This morning, I made a cardinal mistake. A mistake I’ve been avoiding for three years. A rookie mistake. A schoolgirl error.
I tried to run the toaster and the kettle at the same time as the water heater and the computers.
I tripped the whole system.
I’m used to this from my dad’s house. I was always tripping things there. Luckily, he has an actual trip box. I’m familiar with trip boxes. I had a trip box in Manchester, and if something blew, sometimes the trip switch would pop and I’d have to go and press it down again. No big deal.
But here, I don’t take elastic-trickery for granted quite so much. No, electricity is something intermittent and a little haphazard, especially in my house. My house seems to have been wired by a man who was practical, not scared of electricity, yet someone who wanted to leave something of a conundrum to future householders. The ‘fusebox’ is not actually a fuse box, in that it has no real fuses in it. It has little bits of wire and old-fashioned fuse-wire, and it has one of those little handles that look like a miniature one of what Dr. Frankenstein pulls before his monster is brought to life.
To be honest, I’m used to a little blasé attitude about electricity. Ever since I saw the exposed element in the first Brazilian shower I encountered, I realised that not everybody feels the same worry or concern about electricity as we Brits do. I thought that little exposed element in the shower-head was a little silly. Nobody mixes electricity and water. And after the first few showers I experienced, I solved my worries by showering in my flip-flops. Worries over.
Obviously, the previous occupant here felt much the same way. Need electric somewhere? Find a wire, add a little junction box, attach a wire, put a plug socket on the end. Job done.
The only thing is that this seems to have been pretty organic. He put in wires and took them out as he saw fit. I say ‘he’ because I’m pretty damn sure no woman I know would do a thing like this. Electricity is man stuff. So some electric comes into my house. Some wires come out of strange boxes. They link up to other strange boxes. They go up into the attic space. They come down into the house. They run along the ceiling. They run across walls. They go back up into the attic space. They come down again somewhere else. I’m pretty sure I’ve got three or four different types of plug socket as well.
This is the house, after all, where the previous occupant felt nothing about running wires across to the barn and down fifty metres to the little cabin. If you want electric, you can have electric. It’s not pretty but it works.
Anyhow, about three months after The Man, The Boy and I had been here in permanence, the house blew something somewhere. The Man spent the afternoon looking, and when it couldn’t be found, we decamped to my Dad’s until the next day when we could see again. He did a good search in the attic, rooted around in holes, found new rooms, looked over the junction boxes and found the source of the problem. A switch in my en-suite bathroom. En-suite bathroom is a euphemism for a toilet, a sink that doesn’t work and some kind of ‘wet room’ shower. And yes, several plugs, light switches and so on. Water and electric in a happy, if not particularly stable, marriage. Finally, he found the switch after tracing every single wire through every single wall. An en-suite bathroom might seem like a strange place to put a switch, but once we knew it was there, that was fine. I’d long got used to the fact that this little switch meant that electricity came into the house, went through my bedroom and The Boy’s bedroom, into the living room and the boot room and then the kitchen and then the dining room. The toilet, the bathroom, the secret tunnel, the freezer and the generator in the secret boiler room, they were all on a different circuit. Good way to tell if there’s a power cut, because the freezer still works but my computer doesn’t.
Still with me?
It gets more complicated!
But today, I blithely decided toast might be nice at the same time as my tea. The toaster popped, the kettle stopped, the lights went out. Ho-hum, I thought. I buttered my toast and sat down. You can’t let good toast go to waste. I was going to boil a pan of water for my morning tea, but I knew as soon as I saw that one last match in the last box of matches that it was destined not to be. I struck the match. It broke in half and died. No tea for me.
Then I checked. Freezer working, computer not. Therefore, power coming in. I checked the switch in the little bathroom. Set to red. Now, you and I might think red means off. It doesn’t. It means go. And green means it’s off. It was okay.
So what’s a girl to do when everything is saying she should have electricity, but she doesn’t?
She calls her father.
If it makes you feel any better, I’d have called my mum if she lived within help distance. My mum’s practical. She knows stuff.
In order to call my dad, however, I had to get the phone work. No elastic-trickery, no phone. Bah. I ran an extension cable from the one remaining working socket in the house – in the bathroom – down through the lean-to and into the house. I plugged in the computer and the livebox. All systems go.
Father was out.
I waited and then called again.
“Da-aad (this is a special voice that women reserve for their fathers when they need something) I’ve got an electricity crisis.” I like to warn The Father about the type of crisis so he’s prepared and he doesn’t think I’ve killed someone. One day I might have to start a call with “Da-aad, I’ve got a little legal crisis…”
And over The Father came. I’d given him all The Man’s helpful illustrations and said what I thought the problem was – the switch in the little bathroom. The Father is a man who likes to investigate all the issues before finding a solution, so he looked at the whole frightening thing. He even flicked the Frankenstein switch. Nothing happened, except three lights went out in the secret passageway. The freezer was still running. Thus, I learned that the freezer is on a completely different circuit altogether. You live and learn.
Anyway, he fixed it with a piece of fuse wire wrapped around two screw things. An easy job, he said, after he’d got to the bottom of it. Not a job I’d feel happy doing myself, though.
And now the elastic-trickery works once again. It’s quite frankly a hideous and ugly arrangement, but it works.
As long as I don’t want toast and tea at the same time, that is….