February 18, 2009

The gasman cometh

Filed under: A long way from home,misc,Village life — Duchess @ 3:56 pm

I mentioned earlier that on Christmas Day the cooker broke down.  It wasn’t unusable, but it was definitely inconvenient and probably unsafe.  I finally got tired of alternating between living dangerously — and using the wretched thing while it continuously sparked and one of the ovens turned on and off at unpredictable intervals — or living slovenly and grazing on cold food by the open refigerator door.  I bought a new cooker.

After awhile the day came round for it to be installed, and I promised friends and family elaborate gourmet meals. When the Piper’s Son visited a few days later I had to explain that there had been a little hitch in the arrangements.

Oh no, said he, it isn’t one of your gasmen stories is it?  At Christmas dinner, while I lamented soggy Yorkshire pudding, I told my children how, as a young bride, I ordered a gas cooker.

In those days the state was the supplier of cookers and you had to go to the Gas Board, rather than a shop, to buy one.  They had sample cookers on display and you chose one, and then a nice lady sat you down and filled in many, many forms and then told you how long the waiting list was for your particular cooker.

My waiting list was only two weeks and when I got to the top of the list I was given a delivery date for another couple of weeks later.  On the appointed day I waited in the house all morning and all afternoon, but no cooker came.  The next morning I telephoned to say that I had been expecting a delivery but nothing had arrived. 

The person on the end of the phone explained patiently that unfortunately the cooker had been out of stock, so of course there was no possibility of delivering; surely I could see that. She was, however, happy to report that it was now back in stock.

I said, in that case, I would like to have it delivered as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, she replied, there’s a two week waiting list for that cooker.

I said I knew that, and I had already waited on the waiting list, so please could I have my cooker?

Ah, said she, but when you waited on the waiting list, the cooker was out of stock!

So I duly served my in stock waiting time and the cooker was eventually delivered.  When, a few years later, I was moving house, I required the services of the Gas Board again. In those days in England you didn’t leave appliances behind when you moved. 

The Outdoor Gasman was booked to disconnect the gas, the Indoor Gasman to disconnect the cooker, and the moving men to take it away.

The Outdoor man duly arrived, turned off the gas, and went away.  The moving men came and removed everything from the house — except the cooker — while we waited for the Indoor Gasman.  Eventually the moving men had enough.  They said they were going home — or they could disconnect the cooker themselves. 

After the moving men had driven away with all my worldly goods, including cooker, illegally disconnected, and I was doing final rounds, the Indoor Gasman at last arrived.

I panicked.  Thinking that the important thing was to reassure him that everything had been done by a competent person, I said, Oh, don’t worry, the Outdoor Gasman thought he might just as well disconnect the cooker too, while he was here, so he did it.

There was a stunned silence.  It was clear he would have preferred me to say that anyone, including my toddler, had done it instead.  First he just shook his head in disbelief and then he began to say, over and over, He should not have done that!  That was an Indoor Gasman job!  He should not have done that!  I’m going to have to report this to head office!

And then he went angrily away.

I experienced the Indoor / Outdoor rule again a few years later when my elderly neighbour had a gas leak and alternating teams visted her all night long, the Indoor men came to investigate, turn off her gas, and confirm it was not their problem.  After a while the Outdoor men came and fixed it and went away.  In the early hours the Indoor men returned to turn the gas back on inside.  Nothing could make either team touch a valve on the wrong side of a wall. 

Anyone who didn’t live here in the 70s and early 80s might be imagining that the Monty Python new gas cooker sketch is surrealism.  I know better.

Well, anyway, these days you go to a store to buy your cooker and they’ll connect it too, for a fee.  The Gas Board no longer exists and there aren’t any more waiting lists, though out of stock is, of course, still a hazard.

Less than a week after I had ordered it, a couple of pleasant men arrived with my cooker.  They pulled the old one out and examined my electrics.  (Even gas cookers need electricity, to run the clock and the ignition switch, but as I am trying to sell up I thought I would buy a more popular dual fuel version, with gas hob and electric oven.)

The men shook their heads in unison.  You see this here?  they asked, pointing at the wire that fed the electric outlet.  This is 4 mm core wire.  Regs say you got to have 6 mm core wire.  You need an electrician to sort this out.  We’re not allowed to touch it.

I questioned them further and finally understood.  It wasn’t that all the wiring was wrong.  It was just that the the switch had to be wired to the plug using fatter wire.  The distant between the two was about two feet.

I said, That’s it?  Hell, I can do that wiring myself.

They put their hands over their ears and shouted La la la la la.  I can’t hear you!

That’s because it is illegal for me to wire that myself.

It’s up to you, they said, but we can’t touch it.  Then they put the cooker back on the lorry.  We have to take this back to the depot they said.  By the way, have you got any 6 mm core wire?

I said I did not.  We carry it on the van, they explained, but we’re not allowed to use it for wiring purposes.

Then they and my cooker drove away, leaving me holding the two feet of 6 mm core wire they had obligingly cut for me.


  1. A cooker is a stove. Is it also an oven? Is a cooker a combination of both stove and oven? I can’t believe you had to go thru all that just to get one hooked up or disconnected! Wow!

    Comment by Twenty Four At Heart — February 18, 2009 @ 5:38 pm

  2. Maybe we should make a bet, will I get my child before you get your cooker? It sounds like just about the same kind of crazy-making waiting!

    Comment by Liz — February 18, 2009 @ 8:02 pm

  3. I love reading your stuff – it all sounds so, well, arcane – but you’re just going to leave us hanging with you holding two feet of 6mm core wire?

    I surely hope there’s a sequel in the works.

    Comment by Jan — February 19, 2009 @ 5:24 am

  4. Sounds like you have as big a problem with government bureaucracy as here in the USA. Grrrr……

    Won’t you need a bigger breaker for the bigger amps? Or is that just a USA thing too?

    Comment by Midlife Slices — February 19, 2009 @ 10:42 am

  5. The Duchess doth not lie–or even exaggerate the teesiest bit. I was there in the 70s and I KNOW FROM WHENCE SHE SPEAKS!!!

    Comment by ByJane — February 19, 2009 @ 1:09 pm

  6. I knew Jane would back me up…

    Ah, MLS, how little you know! We still have fuses here. When they blow you unravel wire and rethread it through. The fuse for my cooker is perfectly adequate. But I do have a circuit breaker, unusually. That’s because I am an American and I thought a circuit breaker was a good idea so I had it installed. There is ONE. It covers the entire house.

    Twenty-four: yes, a cooker is a hob and an oven combined. That’s what I thought a stove was! Do Americans have a different word for the all in one object? I must have forgotten it.

    Liz, your wait is more crazy making than any I have had, of course. I waited only weeks for cookers. The requisite nine months for each of my four children.

    Jan, except for Godfather 2 the sequels never live up to the promise of the original.

    Did anyone watch the Monty Python video? Please watch. It is one of my favourites, because of the grim journalistic realism.

    Comment by Duchess — February 19, 2009 @ 4:23 pm

  7. […] has posted a very funny tale about her experience of waiting for the Gas company to deliver and wire up a cooker (that’s a […]

    Pingback by Nuts & Mutton » I’m from the Gas Board — February 24, 2009 @ 5:52 pm

  8. Oh my God! What a hoot.

    Comment by Barbara @ Travel With Hole In The Donut — March 1, 2009 @ 12:02 pm

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