Things I never expected to buy

In between my draft posts that I have been putting up lately, this thought occurred to me, and generated a post that is not about films, for a change.

When I was younger, and living in the biggest city in Britain, there were certain things that were never really thought about. Things that I never expected to own, let alone have to buy at some stage. Moving to the countryside, and of course getting older at the same time, changed the everyday requirements of living, especially where clothing and footwear was concerned. Living in a place that is always much colder than London also brought about changes, and I recently had cause to consider some of the things I now own, that I had never imagined I would.

For most of my life, I had never possessed a ladder. When I had a house, I would pay someone else to clean the windows, make repairs to the roof, or paint where necessary. If I needed to get into a loft, I would stand on a stool or chair, and haul myself up through the hatch. For routine jobs, I had some small steps, allowing me to get up high enough to change a light bulb, or paint a ceiling. Once I moved to flats instead, routine maintenance was always done by someone else, provided by landlords. When I came to Norfolk to live in a bungalow, I didn’t need a ladder to clean windows, which are all at ground level. But I discovered that I also had to clear leaves from gutters, and that I could no longer physically drag myself up into the loft. So the ladder was purchased, and is now used all the time.

Houses and flats in cities are rarely that cold. The close proximity of other buildings and efficient central heating ensures that bedtime is rarely a chilly experience. But out here, our house is detached, touching no other buildings. All four walls are exposed to the elements, and the outside temperature is normally some five degrees less than it would be in London anyway. So we had to buy a much thicker duvet. For the first time, I now own a fifteen-tog heavyweight duvet, which is the minimum winter weight required, to feel cosy in bed.

I had never needed rubber boots, called Wellingtons here. The small city gardens of my past were easily managed without them, and even walking dogs I used to own was done on paved areas, or in manicured parks. We would rarely venture into the countryside on wet days, or in winter, so I was sixty years old before I realised that I would have to buy such boots, and have to wear them almost every day for six months of the year too. Not only that, I learned that I would have to have more than one pair. Lightweight ones for the spring rains, and heavy-duty lined ones for all of the winter. Then I had to get something called a boot-bag, for taking them out with me in the car.

The first bad winter here also made me worry about being stranded in the car. So I bought a tiny shovel, which I was sure would be needed at some stage. It never was though, so it was removed from the car and now hangs in the shed, looking as good as new. That set a trend for buying items that have yet to be used. With no gas in Beetley, we bought a portable gas-canister cooker, in case the electricity failed. Then added a hand lantern, for the same reason. All this new stuff had to be stored somewhere, so the useful shed outside became chock-full of ‘essential items’ that do little more than occupy space on shelves. A leaf-blower that just blew leaves around, but I still had to bend down to pick them up. A rough saw for trimming trees, that I then discovered I wasn’t allowed to cut.

I won’t bore you further with the list of white elephants that I had never thought I would need, and in most cases didn’t. But if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, think carefully about what you need, and what you buy.


Beetley’s cleanest oven

Cleaning the oven is always one of my most-hated chores. I have gone so far as to post on here before about just how much I hate doing it. Soaking the racks, trying to get off the burnt-on bits, then struggling on the floor to reach past the pull-down doors to get right inside. Always amazed by just how much grease and grime can be deposited, just by cooking for two, and using very little oil or grease in the process.

The harsh chemicals require the wearing of gloves, or they will strip the skin off your hands and arms. Trying to use non-chemical methods, like baking powder and vinegar, resulted in an awful congealed mess. So much for the You Tube videos that made that look so easy! Buying special ‘cleaning bags’ to soak the racks in still left me having to scour them afterwards, and trying to scoop all the cleaning foam out of the oven means a double clean, as the floor tiles always get covered, no matter what I put down to avoid it.

Modern fan-assisted ovens may cook evenly, but they also manage to make the ovens even dirtier. When we bought our new oven in 2011, I was pleased to read that it had a ‘self-cleaning’ feature. According to the instruction book, all I had to do was to turn the heat to maximum, and let it run for one hour. That would carbonise the residue, which could then just be ‘swept out with a brush’. Yeah right, like that actually happened. All it succeeded in doing was to bake everything on twice as hard, and make it even harder to get off. Thanks for that tip, Mr Neff Ovens!

Late last year, my vertigo made bending forward into those ovens so difficult, I had to admit defeat. After wobbling around on the floor for an hour feeling dizzy, I had to leave the job half-done. Fast-forward to Christmas, 2017. Lots of extra cooking. Roasting a turkey, roasting legs of lamb. Extra roast vegetables, and numerous dinners for guests. By the 2nd of January, the oven looked like a war zone, and was beginning to give off an unpleasant smell when in use. Even the powerful extractor fan above the hob couldn’t cope. I changed the filters, and cleaned it a bit, as best as I could. But I knew that I had to bite the bullet, and surrender to the inevitable.

Today, two young men arrived, from a local company that specialises in cleaning ovens. They dismantled the doors, and removed all the fittings too. With their own special (and no doubt secret) formula, they set to work cleaning both ovens, and all the racks. I popped into the kitchen occasionally to check on the progress, and could see them applying the best cleaner of all. Elbow grease, and hard work. Small scrapers fitted with razor blades were doing the main job, and they had some scourers that looked like they could scrape the scales from a crocodile’s back. The racks had been taken outside to be soaked in another magical solution, and returned looking as good as new. I could even see through the glass doors at the front of each oven, and the blown bulb inside had also been replaced.

Even allowing for their expertise, the job took almost three hours, and was not cheap. But it was money well spent, to free me from the worst job on the domestic schedule, and leave us with perhaps the cleanest oven in Beetley.

At least for today.

Our TV aerial: The conclusion

I know that you have all been waiting with bated breath to hear the outcome of the missing TV signal, here in Beetley. (Go on, admit it, you have!)

So, if only for my electronic diary, and even if nobody else ever reads it, this is what happened.

The aerial man came at around 2 pm, as arranged. He brought with him an impressively large shiny new pole, and some fresh cable too. We both examined the loft space, and soon found the interior connection that he had to drill through to. Using a drill as long as my arm, he went into the outer wall with ease, until he struck some wood from the inner roof fixings. Undeterred, he carried on, moving the aerial a good ten feet to the west, away from the encroaching tree branches. I made him a cup of tea, and we had a chat. It turned out that he was originally from a part of south-east London that I knew well. In fact, I used to live there at one time. We swapped stories as he had his tea, and then he got back to work. I was reassured, as he had been installing TV equipment since 1966, so knew his stuff.

The exterior aerial looked good on its shiny new post. He bolted it firmly into place, then ran the cable into the hole he had drilled through into the loft. Although it turned out that he had also drilled through a wooden joist, that was not an issue. It was soon connected, and his meter showed that it had a good signal too. We went back to the living room, and re-tuned the digital receiver. Not all of the TV channels appeared, and some that did were breaking up. What could be the problem?

There was some head-scratching, but he was onto a solution. Perhaps it was the socket where the cable ran from the wall into the PVR? That was duly changed, and we did another re-tune. A little better, but still missing some ten of the possible eighty-eight channels. (Most of which we never watch, by the way.) After the previous one was removed, it was decided that it was indeed very old, possibly a 1989 vintage. It was a little faulty on inspection, in that the pin on the co-axial cable was a little corroded, and slightly bent.

I wondered if such a minor aberration could cause so many problems, and I was assured that it could.

With the new socket placed on the wall, we attempted another re-tune, the third in less than two hours. He looked happy, I told him that I was guarded, and a little pessimistic. Still quite a few channels missing, we discovered. His last resort was to change the cable running between the wall socket and the PVR. He went out to his van to get one, and by now he had been here for almost two hours. The small white cable was put in place, and we attempted the fourth re-tune of the afternoon.

Success! All the channels were back, and lacking any interference. I had to ask. Could it just have been the small wire that connected the PVR to the wall socket, all along? Perhaps it was the outdated socket, replaced with a new one? Did we even need to move the aerial in the first place? The man shrugged. It could have been all or any of those issues. At least we had removed the aerial from intrusion by the tree, and had a new socket, and new cabling too. As far as he was concerned, it was job done.

I thanked him, and paid him. He asked for no more than his estimate, despite the extra time taken, the new socket, and additional cables. I was happy too. He was obviously a good tradesman; conscientious, and determined to leave me satisfied. We could do with more like him, and I assured him of our positive recommendation to anyone needing his services.

I hurried inside, to check the TV listings magazine. Wimbledon Tennis, Euro Football, and many programmes cancelled because of these sporting events. I have seen all the films on offer, and many of the other shows were repeats.

I had to conclude that there wasn’t much to watch tonight. Hey-ho.

The TV saga, continued

I posted about aerial reception problems recently. Today, I had to arrange for someone to come out and sort out the problem.

The first contact number answered. He was a ‘busy man’, he told me. Too busy to come and look at the problem. Instead, he would quote a price then and there, based on the problem that had I diagnosed over the ‘phone. Of course, I am not a TV aerial expert, otherwise I would not be calling him in the first place. He was busy, he told me once again. If I didn’t accept his quote now, I might wait for two weeks. If I did agree, he could do the job tomorrow, strangely enough. He had a ‘window on Tuesday’, apparently.

I called someone else.

The someone else came round fifteen minutes later. He agreed that it might not be a big job, but checked my signal with a meter in front of me, and found it lacking. After looking at the problem, he agreed to try moving the aerial, and replacing the cable. That might work, it might not. But he was a nice guy, customer focused, and offering a free estimate in his own time. The final price was around half of the first quote, which was for a job unseen.

So he is coming tomorrow. He will try his best, by doing what he agreed was the best option for a first attempt. That’s my kind of customer service. Even if I cannot see any TV tonight, I might get some tomorrow.

If not, then I can at least be sure that I haven’t been ripped off.

When The Fates conspire…

I wrote yesterday about being covered in rashes and bites. On top of that, the hay fever season is especially bad this year, and I am streaming from the eyes and nose. Add to this a heavy summer cold and cough, and the recent spell of nice weather has become increasingly difficult to enjoy.

So, to cheer us up, and for a change on a Saturday evening, we decided to go to the nearby Thai restaurant, where we always enjoy good food, and a pleasant night out. We had to book an early reservation, as they were unusually busy. It is within walking distance, and this is one of the added attractions, not having to drive there. However, the uncomfortable humid weather brought heavy skies, and the promise of rain. By the time we had to leave, at 6.15 pm, Julie decided not to risk any thunderstorms, and said she would drive us there in her car. Light rain on the way confirmed her fears, and by the time we arrived, it was raining a lot heavier.

The food was excellent, the staff as friendly as ever, and we were glad to have made the effort to get out of the house, and enjoy the change. By 8.40 pm, we were back at home relaxing, and watching a film on TV. At around 10.30, we were startled by the doorbell ringing. Beetley is a very quiet place, dark and sleepy by this time. Someone calling at that hour is not only unusual, it is almost unheard of. I went out, and saw two people with torches on the driveway. As I got closer, I realised that they were police officers. One of them shone his torch across the road outside. “Could that be your car?” He asked. I was shocked to see Julie’s car up against the wall of the house opposite. I replied, “Hang on, I will go and get my wife.”

We went over to the house of the neighbour across the road. Our car had rolled off the driveway, sedately crossed the street, then continued across his front lawn, before falling into the gap by his side entrance. The back of the car was hard against his brickwork, and the rear wheels suspended in space, jammed by some half-logs that surround his grass. It was too dark to do anything about it, and the police made some cursory checks before leaving, happy to conclude that it was no more than a simple vehicular mishap. Our neighbour wasn’t even at home. He had checked his security cameras remotely, seen a car against his back gate, and presumed that a burglary was in progress. He had called the police from where he was, almost 100 miles away, and they had responded expecting to find suspects at the scene.

This morning, we can see it all in better light. The wheels are stuck fast, his newly-landscaped lawn and log border have been slightly disturbed, and there is some damage to the rear of Julie’s car, as well as to the underside. The insurance company are recovering the vehicle to be repaired locally. They will supply a replacement car for one week too. When our neighbour arrives back today, we will give him the details, so that he can claim for repairs to his property. No harm done, nobody injured, more inconvenience and embarrassment than drama. Things that can be fixed, and only a small amount to pay.

If only we had stayed at home…

Glum and Glummer

(Checking through my blog, I see that I published an almost identical post around the same time in 2015. Perhaps I should have expected this.)

Tomorrow is the first of June. Flaming June, herald of the long summer to come. Lazy days spent in the garden, or exploring the countryside. Long evenings of warmth and relaxation in the open air.

Well, maybe somewhere. But not here.

Our version of this idyllic scene is to be experiencing some of the worst weather we have seen this year. Woken up in the early hours by gale-force winds driving torrential rain against the house, it took a very long time to get back to sleep. Twigs and small branches clattered to the ground, unlocked gates were slamming in nearby houses, and the constant howl of the wind sounded like something from a Norse legend.

As a consequence, I slept late. After emerging into the gloom that is passing for daylight, I was dismayed to discover a leak in the kitchen roof, dripping a small amount of water onto the floor. This is coming from where the extended section meets the main wall of the house. It was all redone not that long ago, so hopefully the guarantee will still be in effect. That won’t cover the inconvenience though, not to mention the plummeting of my mood at the same time.

I need to get up there and inspect the damage, before I contact the roofing company. Trouble is, I am reluctant to do so in the continuing high winds and heavy rain, especially adding vertigo into the mix. I will have to hope for a let-up in the weather later today, before attempting that.

After a couple of re-posts, followed by three fiction pieces, I am once again back to reporting the weather. What a joyful life I lead. I have already had enough of 2016. I would like to fast-forward to 2017 immediately, and see what that has to offer.


This another re-post from 2012. I wonder if you have ever seen another blog post about steam-generator irons? I doubt it.

This may seem a strange subject for a blog post. Especially from the blog of a 60 year old man with no connection to the Electrical Industry, or to retailers of electrical products. However, I felt an overwhelming need to share a top tip that may well change your life. (At least the ironing part of your life, anyway).

Like most men born in the 1950s, I really didn’t know what an iron was for, other than it was a thing that women used to make your clothes look smarter, it got hot, and had to be used on a board. At first my Mum, and later my Wife, would spend some time somewhere with this appliance, and smartly pressed shirts would appear in my wardrobe, as if by magic.

This all changed for me, sometime in 1985. My wife and I were splitting up. It suddenly dawned on me that at the age of 33, I did not know how to use an iron, or how to iron a shirt. I had to ask my departing wife to show me all the basics of ironing. I would probably have just taken all the stuff that needed ironing to my Mum, but she lived too far away. By that time, we had a steam iron. It was reminiscent of a cruise ship in miniature, and had a small reservoir at the front, that had to be filled with de-ionised water. Once the necessary heat level had been achieved, steam could be deployed, to assist with the removal of creases. The thing was heavy, unwieldy, and the steam seemed to run out after two items had been pressed. Still, it was state-of-the-art at the time, so I bought something similar, for use in my new bachelor home.

Fifteen years later, I had learned to hate ironing. The replacement for that first steam iron looked and felt exactly the same. I kept forgetting to buy distilled water, and the tap water was so hard that the limescale kept clogging up the vents. I had to set aside one day each month for the great chore of ironing, as I hated it so much, I could not bear to do a little every day. I would get the water, put on some music, prepare the hangers, and crack on with at least 30 shirts, and all the other stuff needed for that month. This would take about 6 hours, constantly re-filling the pathetic reservoir, and making sure that the iron did not get so hot, that it scorched the garments.

In 1998, I saw an advertisement for something called a ‘Steam Generator Iron’, manufactured by Tefal. This seemed to be a tiny iron, resting on a large plastic base, connected by a hose that looked like it meant business. It stated that it held enough water for a full load of ironing, used ordinary tap water, and could iron both sides of something at once. It seemed too good to be true. Also, it cost almost £100, a lot of money for an iron, when you consider that the best conventional equivalent was well under £40 at the time. I decided to try it anyway. As an ironing-hater of the first degree, I would probably have paid twice that, if the claims could be guaranteed.

I bought one the next day. It was indeed resting on its large water tank. This meant that I eventually had to purchase a longer, sturdier ironing board too. Once fired up, I hesitatingly began to iron a shirt. Revelation! The super-lightweight iron felt like it weighed a tenth of its predecessor. The constant blast of steam glided over the material, all creases banished in seconds. I turned the sleeve over, only to find it was already done. It had ironed both sides at once, as claimed. I next tried screwed up denim jeans. It was as if the iron laughed at the challenge, again dealing with both sides adequately. Soon, I was racing through half a dozen shirts in 15 minutes. Even after a full couple of hours of ironing, there was still water in the tank, so steam available. I had finally done it. I had run out of things to iron before my iron ran out of steam. I was a born-again ironer, an ironing evangelist, a convert to the way of the Steam Generator. I would almost, though not quite, iron for pleasure.

I started telling everyone I could about steam generator irons. Though my own was a Tefal, all the companies were jumping on the bandwagon. I made a handful of happy converts, even though they balked at the price.

When that original purchase finally expired, (It still worked, but the steam cord became frayed and dangerous to use.) I did not hesitate to go straight out and get the latest generation, then costing a shade under £200. It is angular, has a coloured plastic water reservoir, a new gizmo that unscrewed from the side and removed the limescale. It looks the business, though in truth, is no better than my trusty original machine. The main improvement is in the actual iron handset. New technology coating on the iron plate, lighter build, better steam control, all mean that it is faster and better than ever. Alright, it does cost a lot of money. I have seen washing machines and other large white goods for a lot less. Look at it this way. Let’s say it lasts for 10 years. That is a yearly cost of just under £20, a weekly cost of 38p. That small amount of money will literally improve your life, now isn’t that worth it?

If you are asking yourself why someone like me, with nothing to gain, would be sitting in a room in rain-swept Norfolk, on a miserable Sunday in August, writing about something as mundane as ironing, then get a steam generator iron. (Any make, doesn’t have to be a Tefal but get a good one, pay as much as you can afford) You will realise what all the fuss is about.