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In praise of simple things

Yesterday – bar one occasion when I was going to a social engagement that I felt necessitated a certain freshness and deliberately jumped in and endured a freezing cold one – I had my first ‘normal’ shower in my own home in exactly a month. It was an invigorating, luxurious, sensuous, reassuring and utterly glorious experience and it won’t surprise Rusters (it certainly didn’t surprise me) that I took at least double my habitual time to conduct my ablutions.

The experience reminded me that, amidst the manifold benefits of living in a western First World country that human nature determines we come to regard as our everyday rights, we are also simultaneously a mere slip – or perhaps a major disaster – away from living life in the raw.

In the past four weeks Britain has had a bit of a cold snap – it has been January into February after all – whilst North America has suffered widespread Arctic conditions, regular temperatures of -25 degrees Centigrade and warnings not to go outside for more than ten minutes at a time for fear of suffering frostbite.

Elsewhere this past week there was a story going the rounds in the media that the glaciers in the Himalayas are shortly to melt, thereafter likely to cause major flooding in surrounding countries and risks to life, limb and way of life for hundreds of millions of people.

My ‘major disaster’ was my gas boiler finally giving up the ghost.

I should perhaps explain that I’m a simple man, me. When it comes to technological things – like domestic utilities, electrical appliances, cars, you name it – I take them all for granted. Until they go wrong, when after a period of ranting about the iniquities of Fate and the personalised bad luck that seemingly follows me everywhere I go, I get the matter dealt with by my nearest (and/or recommended) local contractor, pay the resulting exorbitant bill, and then return to my default state of unthinking semi-consciousness about everything but what I’m currently doing in my life.

I’ll keep this as short and succinct as possible.

My home set-up included a gas boiler for heating and hot water. Mine was installed about fifteen years ago during a major refurbishment – as it turns out, and I only appreciated this when it was pointed out during my recent hiatus – without either a thermostat control or indeed the immersion heater also installed at the same time being actually ‘connected’ at all.

Looking back this would perhaps explain why, whenever my boiler had a problem and/or the central heating system packed up because (for example) the radiators needed ‘bleeding’, my heating was always either ‘full on’ or ‘off’ and I had no means of back-up for delivering hot water.

Plus, of course, this is the reason I have always had such high utility bills.

This past month I’ve also learned several other things about gas boilers. Firstly, you must get them serviced regularly – I never did this because my approach to inanimate objects is “If they’ve working, why spend money on them?” I now know that was a big mistake on my part.

Secondly, they tend to last about fifteen years before they ‘die’. If yours lasts twenty, you’re a lucky person.

Thirdly, they all have a flue that takes the steam and other effluent-type stuff – even degrees of carbon monoxide – that they emit away from your abode and into the general atmosphere.

Mine physically went out into a light well in the middle of my mansion block.

When the first boilerman/plumber visited he pointed out the life-cycle of a boiler and gave me two options – a mash-up repair of the existing boiler (a temporary at best solution) or going to the expense of a new one.

When I began exploring the possibility of the latter, we hit the next (and biggest) issue. The contractor said he couldn’t install a new boiler because of the new health & safety regulations.

These were obvious more stringent than their predecessors and – reduced to their essence – no new boiler (irrespective of how more efficient they were) could be installed that chucked its ‘outflow’ into an enclosed space like a light well. As mine would.

So what was the solution, then, I asked. Well, the flue had to go to an outside wall, thereby spewing its stuff into the side open atmosphere. That could only happen by either moving the boiler itself to the wall of my front room, or alternatively leaving it where it was and running four different pipes along the wall from my kitchen area around and across the top of my front room wall.

When I pointed out that this might not improve the aesthetic look of my abode, the other suggestion was that the said pipes be run under the floorboards. Even that still left aside the fact that forever afterwards I’d be spewing my boiler waste out into the garden, making the block look from the semi-distance more like an 19th Century factory than the rather gentile edifice it is.

On top of that, the killer irony was/is that – because ‘old’ boilers like mine predate the latest legislation – they are exempt from it!

Thus, as far as the Government is concerned, they can happily go on endangering human beings in enclosed spaces until further notice (or indeed they pack up when their planned obsolescence kicks in) – but new boilers cannot. Great.

My new electric boiler (just ordered) will be installed in ten days’ time.

Why electric? Well, because electric boilers don’t require flues at all. Mine is costing me a fortune but it seems the best solution. And, even though electric boilers are more expensive to run, I’m consoling myself with the thought that – whatever mine is going to cost going forward – it’s unlikely to be as much as my previous bills, courtesy of a boiler and heating system that had no thermostat included!

This past month, until Thursday when my immersion heater was finally ‘connected’ for the first time in its life, I have had no hot water. I’ve had to boil a kettle to get enough to shave in and – for general cleanliness – have been showering at my local health club.

General warmth has come solely courtesy of a blow heater permanently on in the kitchen/front room area – the rest of the apartment has remained stone ice cold throughout.

Sometimes one can (and ought to) be thankful for small mercies.

About Guy Danaway

Guy Danaway and his family live on the outskirts of Rugby. He is chairman of a small engineering company and has been a keen club cyclist for many years. He has edited Cycling Weekly since 1984 and is a regular contributor to the media on cycling issues. More Posts