May 10, 2008 – 10:31 am
We’ve had problems with the electricity since we first moved into this place a couple of months back. First, a couple of the lights didn’t work, and so we changed the bulbs – and those new ones immediately popped as soon as we turned on the switch.
Then the washing machine blew up, and the landlord had to replace it. The repairman who’d been called in to make the diagnosis pointed to the fact that the wiring was dodgy. There was no earth and no fuse in the plug that connected the machine to the multi-point extension lead that was sitting in the puddle behind the dishwasher.
And when we finally figured out why the dishwasher wasn’t working (it wasn’t plugged in), we were overjoyed to start using it, but less pleased when we kept getting electric shocks putting metal pot lids in the rack. So we finally convinced the landlord to call an electrician.
The electrician from British Gas (that’s privatisation for you) had a sort of magic wand thing, which buzzed and lit up whenever it was near something live and electrical. Like a power socket that was plugged in. Or our water pipes. Or the outside metal bits of our whiteware.
She made concerned noises, then completely unplugged the house, wrote a report and called Central Services (which, of course, immediately put me in mind of the film Brazil). She was not going to be able to do anything else until the Central Services team had done their job.
You see, there’s a measurement that they take of the ‘earth coming into the house’ (I didn’t understand that phrase either). She measured ours. It’s supposed to be around 0.6. Ours was over 8. This, it seems, is classified as an emergency.
An hour or so later, a second electrician from Central Services came out to look at the problem. He poked around at the fuse box, checked the wiring and said – it’s okay here… I think this is a problem back at the bit where it connects to the grid. I’ll call my supervisor, and they’ll get someone else out. It’ll be today. This is an emergency.
The third electrician came and poked around and declared that the problem was not at the connection, but instead lay in the bit underneath the driveway where the earth should connect up. It’s buried deep. There will be some digging. We’ll probably have to rip up your garage floor. The workmen with their jackhammers, diggers and bulldozers will be here later this afternoon. This is an emergency.
By five o’clock, our house was a construction site. The floor of our garage did indeed have to be ripped up, and a hole the size and depth of a grave had to be dug in order to re-earth the electricity for us, and also for our neighbours who shared that earthing connection, but had not yet become aware of their imminent mortal peril.
There was a moment of high comedy after they’d finished digging the grave just inside the garage, when the workmen realised that they had entirely missed what they’d been aiming for, so they got out the cable finding device again, marked where they were actually supposed to dig — just outside the garage — and had another go.
A couple of hours later, when the work had been done, and the pile of dirt was mostly sitting on the grass verge out the front, we put the kettle on and made a cuppa for the workmen. There were stories about football and brothers-in-law.
The two holes remain, as do the bright orange danger barriers around them. There’s another team that comes and fills them in. That’s not an emergency. And it turns out you can’t just put the same dirt back down. Apparently, once it’s up, it’s considered ‘contaminated’, and so they come back with stones and sand and concrete mixers. Wonder when that will be.
The team whose job it was to collect the big pile of dirt turned up just after midnight with their machines. Probably so as not to disrupt traffic, but the trade-off was significant after-hours noise in a quiet suburban street.
This morning, I made myself a cup of coffee, safe in the knowledge that it was not an act of daring to do so. We still can’t use the washing machine or the dishwasher, of course – the first electrician needs to come back and fix the wiring in that little corner of the world, but at least we can have lightbulbs in the bedrooms now.
It’s compulsory for landlords to have safety inspections on the gas. Not that all of our previous landlords did – one tried to kill us with a carbon monoxide leak, but was foiled by the bloody great hole in the roof. But it’s not compulsory for landlords to get safety inspections on the electricity.
Seems like it would be a good idea.