29 May 2011

Failing kitchen white-goods, rising damp and ride-on lawn mowers...

Possibly the most exciting week ever has just gone by. Well, I use the word ‘exciting’ to build dramatic tension (is it working?) what I really mean is ‘interesting’ - as in the ancient Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times.”

I found out why all the power went off. Torch in hand, me wrapped in a dressing gown and close-work glasses perched on the nose, I proceeded to work out by elimination which circuit was causing the earth leakage switch to keep tripping. Seems it was the cooker circuit. North Duffield is too far from a gas main to have that luxury as a utility, so I am entirely at the mercy of the electricity supplier to keep me in energy, apart from an ancient oil boiler to heat the water and warm the skies above The Homestead - but that is (as I keep saying) yet another story altogether. With the ‘cooker’ fuse removed at least I could keep power on and reset all the clocks in the house to the correct midnight hour.

What unfolded was a whole glorious chapter of things going wrong, problems appearing to get bigger the more you looked at them and unanswerable questions remaining unanswered. The ancient AEG Oko-Favorit dishwasher that came with the house was the earth trip culprit. Switch it off and the fuse could be put back in, the cooker timer brought back to the correct time with the cute method of making minutes step forward at approximately 1 second intervals. This meant to get the correct time on the cooker with its synchronous motor winding the clock cogs around, I had to stand there for 10 minutes with my finger on the button, although it was nearer 12 minutes by the time the time was correct - but I digress... The dishwasher, not really an essential item I think, but usefully convenient in a slightly extravagant way, was built in to the kitchen cupboard next to the sink and after lots of unscrewing bits of metal and flapping bits of nasty chipboard, I managed to pull the sharp-edged box to the centre of the kitchen floor, unhooking its vital pipes and cables from the various connections. My Dad was helping me by selectively unplugging connectors somewhere at the back of the machine, while we merrily tried to work out what might be wrong. Two things usually are the cause of earth trips, in my experience, water pumps and heater elements. I opted for the heater element and days later the new one has been screwed back in. Tests will tell if I was right... more on that later.

Behind the dishwasher, in the hole left by its removal was the kitchen wall to the east of the building. The plaster on this bit of wall was very bulged and flaky. With scarcely a prod from my 10” plain blade screwdriver a good sized chunk fell off and exposed a very mottled wall block behind, looking all yellow and vile. It smelled of damp, it felt damp, it looked damp and was in fact quite wet. The blocks above and sides were solid and dry to the touch, with the screwdriver blade skidding off their well-made cement and wood-fibre construction. I believe they were called ‘Thermalite’ although I could be completely wrong there and they were made at Whitley Bridge not Goole as I had earlier suggested - not that that matters in anyway but I like to be thorough. The consistency of this quite large wall block was exactly like ‘oasis’ as used to display flowers but with the textural consistency of ‘Aero’ chocolate. It was about as strong as both of them as well. Within 2 minutes and with no real effort, I had a pile of evil smelling cement and sand ( and wood fibre) and had removed the wall block entirely with only a screwdriver! Not good. Just what the hell is happening here? What sort of structural integrity is this? I raked out the now-exposed cavity in the wall, discovering the damp-proof membrane that the block had been stood on was intact and doing its job. There was a bit of gravel and old cement built-up in the cavity and some of the fluffy paper cavity wall insulation was just like soaking wet blotting paper. All this was pulled out and the cavity dug into to get below the damp proof line. So with a gaping great hole in the kitchen wall, a dishwasher in bits in the centre of the kitchen floor... we move on to the next wonderful event.

We have a German Shepherd Dog called ‘Buzz’. He is a rescue dog and a wonderful playful and sleek companion he has turned out to be. He gets three decent walks around the five-sided field (1 mile around) where we live every day, and often much more than this. He loves to chase frisbees and tumbling sticks. A ‘tumbling stick’ is short and stout and when thrown just-so will rotate end over end and bounce along the ground, tumbling chaotically as it goes. Great fun, keeps him and me fit. The field presently has a decent un-cropped edge to it allowing us to walk all the way round without getting into the barley (this year, wheat last year). The grass around the edge, therefore gets very tall as do the nettles and weeds and we have created a path where we walk. When chasing his stick and frisbee Buzz was dashing around on the edge of the crops and got some grass stalks into his ears. He shook and shook and could not get one of them out. He was a bit stressed by this and try as I might I could not see what was bothering him, so later that evening we all trooped off to see the vet on the opposite side of York, as our local branch closed early that evening. We were the last ones in and with a tightly held Buzz we probed his ears while he squirmed with discomfort. Yep... grass stalk in one ear and grass seeds in the other. This was general anaesthetic time the following day, after Buzz had been given some shots to calm him down and remove the ‘itching’. It took 2 days for him to recover and cost us nearly £180 to go through all of this.

There is a reason why I tell you all of this... I have a new (to me) old refurbished ride-on lawnmower. A COUNTAX something or other, with twin rotating cutter blades giving a 38” wide swathe. I have only used it twice on the lawn, since the weather has been so dry the grass has not grown much after my first savaging with the cutters too low! I had no desire to pay to have Buzz’s ear emptied again and it is risky for him to keep being knocked out. So... last evening I went around the 5-sided field (1 mile remember ) with the mower set to it highest and the grass collector turned off. I went round one way at walking pace and produced a nice clean but narrow track. I turned round and went back the way I had come widening the cut as I went. At exactly the furthest point away from the Homestead (in its own corner) the mower just stopped. The starter would not kick-in, no lights came on although there was a gentle click from some small solenoid on the engine... flat battery? .... possibly. So I humped a lead-acid 36Ah battery half a mile around the field to get back home. I charged it for a couple of hours and then tried again, nothing. So carted it back again and put it on charge overnight. i suspect a loose wire on the ignition but where it is, not a clue. To pull it back home means I must back my car for 1/2 mile around a cropped field on a narrow border, so I can then get a reluctant wife or daughter to sit on the mower and steer while I do the car driving bit.
The mower has a one-season warranty but that is probably return to workshop for a fix not on the edge of a farmer’s field!

TC number is presently #109, with 3x or 4x more ‘on the way’... so please excuse me I must go and be creative.