“A man doesn’t get in a situation like this every day.”
George Bailey, It’s A Wonderful Life.
No, not every day, not every week, month nor year.
Every other year though?
At the end of December 2020 our central heating boiler broke down, we were without heating and hot water for almost a week. That was a fun time, he said, without a hint of acerbity.
I wrote about it, A Christmas Passed, and I mused about the fact that growing up I’d lived in a house that didn’t have central heating, a house where when it was cold there was frost on the inside of the windows, a house where the only means of heating was a fireplace in the front room. My partner recounts a similar story, we’d survived that and we’d survived in 2020 going into 2021.
The weather hadn’t been particularly cold back in 2020/21, cold obviously as it was winter after all but not unreasonably cold. The boiler was eventually repaired, the house warmed up and life went on.
It only makes sense then that If the heating was going to break down again and after such a short period of time, that it should be when it’s -12°C outside and it did just that thing four days ago. The heating stopped working; we had hot water but no heating.
We used to have a service agreement with British Gas but that was ditched after the last breakdown when they blithely informed us that it would three weeks until they could get one of their engineers out to see to us. I kid you not, three weeks.
A casual internet search shows a number of heating engineers in the locality, I rang a few and all after thoughtful tooth sucking said that they were very busy and couldn’t get to us any time soon. One was a bit more helpful suggesting that it was probably the boiler’s diverter valve that was at fault, a diagnosis with which I agreed, not that I’m an expert on the subject but naturally I had Googled the symptoms and that’s what it seemed the problem probably was.
Digging around in the (back bedroom) office filing cabinet the receipt from the people who had done the last boiler repair was found and they were called. I explained what the problem was and they said that they had an engineer and he would be with us between 10:00 and 14:00 the next day. They’re not a local firm but they had an engineer and he was coming to see us, just like they did last time. Should have tried them first I suppose.
Yesterday the engineer arrived, an amiable and quite jolly chap. If I had to guess I’d say he was from the southeast of Europe. I didn’t ask him where he was from as that sort of behaviour seems to get you into trouble these days.
After about ten minutes the engineer conformed that yes, it was the boiler’s diverter valve that was at fault, he didn’t have a replacement part with him (faint alarm bells ringing) but he would try to affect a repair (slightly louder alarm bells ringing). He cracked on in the kitchen with the boiler. I was in the dining room fixing a clock, one of the many, well, one of the few that we have.
I heard an expletive followed by the sound of running water, the engineer dashed through the dining room and up the stairs to turn off the electrics to the boiler then dashed back into the kitchen to do battle with the now leaking boiler.
The leak was stopped, the engineer looked crestfallen.
“Small problem?” I asked…
He explained that the diverter valve, which was partially working before, was now thoroughly broken, it had come apart in his hands.
He was apologetic, very apologetic and explained that this sometimes happens, the older boilers are better as their parts are brass, newer boilers have plastic parts and they just break. Interestingly enough, he highlighted that it was Baxi boilers that usually had this very problem.
Note taken. Not Baxi next time and definitely not British Gas.
After the engineer had gone out to his van and come back with a vacuum cleaner to suck up the water, he called his head office and reported what had happened and told us that a new valve would be sourced and somebody would be back to fix it, not that day, probably not the next which weas Sunday, although he didn’t entirely rule that possibility out, but soon.
So here we are, now we have neither heating nor hot water. Luckily, we have lots of (smokeless) coal and a fair supply of logs for the open fire.
Another day then, maybe another couple of days, we can do this, again, we’ve done it before and we can do it again, again. Let’s hope that this is the last time though because after a few decades of living with central heating, the novelty of going back to the 1960s is wearing thin. Still, we count our blessings that we aren’t on the receiving end of ordnance from that sad little man Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin (Слава Україні!).
The very cold temperatures are easing now. As I write (the time is somewhere past 18:00) it’s 4.8°C outside and that’s higher than it’s been for a good few days and it’s raining.
As always, we’ve been putting out seed and nuts for the birds. The bird bath froze solid fairly early on when the cold snap arrived so every morning we’ve been putting out an enamel dish of water for the birds and any other small animals that happen along. Then the next morning I’d turn out the by then frozen-solid ice and place it on the bird bath, a sort of sculpture, modern art if you will, chronicling the cold weather. I’m still hoping for a white Christmas though.