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Competence and standards in the modern world

These days – where this be a sign of the times or not – this organ feature on its pages tales of contributors or others who run into stark examples of modern “craziness”; complex official administrative or bureaucratic red tape that – for the average Joe in the street –  hinders quiet enjoyment of anything and everything; poor customer service by commercial organisations; automatic telephone response systems that keep the caller “on hold” for fifteen minutes or more; and even local council “automatic online application systems for bus passes” that require the individual to “upload” passport-style photographs or images of driving licences to their website … but then routinely refuse to allow such uploads to happen, leaving the applicant trying umpteen times to achieve said action before finally giving up in frustration.

My purpose today is simply to list some of the “problems and issues” that my spouse and I have encountered after moving to a quiet East Anglian hamlet in our retirement and buying small agricultural smallholding.

The vendor of our new home was a former long-time member of the British military – a non-commissioned officer – whom by many accounts was one of those “Marmite” types (you either loved him or hated him and he didn’t care which).

I personally only dealt with him as the purchaser of his property and found him and his wife mildly irksome: e.g. despite there being property transaction conventions that (1) “all stored items at the date of sale come as part of the sales price” he claimed that he’d put £400’s worth of LPG in the garden tank two months before and at the last minute  demanded that I pay £200 for what was left in it; and (2) “all existing items of rubbish, debris and detritus being removed as part of the vendor’s obligations” – and he promising to my face that he’d do this, he didn’t.

His wife then first promised that they’d be leaving behind their large collection of AGA accessories including saucepans, pizza-bases etc. and then at the last minute demanded that we effectively pay the purchase prices for each and every one (some of then allegedly at the rate of over £100 per item) … a “scheme” that we rejected outright.

However, that was but the tip of the iceberg.

Our vendor – this perhaps a legacy of his Army days and that service’s “can do” mentality – rather fancied himself as a practical man who could turn his hand to most plumbing, electrical and building trade matters.

As a result we have had to deal with the following:-

A main dwelling which soon revealed itself to have some electrical issues. We therefore called in an expert who – within an hour of beginning his analysis – then announced that the entire cottage was effectively a “death trap waiting to happen” and was urgently recommending that we moved out of it immediately until it was rendered safe.

Even the fuse-box itself was wired up dangerously; in almost every room there were ring-main circuits which either (1) had electrical items that should have their own “exclusive” system [Rust readers will have to forgive my inexpert knowledge of what I’m describing] being left de facto wired up to “group” systems … and others (which should have been on “group” systems) de facto wired to their own exclusive versions.

In summary our electrical expert told us that it was as if our vendor had deliberately embarked upon an exercise to produce an example for the public of “How not to wire a house”: he had committed every cardinal sin of electricity  “management/health and safety” … and then some!

A kitchen water plumbing system that is wholly inadequate to its task and badly installed in any event.

A large (nine feet deep at its deep end) half-finished swimming pool under a poly-tunnel roof which – proudly self-built by our vendor – had been left with a porous “leaking” floor and a “water flow” system which he had set-up backwards … in other words, instead of sending the water clockwise around its perimeter (the direction that water flows down sinks in the Northern Hemisphere), he’d built it so that the water flowed anti-clockwise (i.e. the direction that water flows down sinks in the Southern Hemisphere).

In the garden – and in two paddocks – set-ups of heavy duty “three phase electricity” wired systems coming out of the ground randomly and seemingly for no apparent purpose or reason.

Only this week we discovered – or rather had it pointed out to us by another contractor then working on site – that (in building trade terms) both the extensions to the main dwelling are not connected correctly to the main part of the building.

In other words, instead of their brickwork being rendered structurally sound (and mutually-supporting) by being “intertwined” with the brickwork of the pre-exiting building, both extensions are to all intents and purposes completely unconnected with it and are effectively just “leaning against it”. To put it another way, from a building point of view, both extensions are structurally “unsound”.

All of the above comes courtesy – at least it seems to me – courtesy of an over-enthusiastic,  bombastic, egotistical, supposed “action man” – who nevertheless considered himself a bit of an all-purpose handyman who could turn his hand to anything as competently as any fully-qualified “professional” – but who in reality was (and is) completely hopeless at every known skill and within the building trade and should never have been let loose on anything to do with buildings or electrical systems.

At least it has helped narrow down our options and plans for how we intend to re-arrange our main dwelling. Instead of “working with what we’ve got”, we’re now going to “drop the entire building to the ground” and begin again from scratch.

It’s not just that this will give us a greater sense of self-satisfaction when our “newly-designed” home finally become reality – it will actually mean that we can also be confident that our home and systems are sound, secure and safe.

When you think about it, what’s not to like?




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About Gerald Ingolby

Formerly a consumer journalist on radio and television, in 2002 Gerald published a thriller novel featuring a campaigning editor who was wrongly accused and jailed for fraud. He now runs a website devoted to consumer news. More Posts