January 20, 2011

The return of the non native

Filed under: A long way from home,Back story,misc,Village life — Duchess @ 12:57 pm

Last week I spent the evening at a dinner party in the village where I used to live. When I first saw it almost 28 years ago one Saturday afternoon in early April, I thought it must be the prettiest village in England. My husband and I, with toddler and infant in tow, were house hunting.

We knocked on a door with a For Sale sign outside.

A middle aged woman answered and hesitated a moment when we asked to look around. Hearing the television in the background, we offered to come back another time. Worse than arriving with no appointment, we had forgotten it was Grand National Saturday.

Never mind! My father always said it was a cruel race, the woman declared, opening the door wide enough for us to come in. Turn off the tele! she shouted. The noise stopped suddenly, young people scattered, and we were led into the house.

My main impression of Hedges was of a home full of laundry. Our guide heaved baskets from every surface as we were led from room to room. She apologised as she went.

I’ve got seven children, she announced, tossing away another basket of clothes so that we could inspect the cooker. Never mind! Sorry!

Bill wanted a son, she explained. She shifted another load of laundry. Sorry! But we kept having daughters, one after another. Five girls. Never mind! Then, when Daniel came, we thought we’d have one more try, to see if Daniel could have a brother.

And as she moved one last basket, she introduced us to her youngest daughter. Sorry!

I suspect I bought Hedges mainly because of the laundry and the seven children. It did not seem possible that their house could be insufficient for my needs.

My dinner companions last week were some of my first friends in the village. We reminisced a bit, traded stories about the disgraced headmaster of the village school, the disgraced landlord of the village pub, the disgraced vicar of the parish church – amongst us we could vouch for the downfall of almost every British institution.

And then, though three quarters of my audience long knew the story, for the benefit of the relative newcomers I was urged to tell again about how the village shop and post office was stormed by armed robbers, such a thing never having been heard of before or since.

It happened only a fortnight after I moved into Hedges, and the very next morning I was described in the Oxford Times as a “sharp-eyed Buckland villager”. I thought it sounded a lot like being called an Alert Peasant.

The headline was, Have-a-Go Hero Foils Armed Robbers. The sharp-eyed villager was, of course, a mere bit player; the hero who had a go was my neighbour, the shopkeeper.

My story was this:

Earlier in the century Hedges had been a draper’s shop; behind it was the bake house, next door on one side was the brewery and on the other side Summerside Stores, which sold general provisions, fresh bread and local milk, but got most of its revenue – and held most of its ready cash – from serving as the village post office. Like Hedges, the other shops were now private homes, and by the time I arrived, Summerside Stores was all that was left of the commercial centre.

My kitchen window looked straight at the shop door. I watched as a car pulled up in front and several young men got out. I idly noticed that they didn’t really look like village people (from my 14 days’ experience) and when they emerged in more than an ordinary hurry, jumped into their car, and drove away, I memorised their number plate.

A moment later my neighbour, the shopkeeper, appeared at his door with blood dripping from his forehead. Instead of handing over the cash, he fought the robbers for their gun (only an air gun – this is a Cotswold village, not NYC) and because it was frankly more useful as a blunt instrument, they hit him over the head with it and ran away.

My neighbour followed them to the door, turned the key in the lock, and had the presence of mind to switch the Open sign to Closed.

I ran out of my house and pounded on the shop window. From inside he indicated with urgent gestures that he was busy, they were closed, and I should go away. In return I shouted and gestured that I had the baddies’ number plate. Eventually, still dripping blood, he opened the door and let me in.

My dinner party host interrupted to remind me that his wife had arrived only a few minutes later.

Please might I have a pint of milk? She asked formally. Brits are always formal in the face of obvious mayhem.

No! We’re shut! snarled the bloody shopkeeper.

Now, Peter, his wife demurred, We can’t stay shut forever, can we?

The dinner party host roared with laughter. He didn’t want me to forget his favourite part of the story. She sold the pint! She sold the pint! He laughed again and then looked to me to continue.

The next day, I said, the police came and took my evidence. They were obviously sceptical of both my methods and motives, and repeatedly questioned me, asking very carefully, Did you write down the number? Evidence not on paper, it seemed, was barely evidence at all; nevertheless, the car, abandoned in the next village, was confirmed to be the one used in the raid.

What puzzled the police almost as much as my extraordinary ability to recall 3 letters and 4 digits was why I had memorised them at all. I admitted that I hadn’t seen anything except three men going into the shop and then going out again, quickly.

Finally I said, I’m an American. I am a very irritable and suspicious person. I memorize number plates all the time. The police wrote that down solemnly, showed me their notes, and asked me to sign them.

Their inquiries ground on. I don’t think anyone was ever arrested or charged. The car turned out to be stolen.

Some months later, my neighbours attended the annual ceremony in London for Postmasters and Mistresses who had been robbed during the year. They proudly showed off their medals and certificates of commendation.

As for me, I settled into village life and was never again called on to exercise my sharp villager eyes

The following year a man knocked at my door, showed me an ID, and intimated that he understood that I had done the Royal Mail a service some time ago and therefore the Royal Mail would like to show its appreciation. He apologised that it had taken so long, but as he thought I could appreciate, the Royal Mail were quite busy delivering post. Would it be convenient if he returned the following Wednesday afternoon?

At the appointed hour a large Rover car arrived to pick me up. There was a sheet of blue paper towel in the wheel well on the passenger’s side – the sort of thing you find on doctors’ examination tables – so that my shoes never had to touch any bit of floor that other shoes had touched.

The man drove me in silence to Swindon, where I received a private tour of the local sorting office, and then was offered tea, two bourbon cream biscuits, and a cheque for £30.

British readers will easily imagine the elegant pretensions of a chauffeur driven Rover car in the early 80s, and they will smile ironically at its Swindon destination (because everyone always does smile in just that way when they think of Swindon). They will also, of course, be quite clear that bourbon cream biscuits contain neither bourbon nor cream.

I always meant to buy a letter opener with the money, but I haven’t yet got around to it.

May 7, 2010

Hung parliaments

Filed under: misc,Politics and history,Village life — Duchess @ 3:32 pm

Well, it is all very exciting, but frankly a bit of a disaster.

After our usual, orderly elections, the new PM (or the re-blessed old one) cheerfully swings round Buck House in a posh chauffeur driven car, kisses hands with the Queen and Bob’s your uncle. Meanwhile the old PM calls in the movers and slinks out the back door of No. 10 Downing Street.

By lunch time it’s all over. It is a pretty brutal business – one lot moves out and the other lot moves in before anybody has even gone to bed. None of this genteel US elect a President in November and install him in late January stuff. The Brits can be hard nosed and brisk when they want to be. Maybe it’s a legacy of all those upper class nannies: Spit spot, chop chop, and no dawdling!

The process of replacing one Prime Minister with another, or renewing the old one, is called Kissing of Hands and really does require contact with the Royal digits. That’s exactly what we expect along with our boiled eggs and marmite soldiers the morning after election day.

Instead, this morning, Her Majesty, having read the exit polls announced that she would see no one (and therefore not accept any kisses) at least until lunch time. Given Gordon Brown’s unfortunate election encounter with another British grandmother, the PM wasn’t in a position to complain. HM was likely to be a grandmother too far.

In the event, Her Majesty saw no one, and her hands have remained officially untouched. For the first time since 1974 we have an inconclusive election result. The stock market and sterling are falling fast (good time to book that visit to the UK, as long as you are willing to dodge the twin perils of airline strikes and volcanic ash).

Neither of the two main parties got enough seats to form a government, so the folks famous for coming last, wearing socks with their sandals, and growing beards get to decide which of the two front runners they’ll prop up. I expect it almost looks like power to someone who has lived on warm beer for four or five decades.

While the sock guys are making up their minds whom to back, political junkies (like me) are walking around like zombies, sleepless after a night of election results and a day of political horse trading, drunk on the heady mixture of caffeine and political spin. Who needs booze? The lucky ones (mostly Conservatives) have mixed champagne with their spin, but everyone is exhausted – and this could go on for days.

Thank you to all who asked if I had managed to sort out my voting problems, now that I am of no fixed address. I learned that you don’t have to live somewhere to vote, you just have to prove that you have a connection to a place.

If all else fails you can declare yourself homeless and still register.  That casual and humane flexibility is also very British. 

So, although I was deleted when my house was rented, I re-registered at my old home. 

The village was looking its best, as it always does in spring, with each walled garden draped in aubrieta, and blue bells, grape hyacinths, cherry trees and magnolias just at their peak. I talked to a few of my old neighbours and drove past my house. The pub has changed hands, and finally (after about 25 years) also changed a few items on the menu. It is still overpriced, and still felt just like home.

I voted for the socks and sandal guys. I’m daft that way.

Ho hum. Interesting times.

April 20, 2010

Ferrets are the new Chihuahuas

Filed under: Back story,misc,This is not a mommy blog,Village life — Duchess @ 11:47 am

I heard on the news the other day that ferrets are the latest chic pets in the UK, for some reason favoured by flight attendants (who have a lot of time on their hands just now).

Trend setter that I am, I had pet ferrets more than a dozen years ago.

My children began agitating for a ferret or two after they saw pictures in an educational book helpfully provided by their American grandmother.  The begging campaign went on for months.

In a moment of insanity, I called the local wildlife park and negotiated two young males.  The gamekeeper enthusiastically agreed that ferrets were just what my family needed.

We named our new pets Bangers and Mash, one streaked steel gray and the other a pale ermine. The gamekeeper advised handling both as much as possible in order to tame them.  As I stroked and cuddled Mash, he nestled into my shoulder, turned his head and sank his teeth into my neck.  Every time anyone held him he bit suddenly and he bit hard.

I found Mash a new home fast (as did his next family), but, as far as I was concerned, Bangers settled in much better.  The kitchen became his domain, and he had free rein whenever the doors were shut. 

Bangers spent his evenings like any model pet, curled up on my lap, letting himself be stroked.  He similarly favoured my younger son. 

No one else was safe.  Bangers terrorised the two sheep dogs, and the cats hissed and bolted whenever they met him. 

The kitchen became a no-go area unless I went in first and captured him.  Otherwise there was usually blood: Bangers was no amateur ferret.  

Bangers doesn’t like strangers, I would explain apologetically to friends, relatives and visitors, scooping him up in my arms.  He’ll be all right when you get to know him. 

My husband absolutely declined to get to know him, and the children began to suspect that there was a good reason most people just had dogs or cats.

Meanwhile, taking advantage of any windows or doors left carelessly open, Bangers became a regular escapee, though he always came home.  He knew when he was on to a good thing: squeaky toys, raw hamburger for tea, and an evening in a comfortable lap.

One day, during my mother’s annual visit from the US, she and I went out, leaving my stepfather alone in the house.

In the middle of the afternoon the shopkeeper’s husband banged on the window.  Hugh opened it, just a crack.

Your ferret is in my wife’s shop! the man shouted.  You had better come and get him!

It isn’t my ferret, returned Hugh, a lawyer by trade.

A lengthy negotiation ensued.  It was finally agreed that, without prejudice, Hugh would open the kitchen window, and the shopkeeper’s husband could, if he so chose, and entirely at his own risk, pass the animal through that opening.  Once the animal was inside, Hugh would close the window.

The next day the ferret’s visit to the shop was the talk of the village.

I thought he would go up Mrs P’s trousers! said the Principal Soprano in the church choir.

Yes, replied the Shopkeeper, adding darkly, And we all know Mrs P doesn’t wear knickers.

After that, and what with the children complaining they couldn’t get breakfast because Bangers would attack them, I bought a rabbit hutch and moved our pet outdoors.

For a while that seemed a good solution, but rabbit hutches are designed for much stupider animals, and Bangers soon worked out how to open the cage’s sliding door. 

He often escaped, but as he was always back, happily curled up in his bed by tea time, I convinced myself that this arrangement was working.  Bangers obviously liked his home, or he wouldn’t return, and no harm seemed to come of his outings.  In the evenings, I still brought him in the house to sleep on my lap.

This was the uneasy status quo for another few months.  My neighbours reported sightings of Bangers all around the village (they hadn’t forgotten poor knickerless Mrs P’s happy escape), but by the time they phoned, Bangers was invariably back home, and peacefully asleep. 

It couldn’t have been my ferret, I would say.  I’ve just checked, and my ferret is locked in the rabbit hutch.  Maybe you saw a weasel.

One early summer day the old lady two doors down knocked on my door in obvious distress.  Your… creature! she gasped, Is…in…my…house!  A bloody handkerchief was wrapped around her hand.

She breathlessly explained that she had fought to rescue her ducks from his jaws, and after biting her he had run from the garden through her open door and up her staircase. 

I knew Bangers too well to think he would still be there, but to reassure her I wandered through every room of her house calling him and squeaking his favourite toy.   Bangers come! I shouted. Bangers come!  (Squeak, squeak.) 

Meanwhile my elderly neighbour had phoned the vet.  He arrived while I was still reassuring her that my ferret could not possibly be in her house. 

I don’t charge for treating ducks, the vet said, glaring at me. 

Sometime that evening, as usual, Bangers came home.  Since he hadn’t managed to dine on duck he happily accepted his usual minced beef.

In the morning the District Nurse was on my doorstep.  My neighbour had a severe attack of angina in the night (brought on by worrying about her ducks, said the nurse).  An ambulance was called, and she had spent the night in hospital.  If I didn’t find another home for my ferret, the District Nurse would inform the Environmental Health Officer that I was harbouring a Dangerous Animal.

A friend of a friend knew a ferret fancier in the nearby village of Ducklington.  He had already taken in the incorrigible Mash, and Bangers joined his former litter mate that afternoon. 

For several years afterwards, on the way home from swimming lessons we used to pass the roundabout leading to Ducklington.  Sometimes I would remind the kids as we drove by that Bangers and Mash were there.

My children always declared themselves glad that Bangers and Mash were having a jolly Ducklington life, but my littlest one invariably shook her head solemnly and spoke for the others:

Ferrets do not make good pets.

June 4, 2009

Tonight was my first time

Filed under: A long way from home,misc,Politics and history,Village life — Duchess @ 3:48 pm

I have lived well over half my life in the UK, but I only became a citizen in 2005, weeks before the last general election and too late to register.  Tonight was my first opportunity to cast a vote as a UK national.

It isn’t a proper election, really.  For most of the country it is merely a European election, something even most Europeans, don’t care about — Slovenia turned out less than 17% last time around.  Only for a very few of us was it also time to elect our local representatives.

Even so, my village was buzzing.  It took me nearly an hour to walk the quarter mile from my house to the polling station because I kept running into people and everyone was in the mood to chat.  Each one of us clutched our polling card, sent by the Royal Mail, second class post, and headed in bold capitals: Representation of the People Act.

There are no hanging chads in England.  We are given a piece of paper and sent to a makeshift booth (not so much as a curtain) where there is a nice fat pencil.  We are enjoined to use that pencil to put an X next to one and only one candidate or party.  Then we fold our ballot and put it in a good old fashioned ballot box.  The local election results will be counted out tonight, paper by paper.  The European votes will be sealed until Sunday; by then 375 million people in 27 countries will have been offered a ballot.

I missed altogether the chance to vote for the Monster Raving Loony Party, a regular election contender in the first couple of decades I spent in the UK, but since the death in 1999 of their leader, Screaming Lord Sutch, apparently it’s no longer an option.  Tonight they weren’t on either of my ballot papers though the party is still publishing a manifesto.  (I like the idea of arming school nurses with dart guns to administer vaccinations during playtime – recess to Americans – more fun for the nurses and less stressful for the children.)

Nor have we heard much recently from the Natural Law Party, but long ago, before I had a vote, I paid taxes to fund their election broadcasts about Yogic Flying.  (I’m not complaining: they were very entertaining — I am only sorry I can’t share my memories of them, it seems they were too long before youtube. )

Tonight there were, nevertheless, plenty of other parties on the long ballot paper I picked up at the polling station:

British National Party – Protecting British Jobs.  These people exclude non whites from membership, advocate zero immigration and no imported goods (crumbs! what would we eat, wear, watch, drive?).  Their official policy is to pay all non whites to emigrate to other countries.

Christian Party – “Proclaiming Christ’s Lordship”.   I never heard of these folks, and don’t know anything about their policies but I am wondering why the quotes.  Is it a rumour? 

Conservative Party.  No tag line, but we know who they are.

English Democrats – Putting England first. 

Jury Team – Democracy, Accountability, Transparency.  Another one I have never heard of.   Jury Team? 

Liberal Democrats.  They wear socks with their sandals, drink warm beer and grow beards all round (ladies and gents).  On the plus side their economic guy knows how to waltz and has a son who is an opera star. 

No2EU – Yes to Democracy.  Foreigners might have noticed that we are just a wee bit ambivalent about Europe.

Pro Democracy: Libertas EU.  Like I said.

Socialist Labour Party.  Back on familiar territory.

The Green Party.  Sandals without the socks.

The Peace Party – Nonviolence, Justice, Environment.  I’m guessing Mom and apple pie too, but I never heard of this party either.

The Roman Party – Ave!  I am beginning to think I made a mistake not supporting them.  They sound like fun.

United Kingdom First

United Kingdom Independence Party – We know about these folk.  They have several MEPs (Member of European Parliament).  Some of them are in jail.

In the end I voted for the party of the guy who married a woman from Kenya and sired an opera star.  I can’t help it.  I’ve heard the kid sing La ci darem la mano.  By their fruits shall ye know them.

More on our elections soon… There’s nothing like British politics.

March 30, 2009

“And to my dear grandson, I leave the Village of Buckland”

Filed under: A long way from home,misc,Village life — Duchess @ 3:45 pm

For twenty five years I have lived in a rural English village about twelve miles southwest of the Oxford city limits, and on the edge of the Cotswolds.  Almost all the houses are built of the characteristic yellow stone from nearby rolling hills.  Some are finished with thatch, and most of the rest, like mine, have fine, old slate roofs.

Until recently virtually every cottage in the village was owned, as they had been since medieval times, by the lord of the manor.  (These days not a lord, and indeed not even a knight of the realm – but the Squire none the less.)

Falling on hard(ish) times, in 1968 the Squire began to sell off some of the cottages, and for the first time people other than those serving either his estate or the local community moved in. 

My house, Hedges, was once part of the commercial centre of the village.  Hedges was a draper’s shop (run by Mr and Mrs Hedges – hence the name – don’t go looking for tall bushes if you come to visit).  Next door on one side, now given over mainly to cats, was the brewery.  On the other side were the general stores; behind, the bakery, and across the road, the malt house and (somewhat incongruously) a Baptist Chapel, a temporary early 20th century enthusiasm.

The last time I asked there were about 500 adults on the Parish Rolls, and I don’t suppose the number has changed much.  In the quarter of a century I have lived here a lovely old mulberry tree, the malt house, and a bizarrely out of place petrol station have all been knocked down to make way for modest development.  The estate’s stables were converted to courtyard dwellings, and I suppose a dozen or so more new houses have been erected.

The shop and post office, once my next door neighbours, have shut.  The Baptist Chapel is long gone, and a couple of years ago the Catholic Church closed down too, its site deconsecrated, but, in the property collapse, still empty. The 13th century Church of England remains, and the pub struggles on; Australian waiters serve yuppie food to visitors while the locals bugger off to the Trout, an old pub down the hill by the Thames, on the river’s last few navigable miles before it peters out at Lechlade.

Buckland still has a village school; 35 children were enrolled when Silverbridge walked the 50 yards or so from our front door to its, but I think there are more than double that number now.  Almost all come from outside the village and create mini traffic jams outside my house twice daily.

Not long after I moved to the village, the Squire, the one who had inherited the village from his grandmother, and who had seen the first sales of village houses, died.  His elder son, a man about my age, succeeded.  The estate still owned a great deal of property in the village, and all the surrounding land. 

The new Squire, a late 20th century gentleman farmer, shouldered the responsibility manfully, honed his enterprise, reluctantly sacked his father’s servants, went partly organic (grumbling publicly about what that had cost him), planted hedgerows, shot pheasant in season, spoke with finely clipped vowels, and knelt and prayed in church with his wife and two little girls exactly as often as it was seemly so to do.  

Last week he loaded his retrievers into his Land Rover, drove to the now mature woods his father planted for grouse cover half a century ago, and shot himself.  Used to gunshot, the dogs waited patiently for their master’s return until the gamekeeper found them, and the dead Squire, some hours later.

This Saturday morning I heard the sound of sirens, and seeing smoke billowing above the houses across the street, I followed the trail around the corner to what was once my babysitter’s home, now a weekend cottage for Londoners.  An early sixteenth century pair of tied houses for labourers and their families, it was one of the oldest surviving dwellings (originally two cottages) in the village. 

This is what I saw:

Through the afternoon most of the village came out to see the slow, smokey and undramatic conflagration.  At one point there were 15 fire vehicles lining the road, the firefighters moving with unhurried determination. They emptied the two swimming pools in the village and reduced our mains water supply to a trickle. 

Four hours later the frame that had lasted almost 500 years still stood, shrouded in smoke;

This morning, almost 48 hours after the fire broke out, two engines were still in the village, but by tonight they were finally gone, and I took this sad picture:

At the height of the blaze I ran into the woman who sold me Hedges twenty five years ago.  We chatted a bit, she wondering that I couldn’t sell that lovely house.  Her theory was (because it couldn’t possibly be the lovely house) that too many people were now parking on the village streets.  It wasn’t like that in her day. 

I hadn’t seen her in a while, though she is sometimes in the village because she still has family here.  I remembered, right after I asked her what brought her back this time, that her mother had been nanny to the young Squire.

I came for Charlie’s funeral, she said.

The funeral is tomorrow.  It has not been a good week in this every day story of country folk.

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.

February 6, 2009

Cannabis delivered with the milk

Filed under: A long way from home,BBC radio addiction,misc,Village life — Duchess @ 1:00 pm

An elderly British milkman who responded to notes like “5 pints semi skimmed and a half an ounce this week, please” has been given a suspended sentence.

The prosecutor told the court that “word had got out that he could supply cannabis to those of a certain age with aches and pains”. His oldest client was 92.

In choosing not to bestow a custodial sentence the judge decided that the grandfather of 28 had mitigating circumstances, because his wife has Alzheimers Disease and has recently moved to a care home. The 72 year old milkman, married for 53 years, was tearful at the thought of not being able to visit his wife if he were in prison.

In today’s sentencing the Judge recognised that the milkman “misguidedly believed that he was providing a public service”.

You can read the BBC report here.  Newcomers to this site might like to consider other doorstep deliveries.

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