When the time came for me to rewire my house, I discovered I had been living in a death trap for eighteen years.
Every day and each trip into the attic brought a fresh new nightmare to unpick.
I’ll start with the obvious: there was no earthing in the shower room. The live and neutral were secured in large termination blocks, wrapped up in super-sticky, slightly melted electrical tape. And for a room with a regular coupling together of electricity, water and steam, this was beyond dangerous.
The cooker cable was covered in melted insulation beads from the wall cavity. It was in three pieces: the first, in four millimetre cable, melted the insulation around it before reaching a junction box and the second length, which had changed inexplicably to six millimetre and a very real feeling of impending doom; another junction box and the third length appeared, back to four millimetre, and let confusion reign.
One length of socket cable was coated in paper sheathing. I don’t know when they discontinued paper sheathing but I’ll guess it was pre-War. I found it in 2013.
There were forty-seven junction boxes in the attic. This smacks of an indecisive electrician, an enthusiastic if clueless DIYer, or a regularly growing house.
A cable in the kitchen had been swan-necked around the corner of a worktop, just barely concealed under a paper thin coating of plaster. It was hideous.
There was a working cable on the living room ring main which had a four millimetre drill hole in it. That should not have been possible. I pulled out the cable with a mixture of laughter, sweat patches and tears.
There was a security light on the edge of the conservatory which was powered via a socket inside the sun room. The security light had no earth and was fitted with the wrong size fuse.
When I removed that sucker, I had to put my whole weight on the security bracket to loosen the rust, got bitten by a horsefly and retired to the Legion. A large bump had come up on the side of my neck and I don’t enjoy doctor’s appointments.
Several incarnations of receptionist have shown rather more interest in why I want to see the doctor than I have felt is particularly reasonable without at least one dinner date. Besides which, unless the receptionist is a doctor, she doesn’t have the stones to tell me what’s wrong with me.
The other difficulty with seeing my doctor is I’m friendly with his wife, so with any appointment, I’m immediately on the back-foot. I am clearly not there for a social visit, but I feel bad for not bringing wine.
No, if a bump comes up on my neck, I go to the Legion. We have a former Army dentist as our Treasurer: Fred can tell me what it is. And he did. Lymph node. Possible reaction to a bite or infection. Damn horse fly.
Worries allayed and fears repressed, I went back to ripping down the rusted security light.
It should have been a warning, some years back, when I knocked down the crazy-paving fireplace and found a length of dead cable strung from one side of the hearth to the other, sealed at either end with a clump of blu-tac.
This is why we never had a real fire. My dad put his hand up underneath the front piece, felt the cable, and decided an authentic country fireplace might create an insurance claim. Of course, he didn’t say it that way. My mother would have found someone to blame and written a strongly worded letter.
He said we would need to get the chimney swept and that would mean finding someone reliable, and we were in a new area, unfamiliar with anyone, so that could take a while.
The reddish-brown, crazy-paving, with varnished stone was very seventies. It certainly suited a little bungalow with an avocado bathroom suite, and brown flowers on the kitchen tiles.
The fireplace fascia stretched from floor to ceiling in shades of shite, and boxed out the room left and right with a mini bar and television spot. My dad knocked out the left and right before we had even unpacked. I suppose it was then that my dad felt the cable, and decided not to rip down the whole of the mighty edifice. He simply reduced it down to mantelpiece height, and left the slighty grotty mess below in order to prevent tearing out a potentially-working cable.
As it happened the cable was definitely disconnected, but my dad would not tinker with electricals. He had a healthy respect for anything invisible which could kill people.
Some years later, I, as a newly trained and fully equipped electrician, set my voltage detector on the cable, found it to be dead as disco and started imagining a sitting room without a great, hulking disappointment in the middle of the wall.
When my friends started having babies, and toddling was not far off, I decided that the children might think the fireplace was something to climb. All babies are potential conquerors and I was uncertain what sort of weight the fireplace could take.
I slipped a chisel behind a corner stone. I hadn’t expected it to fit. It did, quite readily. I ran through to the bedroom and grabbed my duvet. I laid it out below the stones, hopeful of protecting the parquet.
A tiny wiggle. Nothing much. I’ve put more effort into opening a can of tuna. One little wiggle and the whole thing came down. In one piece.
It was ten at night and my neighbours, in their eighties, heard the bang. I had dents in my wooden floor, but I hadn’t been decimated. They were pleased not to have to come up with a workable alibi beyond watching ‘Jonathan Creek’, and hung up.
In the course of my correcting the electrical system in my house, I discovered a biscuit tin in the bedroom wall.
Of course, I had hoped it contained several thousand doubloons and a sniff of a life in Holland Park. Sadly not, it was covering an old air vent, nothing more.
Now, dear reader, the time has come to tell you: if you have read every post in this blog, you have absorbed 65,000 Words of Bin. In effect, you have read a book by me.
I suspect it’s just you and me, Stephen, but I thank you.