Tuesday, 7 December 2010


Life can sometimes hang on a thread. Cut one essential service and everything gets a bit tricky.

It was minus six out in my back garden last night with freezing fog. This morning the village was covered in a thick hoar frost that resembled a blanket of snow. At ten o’clock this morning it was still minus three and the creaky old boiler was struggling to cope. But then at four minutes past ten there was a few funny clicking noises and then the internet was lost. The desk lamp went out.

The electricity was off. The power cut was pretty widespread throughout Huntingdonshire – apparently a sub-station had gone down. That meant that the gas central heating was off too, controlled electronically and the hot water pumped electrically too.

Living in a sixteenth century thatched cottage can be a primitive affair as some of the walls are made from mud and sticks, wafer thin. Within an hour the temperature in the house was plunging towards single figures and found me in the garage filling the log basket with wood.

The wood burning stove was to be my saviour but it had not been lit this year and so before I could light it I needed to warm the incredibly cold air in the chimney – or it would sit there as a huge cold plug that would hold the smoke in the cottage. An old camping stove and  half a 250g gas canister did the job and sometime after midday I had a fire going. A quick check on the thermometer showed the sitting room to be at 11.5 deg C and my office upstairs at 9.3 deg C. My toes were numb with cold.

With the only heating in the house being in the sitting room and the computer as dead as a dodo, the house phone not working, there was nothing for it but to join the rest of the village in the pub. Lighting by candlelight, roaring fires and a pad of paper and a pencil acting as the till we kept a stiff upper lip. It was the Blitz Spirit.

With darkness enveloping the village I trudged through the freezing afternoon air back to the cottage. The temperature inside had climbed a few degrees to a giddy twelve or thirteen. But still no power until, magically at some time after four the lights flickered back on. Alas, the gas boiler did not.

In my freezing office, the internet was scanned for problems with boilers and heating control devices. Now I am not a practical man. Dishwashers defeat me. Washing machines are worrisome. I stare vacantly at broken Vacuum cleaners.

BUT NOT THIS TIME! I am a heating engineer extraordinaire! Pushing in the reset button on the controller and squeezing various slidey switches and clicking big red clicky buttons did the trick and a smidgeon over two hours of cussing and swearing and bruised knees on cold kitchen floor tiles meant that by 6:30 the old girl rumbled into life.

Watching Newsnight, my toes are only now coming back to life.


  1. I thought this post got a bit technical towards the end. I understood the bit about the pub. Thats what I would have done. Boilers leave me cold..... (coincidentally - arf arf!)

    Incidentally, we have thick snow that looks just like hoar frost...

  2. Alan, you are a householder after my own heart. Just today, I was defeated attempting to insert a storm window. We don't have pubs, though, so you're way ahead when disaster strikes.

  3. There are companies who specialise in dealing with this sort of crisis, you know.

  4. A triumph over adversity Alan. It sounded very much like Apollo 13, can we expect Tom Hanks to play you in the Spielberg movie..?

  5. It’s really nice to do something unexpected and out of the ordinary. Life gets boring otherwise.
    You can mate matey!

  6. Yesterday was just about as photogenic as I've ever seen our local parks and gardens. I'm torn between admiring the beauty, bemoaning the chaos and cursing the treachery of pavements and car parks.

    One of the windows on my car stuck fast last week; it had slipped off the guide mechanism. Naturally it was jammed in the open position and felt the need to do this in December, rather than June or July.

  7. Did you get a certificate, having got through this Survival Course?

  8. Mike: I thought it was getting a bit technical at the end as well. My sore knees and freezing tootsies were having right pop at those nice chaps at the electricity company.

    Mark: What in heaven's name is a storm window? Do the storms over there go about breaking windows? You really ought to have a bit of a cat with them. And: What sort of nation is it that doesn't have a village pub? I thought our colonial cousins were to be the envy of the world? Not any more, oh No! No Pubs? A shambolic affair Sir!

    OM: You are right you know... I could have rung one such business - I have his mobile number, you know...

    Ken: Tom Hanks... Tom Hanks? Isn't there anyone more handsome than Tom Hanks?

    Alan: "It’s really nice to do something unexpected..." Harrumph!

    Byways: "One of the windows on my car stuck fast last week; it had slipped off the guide mechanism. Naturally it was jammed in the open position and felt the need to do this in December," You have been ignoring the wants and needs of your motoring chum. Think of it as a cry for help. Give the old girl a cuddle and a decent service.

    Laura: Brrr indeed! The cottage is now getting warm again. It bleeds heat...

    Martin: I will add it to the list of my competencies and perhaps design an appropriate certificate myself. Now then, what was the other thing I did that went well.... No... It's gone.

  9. I always find pushing the Big Red Button does the trick, unless of course the thing with the button is working just fine, when it usually stops it irrevocably.

    Anyway, -6. Pah! Tha were lucky. It were -11 when I got int car, t'other morning and -18 last night int Derbyshire, sithee, bye eck lad ;¬)

  10. Aye Tony: It's grim up north... Yes, I did the red button thing first and that really screwed it up (I think - I am not sure what I actually did that was correct - so when it next happens I shall inevitably have to go through over two hours of trial & error again...)

  11. When all else fails just press the big red button and slide the slidey switches - always works for me.

  12. The pub was a very good alternative!

    But this is why all the winter gear is needed - just in case the central heating goes off, you can test your winter sleeping bag in your very own bed... :-)

  13. Thank you Trevor. I shall give you a call next time it all goes tits-up. A man of wisdom and fine bicycles.

    Maria - I think I quite fancy some of those rather nice PHD Minimus Down Socks to keep my permanently cold toes a bit warmer! Fortunately, the electricity was restored and so the electric blanket worked its magic.

  14. Sorry, your post, detailed as it was, did not address the essential question - why did you leave the pub? Presumably it was warm & cosy with an ample supply of food, ale and good cheer. I'm confused...

  15. Hello Maz & Welcome. Alas the pub was suffering from the same situation as my own - Kitchen not working. I had been there quite some time and had been enjoying their liquid hospitality to the full. I needed to get back to feed the wood burner as I was worried it might be going out leaving me to get a freezing cold house back up to temperature again...

    The joys of modern civilisation, eh?

  16. It all sounds very exciting! Hope all is warm now.

  17. Rach - If sore knees, numb fingers, toes and nose is having fun.... Well, the Doom Bar did deaden the pain for a while I suppose.

    The cottage is nice and cosy now, thank you!

  18. Hard to live without the internet now daze.

  19. Hard to live without the internet now daze.

  20. As I sat sitting reading your post, the lady at the heating engineers company rang to make an appointment to fit my boiler with new bellows. Oo er Mrs! Yes please, tomorrow lunch time is perfick.
    Only been waiting two weeks, but fortunately not in the cold. We found if we left the heating on instead of timed, the boiler struggled on and kept us warm. Yey! Could have been a tad chilly otherwise...

  21. Louise: "the new bellows" I had no idea a boiler had bellows... Oh God - something else to go wrong!

    Sounds like it could have been an absolute disaster up there in the tundra!


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