Wednesday, 17 February 2010

It all makes work for the working man to do

Once again a nice man from the gas company comes to check all the appliances. This happens every year. I pay them a fixed amount each month, and in return I get this annual check and they will also come out and fix stuff if it doesn't work. They also cover the plumbing. There's a fixed ritual; it's a little like the changing of the seasons. I heard chaffinches singing for the first time this year at the weekend, and sure enough, that heralds the arrival of Mr Gas Man and the Newly Changed Rules. That's nice. It'll soon be summer and we can turn the boiler off. No, don't ask me why they always come this time of year.

In fact, it was a very young Mr Gas Man. I doubted at first whether he was sufficiently mature to play the game with a properly straight face, but he did remarkably well, in fact. I commend his training. He was polite, put his empty tea mug carefully into the sink, cleared up after himself, all that kind of thing. And he delivered his lines with great credibility.

"Blimey, this boiler's quite old, isn't it? Had any trouble with it?"
"None whatsoever, which is why I've kept it."
"You know you could save quite a bit of money with a new condensing boiler?"

I smiled. The 'new boiler' gambit already.

"Oh, yes, I believe so. In fact, nearly everyone I know who's had a condensing boiler has saved a great deal of money. They certainly haven't burned any gas, though I think you do have to set against that the loss of earnings as you spend another day in waiting for the engineers to come and replace it again."

The young man blushed slightly. Ah, bless...

"Well, I just have to let you know... they are more efficient. Up to 60% more efficient."
"Compared with? A dead beaver? A pot of bouillabaise? Several species of wildflower?"

He blinked.

"Yeeerrrsss, well, I'll just get on with checking this one over."
"Excellent. Just give me a shout when you want to tell me it's insufficiently vented. On account of it having been installed in a cupboard."
"Ah, no, I have to clean it first, check the flue and all that. Then we'll do the insufficiently vented bit."
"As you please."

I returned to my study and became engrossed in Walter Bagehot's analysis of the English constitution. (Admirable in many ways, but he didn't fully grasp, I suggest, the essential distinction to be made between authority and power in the eyes of the English voter.)

"Errr... 'scuse me..."
"Yes, my young fellow."
"Have you got five minutes? I have to inform you that it's insufficiently vented. On account of how it's in a cupboard."
"I know. You chaps tell me that two years out of every three, and you're quite right, I am due to be told. Consider me fully apprised."

He nodded.

"Only it's what we call..."

I chorused with him.

"... Not Up To Current Standards".

I grinned.

"Never has been, the little tinker. But, and this is just a wild stab, of course, the appliance is actually safe and operating correctly?"
"Yes, it is."
"Flueing safe and satisfactory?"
"Ho yes."
"Emission/combustion test passed?"
"With flying colours, except a condenser..."
"...would be more efficient. So noted. Burner settings are..."
"System controls checked and working correctly?"

I ran through my mental checklist.

"Don't you need to warn me about now that you can't get parts for it any more?"

He looked confused.

"But you can, I checked online. It's not that old."

I smiled inwardly. Now there was a mistake none of his more experienced predecessors would have made. He'd learn.

"Excellent, so now if you could just get the gas fire sorted for me. It won't stay lit properly. It's covered under the contract."

I must admit, he did this bit well for such a beardless youth.

"Ah, sorry, can't touch the fire. Unless you have an installer's manual which clearly shows the exact positioning of the fake coals."
"A manual? Er... no, it's years old."
"Well, unfortunately I can't work on it without that information. It wouldn't burn properly."
"But every year... for years and years... you guys have just come in, cleaned it down and plonked the fake coals back on."
"Sorry, no can do. If a supervisor happened to drop in to inspect..."

I pondered.

"Well, look. Let's not touch the coals. Let's assume they're OK from last year. Can't you just blow the pipes through and clean the jets? That's all it needs, it happens every year."

He shuffled uneasily.

"Erm... no... see, if the coals weren't right last time, it'd be left wrong, wouldn't it? Sorry."
"Well, why didn't Mr Gas Man last year say something?"
"Oh, well, I expect the rules have changed."

I sighed.

"So, I'm paying sixty-odd quid a year for maintenance of the fire, and from now on, it will be maintained on the strict basis that it will never be lit and you won't ever attempt to fix it."
"Pretty much, yes."
"Rather an expensive hole in the wall, then, wouldn't you say?"
"Nothing I can do, I'm 'fraid. Give the office a ring, see what they say."

I sighed again in anticipation of a tiresome discussion.

"OK, not your fault. So, that's it then, is it?"
"Not quite. I have to put this notice on the fire."

I looked at the bright yellow tag which read, more or less: Not Up To Current Standards Use At Your Own Peril Don't Blame Us Look Out The World's About To End.

"What's that for?"
"Insufficient air supply."
"What? It's got its own little air vent in the floor. You guys insisted on it some years ago. Gives us a bloody cold draught up from the cellar."
"Ah, yes, I've seen the vent. But that's the trouble. It's Not Up To Current Standards. Vent-slot-width wise."
"Ex-squeeze me?"
"The slots on the air vent... they're too close together."
"But we bought it from you. When you insisted on us having one."
"Sorry about that. But I have to inform you."
"And in any case, the fire's not working. And you won't fix it. So it's possibly the safest gas fire in the entire universe, regardless of its state of ventilation."

He looked a little troubled.

"Well, there it is, I'll just have to fill out the paperwork and leave you with this safety notice. Well, several of them. Due to the boiler being in the cupboard an' all."

Ah well, he played it well, and I certainly hadn't seen the vent width coming. Smooth. Wonder what it will be next year?

"Sorry sir, gas hob Not Up To Current Standards on account of it's not as flashy as Her Next Door with the six burners. Here's an Inadequacy Notice, sign here, thanks for the tea, have a nice day."


  1. My advice is save money and cancel your boiler service contract. When we moved to our new (old) house three and a half years ago, we heeded the words of my Welsh friend, Dai, who installed his own boiler years ago and has never had it serviced. And, yes, it is still smoothly running, as ours is, despite, or because, no gas engineer has been within spitting distance of it in all that time.

    Ours, too, is an old one in a cupboard and it has purred away more or less continuously throughout this exceptionally cold winter. We hang washing in the cupboard to dry - and that you can't do with a condensing boiler. And our clothes are kept aired in the hot water tank cupboard - something else that doesn't exist in one of our friend's new condenser boiler setup. So, I wonder if the new ones really do save money, bearing in mind the electricity used by a tumble drier.

    To be on the safe side, Mr A has installed a carbon monoxide alarm. So, try it, I dare you, cancel your expensive service contract and see.

    Of course it would be sod's law if ours packed up tomorrow, or even tonight!!!

  2. In fairness, the contract has paid for itself over the last couple of years on the plumbing cover - we've had a leaky shower feed pipe, a failed valve in the header tank and two leaky bath feed pipes. But I agree as far as the boiler goes.

    Incidentally, you do know you've turned comments off on your blog?