Do you remember Flanders & Swann? They wrote and performed clever, comedic songs about life in the late 1950s. These musical period pieces have somehow transcended their era. Donald Swann played the piano and looked like a skinny academic. Michael Flanders, burly, bearded and wheelchair bound, had a rumbling voice and lethal comic timing. One song, the Gas Man Cometh, chronicled a week where gas fitters, carpenters, glaziers and painters did their thing, but caused problems that required the skills of the next trades person to put things right, starting and finishing with exactly the same issue. I know this sounds as amusing as haemorrhoids, but trust me, the song is funny.
“AFTER FIVE HOURS I POSSESSED A WORKING ELECTRIC VEHICLE CHARGER, AND A MOBILE PHONE APP THAT WOULDN’T TALK TO IT.”
I was reminded of it by the process of having a Hive EV charger fitted to my house. This involved various experts doing their stuff, leading to other experts having to do theirs, not in a bad ‘fixing someone else’s cock up’ style, but all in an involved way.
This all started with my having to fill in an online form giving my home’s electrical vital statistics. For the good of my mental health, if not this column’s grumpy credo, I managed to do this without getting tied into a computerised knot. In due course I was phoned by a British Gas man child who wanted me to take pictures of the house, fuse boxes, water stop cock, etc. I felt positively geriatric as he guided me through the process, calling back several times when the phone signal dropped. Still, we got there, discovering en route that my main fuse was too small, and my tails (wires that connect the fuse box to the wiring) were too thin. My energy supplier – OVO, thrillingly enough – needed to sanction the fuse upgrade, a trip switch had to be fitted as well, and engineers from National Power and British Gas needed to be booked to achieve those things. Around five weeks after my phone consultation, two National Power blokes squeezed themselves and their tool boxes into a tiny room containing the downstairs loo and the fuse box. They were ruminating on a colleague called Wayne, who’d failed a lateral flow test and was sick at home. “It’s the only positive thing about him,” said one of the neon test screwdriver wielders, as they changed my fuse from a wimpish 60amp fitment to a chest beating 80amp job.
A few days later, a National Power engineer appeared and fitted the isolation switch. He was good tempered, even when the dog clamped himself to the man’s trousers. When the charger itself would arrive wasn’t clear, but a lady from British Gas phoned at regular intervals to let me know that this remained a mystery to them as well. Eventually she rang and proffered a date when the deed would be done.
Did I mention that the Hive thing will turn on lights, heating and hot water using a phone app, and that yet another British Gas bod appeared with bulbs, plugs and what could be described as a bedside manner when he explained how to make them work. He was quite disappointed at our Luddite lack of Alexa, which he uses to coax a teenaged daughter from her bedroom at meal times.
On charger fitting day, my wife was at home engaged in wall-to-wall Zoom meetings and was not pleased at the prospect of drilling and the power being shut down, so negotiations between her and two British Gas engineers were polite-but-tense. After reaching a compromise, we gave them tea and biscuits and they drilled holes in our house in a surprisingly muted way. They even coped with the window cleaner plonking his ladder in the middle of their work space.
After five hours I possessed a working electric vehicle charger, and a mobile phone app that wouldn’t talk to it. One of the engineers prodded my aged iPhone, various irritating graphics came and went on its grubby screen, then, amazingly, everything worked. This column is normally about things that get on my wick, and I’d imagined that during the weeks it took to fit the charger, events would conspire to rile me, but they never did. In a way, that’s quite annoying.