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Chernobyl in the garage? Mustn’t grumble…we’re British

December 23, 2018

Six days ago, early in the morning, our house was attacked by a phantom intruder with a baseball bat. At least it sounded like that. A furious banging and crashing broke out as I sat innocently downstairs catching up with Trump’s daily shenanigans and the latest in our government’s slow political suicide.

Before I could recover from my surprise and grab the family Uzi (actually, my weapon of last resort is the leg of a long-demolished coffee table), the noise stopped. After checking that there was no intruder and none of my family members had gone berserk, I next considered the possibility that the culprit might be a herd of angry super-squirrels in the attic.

I finally found the answer when I discovered that the central heating pump was dead, and that the boiler had done a Chernobyl. Which was strange, because the damned thing was only serviced two months ago.

Since we have emergency household insurance, my wife called the company, and the first of many plumbers was summoned. Said plumber reported that the guy who did the annual service had not made a key check on the boiler, with the result that the top had blown off. Had the pump not failed and we continued to use the boiler, the entire house would have filled with carbon monoxide in short order. The dog and random domestic insects would have gone first, followed by us.

The next little problem was that the immersion heater that was supposed to warm up the water tank when the boiler died had itself failed, perhaps as a consequence of all the other bits crashing and burning.

So here we were, in the deep midwinter, no heating except for a couple of blowers kept for such emergencies, and no hot water. Six days before Christmas.

As I write this, we still have no heating, but this afternoon a modicum of civilisation was restored when the immersion heater was fixed. A shower at last. Between then and now, my wife has been on the phone to the insurance company and any number of plumbers and electricians for at least six hours a day. Wires to be uncrossed, mix-ups at the insurers’ end to be unmixed, and constant chivying for approvals for this that and the other bit of work.

On Monday, Christmas Eve, we are due to have a new boiler and a new pump installed. Assuming they’ve been sourced by those have undertaken to do so and have been installed in the right order, there’s a chance we might have heating by Christmas Day. If not, six of us, including our eleven-month-old grandson, will be huddling around our fairly ineffective wood fire. Oh, and warmed by the heat of the oven.

Not that I’m complaining. At least we have a home, central heating, hot water and all the other stuff we take for granted, even if some bits aren’t working at the moment. Many people don’t. Perhaps these crises are sent to remind us how lucky we are.

Be that as it may, every difficulty is a learning experience, unless, of course, you happen to be Donald Trump. And I have learned several things over the past few days:

Central heating boilers are malevolent entities. They choose the worst times to break down, such as when you have a baby in the house suffering from gastric flu.

Insurance companies do everything they can to avoid spending money on you. They obfuscate, fail to pass information on to their colleagues and make it obscenely difficult for you to contact them. Hardly news, but good to be reminded every time you’re thinking of taking out another useless policy.

Some plumbers take great delight in blaming other plumbers for the quality of their work. When it comes to fixing stuff, they specialise in the sharp intake of breath, followed by a litany of things they need to do. The heroes are those who call out the bullshit and get the job done with a minimum of fuss.

The “music” the insurance companies play when you’re waiting for them to pick up the phone is designed to drive you insane, or at least to abandon the call. If you’ve sat for an hour at the teacup ride in EuroDisney waiting for your spouse to return with daughter (before there were mobile phones) and listening to It’s a Small, Small World on a perpetual loop you will know what I’m talking about.

Washing with cold water is quite invigorating. Not as exciting as swimming in the Serpentine on Christmas Day, but definitely good for the soul. Which is just as well, considering that not one of the twenty people who came to a party we hosted last week offered us the use of their facilities. Clearly we didn’t appear sufficiently distressed, nor were we obviously malodorous.

You don’t need a shower every day, every second day or even every week – something I’d forgotten since my days as a student living in freezing houses. You just wash in the right places and claim a virtue out of necessity.

Three electrician visits and eight plumbers later, I’m left with the sense that if our little problem was the result of divine intervention, the motive was unlikely to be to punish us for our affluent complacency.

Rather, I suspect that the Supreme Entity Who is Neither Man nor Woman (according to the Archbishop of Canterbury) is preparing us for a no-deal Brexit. For a time in a future when you can’t get a boiler or a pump for love nor money because the supply chain has broken down; even if you could, there will be no Poles or Bulgarians available to deliver it to you. And when you ring the insurance company to complain, you will be grateful that an Indian, Irish or South African voice answers you from far away, because there won’t be enough Brits trained up to staff the UK call centres.

But hey ho, we will have had our taste of the Brexit experience in advance. We’re telling each other that we mustn’t grumble, that we must keep calm and carry on and all that jazz.

Our minor inconveniences serve to remind me that we’re not sleeping on the streets or living under canvas in a Greek refugee camp. Not only that, but for all our problems, present and soon to come, we’re incredibly lucky we are to be living in this country at this time. After all, a hundred years ago Britain was grieving for its war dead and burying flu victims in their thousands.

No, we mustn’t grumble. On that note I wish everyone kind enough to follow this blog, regardless of faith and political belief, a very happy Christmas.

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