards, and shade their peripheral vision, like blinkers on a horse.

When we finally arrived at Gingerbread Corner, I took the opportunity of a break. There is a large copse of tall trees, and they stop the wind from having the same effect that it enjoys across the open fields. Retracing the route towards home, I at least had the wind in my back, and this made walking much easier. I arrived home, pleased to be away from the constant buffeting. One hundred minutes seemed so much longer, when it was hard to hear yourself think, and each step felt like I was wearing diving boots. I am looking forward to a time of less extremes, ‘normal’ days, windy, or otherwise. The good walks will return, their time is just around the corner.

Little things mean a lot

I have said before, and no doubt will again, that I am no good at DIY. We all have our skills, and that is not one that has ever visited me. Recent events around the house, have highlighted both my own inadequacies, and that aspect of modern life, that seems to bear heavily on me more and more, as I grow older. Things that fail, and annoying things that happen, to be exact.

When life is going well, and everything is ticking along nicely, I am usually very happy. I rarely indulge in the sport of ‘what if?’, and almost never presume something will stop working, or fail to serve its purpose. Perhaps the one exception to this is electrical items, such as televisions, which I generally expect to be difficult to set up or to get working correctly. Oh, and flat-pack furniture, which we all have problems with at times.

No, the small things that escape your mind, that are always there, and rarely fail; they are the ones that know how to ambush you, when you are least expecting it.

I do believe in being prepared of course. When we moved here, we had the outdated heating system replaced, at considerable cost. This year, we had three flat roofs recovered, also at considerable cost. I have my car serviced, just in case, and the heating system also. We bought the best roof we could afford, with a twenty-year guarantee, just to be sure. We use accredited heating engineers, to ensure that we are not ripped off, with non-standard parts, or shoddy workmanship. Our life is lived by the old adage, that ‘you get what you pay for’. No point buying cheap, it won’t last, so is a false economy. Cheap cars have no resale value, cheap electrical goods break down, and when it comes to your house and home, it is never sensible to skimp. You live in it, and have to live with the consequences of neglecting it.

Earlier this week, I went out to the shed for something. This is no ordinary shed. It was built as an extension on the garage, by the previous owner. He built it solidly, with bricks, love, and quality materials. It was his workshop, his hideaway, and the place he best loved to be. For us, it has many uses, though mainly storage. It is dry, and has a solid floor; benches line the walls, and useful shelves are in abundance. There is good lighting, and numerous power sockets, all really useful. For a small building, its uses are endless, and its usefulness beyond dispute. On this occasion, I noticed some water on the floor. Further investigation revealed a fairly extensive area of standing water, covering about a quarter of the total area, and it was at least half an inch deep. (I don’t do metric, so you will have to guess) I started to remove the considerable amount of stored items, to look beyond them. Any packing boxes were soon found to be waterlogged, and falling apart. Paint tins, and other miscellaneous items, were standing in water, though it did not seem to have a point of origin, or be getting any worse. As it was fairly late, and raining heavily, I left it until the next day, to have a better look in natural light.

Luckily, it wasn’t raining the following morning. I began to remove all the stuff from the shed, storing it on the lawn, until I had a completely clear area of watery floor to examine. As there is no water supply, or water pipe in the building, I excluded that as a possible cause. I got some old towels, and a huge dust-sheet, and used them to mop up the water, getting soaked in the process, and constantly hitting my head, on the bench tables above. When there was no water left on the solid floor, I used paper towels to dry it completely, and began to examine the area in detail. There was nothing on the walls, or the ceiling. The interior was completely dry, giving no clue as to where it had come from. Stripping off all the items stored on the benches, I found that none of them were wet, or even damp. Likewise the tools and garden items hanging from hooks and nails, all dry as bones. I then changed my search area to the outside of the building, and the roof. I used a ladder to get up top, and found the new rubber roof to be dry, despite recent heavy rains, and completely intact. The exterior walls of the shed showed no signs of any undue dampness, and no obvious point where water could gain access to the inside. I repeated this whole process, just in case I had missed anything, and was then left with the job of re-installing all the items stacked outside, as I had nowhere else to put them. It took hours.

I was then left with a mystery worthy of Agatha Christie. How had it got in, and where was it coming from? Short of digging up the floor with a jackhammer, and almost rebuilding the thing, I was left with a shed with a secret. I now have to play detective. Not a glamorous role, I agree, as Shed Detective would never be something to capture the excitement of a reader, or viewer. The next time it rains heavily, I will have to sit on the floor of my shed, and await the arrival of a couple of litres of water, before trying to trace the source. I am sure you will agree, that is hardly a thrilling prospect.

If only that was all.

Having the heating system serviced as arranged, started with a small hitch. The man couldn’t come until after 5pm, due to a problem with his testing machinery. By that time, it was getting dark, and beginning to rain. We decided to update the thermostat, and the time controller, just to be ready for the expected bad winter. He serviced the outside boiler with no concerns, and then came inside, to replace the other items, including a new pump, which we decided to have fitted at the last minute, to have complete peace of mind. This all took a little longer than expected, so by 8pm, we had still not eaten, and he was in the process of tidying away. The boiler was then fired up, and pronounced to be working perfectly. Only it wasn’t. We have seven radiators, and a heated towel rail, that all run off this system. Only two were working. He turned off the hot water, to see if that helped. Then, the two that were working stopped doing so, and a different two began to heat up. He frantically ran around the different rooms, adjusting valves, releasing air, and feeling pipes. By now, it was nearly 9pm, and we were cold and hungry. He said that he might have to go into the loft, to examine tanks and pipes. This proved too much for our patience, and we asked him to come back another time, and do the job in daylight. He then announced that it was going to be difficult to solve, as he had never seen such a thing before, and it was a mystery.

Two mysteries in a few days, both affecting quite serious aspects of everyday life and comfort, weighed heavily on me for some reason, more so than would be considered reasonable. It started to really get me down, and I felt that I should have been able to locate the water source in the shed, and quickly find a solution to the recalcitrant heating system. So many other men ( and women) seem capable of sorting out these sorts of things, with a wave of the toolbox; but there I was, incapable of any practical input, devoid of any constructive plans, or ideas. Despite all the things I have tackled in my life, many of them stressful, unpleasant, and sometimes downright dangerous, I would have exchanged them all, for one evening of practical application, to be a Mr Fixit for one day. Those of you who can just do these things, and often actually enjoy them, you should look upon these skills with wonder.

You don’t know how lucky you are.