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Corona Diaries: I didn’t love our fridge until it went dark

June 7, 2020

About ten years ago, via a rather circuitous route, we acquired one of those leviathans commonly known as an American fridge freezer.

This device, of a size beloved in the United States, where people believe in provisioning for a siege, still sits, grey and squat, in our kitchen. These days, I guess, many people have them. But it still feels very American, like a Buick or a Chevrolet, or one of those outrageously large SUVs – a Hummer perhaps – whereas the average British fridge used to be the equivalent of a Ford Anglia.

Another difference between it and British fridges – or rather the fridges that the British buy, because we don’t make much in this country anymore – is that it’s still going strong. These days, if you buy a fridge, a washing machine or just about any other kind of domestic appliance, the expectation is that you’ll only get about three years out of it before it starts to fail. Or more likely before it falls over completely, and it’s then cheaper to buy a new device rather than to call out an engineer. Which is why, if you go to the municipal waste dump, you will find skyscrapers of discarded white goods.

But Old Glory, as I’ve started to call our fridge, just keeps going on and on. One these quiet lockdown mornings, there are only two sounds to be heard. The birds, and Old Glory whirring away with a pot pourri of electrical noises that make no sense other than to remind us that he’s still working. Most of the time I filter the sound out, just as I manage to blank out the tinnitus that has afflicted me for decades since my youthful joust with the music business. But he’s still there, still producing a strange knocking sound as he tries to produce ice that we never use. And we don’t notice.

We’ve taken him for granted over the years, just as most of us assumed that our parents were immortal until, somewhere between our thirties and fifties, we discovered otherwise.

Old Glory’s moment of mortality came a few days ago. When I opened the door of the fridge compartment, the light didn’t come on. In a panic, I thought that the whole device had packed in. But no, the freezer bit was still OK, and after a few hours of waiting for the fridge to start warming up, it appeared to be working too. So most likely it was just the light bulb. But just in case, we moved another fridge from the garage to act as a standby, and loaded all the easily perishable stuff into it while we sorted the problem.

That was easier said than done. According to the helpline, there was a £120 minimum charge from an engineer, but we might have had to wait a while, because most of their engineers are on furlough. Or otherwise, we might want to take out a one-year warranty service for £260. Or we could try and change the light bulb ourselves, but with no guarantee that this would solve the problem.

We waited for a couple of days, during which I learned something about fridges. A dark fridge is a gloomy and disturbing place. Full of stuff that’s difficult to find, nondescript and not particularly appetising. Whereas when the light comes on everything looks shiny and inviting. Even last night’s leftovers look relatively appealing, whereas in the dark they look like amorphous and threatening. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why, in the days before fridges, when people relied on dark, unlit pantries, they didn’t eat as much as us.

Be that as it may, in a period when communal meals form a centrepiece of the day, to be discussed and planned for, rather than a necessary but inconsequential punctuation between more important activities, the fridge goes up a few notches in social importance.

Even though a failed light bulb is pretty unimportant in the big scheme of things, and something we could live with forever if necessary, it bothered the hell out of me. My spirits dropped every time I opened the door and fumbled around to find something that would normally be visible in an instant.

On the advice of a helpline person who works from home in Cornwall (lucky chap), we figured out how to change the light bulb. It required my wife to insert half of her body into the fridge, but with her guiding and me unscrewing the shield, we managed to remove it. And, sure enough, it was indeed broken.

We ordered a replacement bulb online for £8, and by some miracle it arrived the next day. And so, quickly, simply, easily, light was restored, along with my spirits.

If you think that what follows next is some profound observation on how the lockdown changes our perception of small inconveniences, I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed.

But the episode does tell me what an eejit I was even to contemplate spending a hundred and twenty quid to get someone to enter our house and change a light bulb in the middle of a pandemic, how fortunate we are to have the resources to do just that, and that our sturdier forbears must be laughing from the heavens at my lack of resilience.

At the same time, it also goes some way towards explaining why, at the height of the PPE panic, our government was prepared to award a contract for £108 millions’ worth of PPE to a pest control equipment supplier with assets worth less than the average family car.

In abnormal times the normal rules fly out of the window. Thank goodness that in my case, my eminently practical wife was around to bring me back to my senses.

And now that the light is restored, I have a new appreciation of our fridge. Can’t say the same about our government, though, because things are still pretty murky outside.

From → Politics, Social, UK

  1. Ha ha.

  2. deborah a moggio permalink

    a much needed giggle, and reminder that all things, even slight setbacks, look monumental now, but need not accepted as such. We can overcome; we can step back and put them in perspective.

  3. deborah a moggio permalink

    am suffering at the moment from fridge envy, looking at yours. No way it would fit in my kitchen. Actually, my fridge is fine, it’s the freezer that is too small.
    I’d love to have a small freezer in the basement, but at the moment, they are unavailable. Not to mention the kind I would want seems not to exist.
    I remember Brit fridges with warmth (pardon the mix) from the summer my husband, son and I spent there in housing related to one of the universities. It was an old police barracks I believe.
    The first day after we got there, my (now ex-)husband walked to Smithfield, went around all the whole place, finally decided on a vendor and asked for beef. When asked how much, he held out his hands, this wide by this deep by this high– the approximate dimensions of the freezer.
    The next week when he returned for more victuals, the vendor called out, “here comes the square Yank!”

    • Ha – great story! We used to have a chest freezer, so beloved of Hollywood, but not enough room for a body, I’m glad to say. It probably would have accommodated your Smithfield haul, though.

      • No doubt that is true, including a few things that you wouldn’t want people learning how to do….

  4. Andrew Robinson permalink

    My son has taught us that there is a video on how to do EVERYTHING on YouTube….

  5. Margaret Richardson permalink

    Steve, I now can’t get that imagine of half of Paula’s body in the fridge! 😊

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