On the 22nd of December 2020, we had the central heating boiler serviced, it passed with flying colours; “Everything’s fine.” said the service engineer.
And why not? The boiler’s only a few years old for goodness sake.
On the evening of 30th December, the boiler began to make what I can only describe as gurgling noises. Unhappy with what I could hear I turned it off. The house was warm, we had a tank full of hot water, I’d investigate in the morning.
The next day I turned the system on and the boiler fired-up but after about 20 minutes began to “gurgle” again and this was followed in short order by one of the function indicator lights blinking red and the boiler shutting itself down.
Where were the instructions, the owner’s handbook? Tucked away with the service contract as it happened; so, what did three red blinks mean?
It was an ignition fault.
I tried, carefully reading the handbook, the re-set procedure and the boiler once again ignited and once again after a short period it began to gurgle, flash red and shut down.
Brilliant! New Year’s Eve and the boiler’s on the blink.
British Gas were telephoned, for it was they that had installed the boiler a few years back and it was they with whom we have a service contract and it was they who had serviced and pronounced the boiler fit for use only a scant week ago.
“Twenty-first of January, sorry but we’re fully booked until then, that’s the earliest that we can get to you.”
Bloody hell! Bloody, bollocking hell!
Okay, let’s not panic, we have an open fire and some coal, well, smokeless coal briquettes, not many but enough for a couple of nights and we also have a small pile of logs so we won’t freeze. New Year’s Eve, classic timing; not much good in trying to get find another engineer, not today and not tomorrow, although I did do a bit of Googling looking for locally based engineers and I had left a message with some people called Homecare Heating Ltd. based here in Chesham. I’d looked at their website, I’d read the testimonials. I didn’t expect that anyone would come out immediately but I did kind of hope that someone would ring back in due course and something could be arranged. Nobody rang back. I don’t mind if people are busy or just want to have a few festive days off but if that’s the case they might leave a suitable message on their answerphone, but nothing came back from Homecare Heating Ltd.
Well, we’ll just hunker down in front of the fire and watch TV, and in a Tier 4 (all-but) lockdown, what else were we going to do anyway? It’s no great shakes, only a minor inconvenience not having any hot water.
We built-up the fire and settled down to see the new year in. The weather had turned colder, the rest of the house had got colder. The fireplace is fine with smokeless coal but logs just seem to fill the place with smoke; the few logs that we had burnt had served to cause the living room to smell appropriately smoked. Somehow, and hardly surprising really, this NYE just didn’t feel very festive. Faced with a grate of embers and not wishing to put more coal on because we’d then feel duty bound to sit with it until it burnt out in the early hours of the morning, bed seemed like a good option. Jools Holland could be recorded and watched later, with the option of skipping the bits we didn’t like so we turned-in and 2021 arrived while we were listening to the radio and the occasional firework being let-off somewhere nearby.
New Year’s Day was cold, the weather was cold and by now the house was cold. A perfunctory toilet was performed using water heated on the gas hob. Today was going to be a day of layers and thick socks. Realising that our supply of coal wasn’t going to last for much longer we set out by car to find some more coal, which we did at a garage just out of town but not before a bit of a run up to the A41 roundabout just outside Berkhamsted and back again, making full use of the car’s heater.
On Saturday 02 January there was a little sunshine and the weather didn’t seem to be so cold; it was still cold but not freezing. I took myself up to my “office” and started telephoning around for heating engineers.
I left a message with Chiltern Plumbing and Heating who are based in Aylesbury, local-ish, and I waited for a bit. No reply.
I phoned Amersham Plumbers and Boiler Repair and instead of an answerphone I got a real live person. We chatted for a bit and I told him what was wrong. I told him that we had a contract with British Gas but they’d said Jan 21st was the earliest they could get to us. He chuckled and said that they’d had quite a few enquiries recently from British Gas customers who’d been left in the lurch. He then said that one of his engineers would be with us on Monday, between 9 and 11. Splendid, that’ll do nicely.
About 20 minutes later Chiltern Plumbing and Heating phoned back and I chatted with them, thanked them for their reply and told them that I already had a guy “on it”. They were very understanding and told me that if the guy was a no-show on Monday, they had a slot on Tuesday…
So, it seems that there are heating engineers out there, just none working for British Gas.
Two more days then without central heating or hot water on-tap. That wouldn’t be so bad, would it? After all, we grew up like that. I for one spent my early childhood in a house that didn’t have central heating and only had one fireplace. The hearth and chimney breast in the kitchen had been removed, making more space for a modern (early 1960s) cooker, the hearths in the two bedrooms had been bricked-up leaving the fireplace in the front room as the only means of heating the house. True, we did have hot water on tap back then, via the “geyser” mounted by the kitchen sink.
If it was cold, we put on suitable cloths, if the bedroom was cold, we added another blanket under the eiderdown. The point is, we’d lived like that once before and for a few days, we could do it again and now we had duvets, not eiderdowns so how bad could it be?
As a young child I remember it being cold, in fact the first winter I really remember was that of 1962-63 when I was 4¼ years old. I remember it being cold but I don’t remember being cold, that is suffering from it being cold, getting all grumpy because it was cold.
Back in those days, winters where you awoke to find that frost had formed on the inside of the window were a regular occurrence and as kids, we’d eagerly scratch away at the frost to see if it had snowed outside. Sometimes, when you woke up you knew that it had snowed, there was an intensity to the daylight coming in through the window, the snow on the ground reflecting the daylight. I remember the spectacle of the Grand Union Canal frozen solid, well, not absolutely solid but canal pounds were frozen across bank to bank and lock to lock.
There must have been some magical quality to the canal water that meant that just before it froze, the density of the water became so great that the multitudinous rocks and stones and house bricks that had over the years been thrown into the canal, surfaced, just as the ice froze underneath them, or that’s how it seemed because the surface of the ice became littered with said rocks, stones and house bricks and being a young boy the thing to do was to add to their number whilst hoping that your offering, lofted high into the air, would punch a hole in the ice as it landed. Such actions only resulted in the offering bouncing along the ice accompanied by the very curious “kurdongk-wonk-wong-wong” sound that the ice made when it was impacted by the aforementioned rock, stone or house brick.
Two more days then, we could do this. I celebrated by having Marmite on toast but first I had to fashion a bain-marie to soften-up the butter. Two more days, we could do this…
Then of course on Monday morning there came the telephone call from Amersham Plumbers and Boiler Repair, who I will call hereafter APBR. “He’s got a problem with his van, can we reschedule for the same time tomorrow?”
I try to be an optimist in life, I really do but when I’m not being idealistic, I also try to be a realist and a pragmatist. Are all those things at odds with one another? I don’t know, maybe they are but I was quite prepared for such a phone call, I was, sad to say, almost expecting it; some curt message to inform us that the engineer would visit but not yet awhile. But, look on the bright side, at least they’d had the good grace to phone and tell us they weren’t coming in today, small mercies and all that.
Oh well, one more, one more day; can we do this?
Weather forecast for London & South East England
Monday 4 Jan
A rather cloudy start today with showery outbreaks of rain. This afternoon should turn brighter from the east with a mixture of sunny spells and scattered showers, these mainly close to coasts. Feeling bitterly cold in the north-easterly breeze. Maximum temperature 5 °C.
The Christmas tree is still looking cheerfully colourful in the living room, there’s food aplenty, beer, wine, whisky. One more day, we can do this. The on the wireless they played a song I quite like by a group I quite like: “Heat Of The Moment” by “Asia” from their debut album imaginatively entitled “Asia”. Heat of the moment, rub it in why don’t you?
I’d been out to fill the coal scuttle and remarked to the memsahib, Kathy, that although the garden thermometer had registered a balmy 1 °C it hadn’t felt “that cold”. Now, that thermometer isn’t 100% accurate, of that I’m sure but I’m also fairly certain that it isn’t that far out either so I reasoned that maybe we were becoming accustomed to the cold. Maybe we were, would that be a bad thing?
Tuesday began dark and cold, I made a pot of tea and put the recycling out for collection. After a perfunctory cleaning of the grate I laid and lit the fire and waited for another telephone call from APBR. The phone call came: “I’ll be there in 30 to 40 minutes, is that OK?”
That was very OK and true to his word he appeared at the door about half an hour later.
I showed him to the boiler, in the kitchen and told him what had happened.
“Sounds like the condensation pipe.” He said and fiddled about underneath the boiler and pulled out the object below.
It’s a rubber “elbow” joint that goes between the condensate trap outlet – a little plastic box slung under the boiler – and the pipe that delivers the condensate to the waste water outlet. As you may be able to discern, the elbow joint has partly melted. The service guy showed it to me and I was just a little dumbfounded, how on earth did that happen? He didn’t know, I could only guess…
“Can you fix it?”
“Yes, but I haven’t got the part.”
“Can you get the part?”
“Yes, but it’s a British Gas badged appliance, if I can’t get the approved British Gas part, they’ll treat it as a modification and your service contract with British Gas will be void.”
Frankly, I didn’t care; British Gas has shown us just how much they valued our custom and regular service contract payments by being willing to leave us without heating and hot water for over 20 days. Another service provider would be found, probably APBR if they played their cards right.
The engineer left, he had another job to do, but he said that when he’d finished his next job, he’d try to source a suitable replacement part.
APBR telephoned later that afternoon, a part had been procured, could it be fitted tomorrow, between 9 and 10?
Yes, yes it certainly could.
British Gas, stand by to receive richly deserved opprobrium.
One more night, we can do this…