Just ask Jill

You know the girl, ‘Jill of all trades’, or in this case Shirley Anne! I can turn my hand to pretty much anything when it comes to working with my hands and it has served me well over the years. Perhaps I should be called the Queen of DIY? The thing is unless you make the attempt yourself you’ll have to get someone else to do it and that can cost. A project will either be a success or it will fail and you’ll never know unless you try. You will probably surprise yourself at your capability, just give it a go. As for myself if there is one thing I like it is DIY but sometimes I just don’t know when to stop! On my current project I have done electrical work, concrete laying, joinery and painting. Being an electrician (retired) helps but I have worked at the other disciplines along with many more throughout my life. People say to me is there anything you cannot do to which I reply ‘yes, many’. There are far more things I cannot do than those I can. Am I getting near completing the work in the gym? Well I thought I was but I keep moving the goalposts. On Tuesday (13 th) I concentrated on painting the ceiling and pipes on the ceiling and it was then almost completed but I will have to go over parts of it again. Once that was done I set to work on the boiler plinth. I filled in the space between the two paving slabs (see yesterday’s post) with broken bricks then mixed some concrete to fill in and smooth off. I then watered down the remaining concrete and poured it into the base of the cupboard, later smoothing it out when it was dry enough to work. That took me to a belated lunch at two o’clock after which I returned to the room and began work on constructing the frame around the boiler and pipework so it can all be boxed-in. I had been to the builder’s yard first thing in the morning to purchase the timber. I ceased work at five o’clock after a nine-hour day!

Shirley Anne

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Incompetence? Laziness?

I don’t profess to be perfect in anything I undertake but I make a determined effort in that direction. I take pride in my work and I believe I have every right to do so, the results speak for themselves. Yes I make mistakes and have botched up one or two things in the past but I have never left them that way, I make another attempt until I get it right. I always say if a job is worth doing it is worth doing right first time, it is just as easy to do things correctly as it is to do them incorrectly. The added advantage is not having to return to put things right. I have found lately that not everyone I have employed takes the same pride in their work and I suspect have not been competent in the first place.

The Bungled & the Botched
The Bungled & the Botched (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few months ago now I had purchased new curtains (drapes) for a room I was refurbishing and redecorating and waited eagerly for them to be fitted once my work had finished. On the appointed day the fitter arrived and began the work. I felt a little apprehensive as I didn’t think he was that competent. My feelings proved to be right for I had to intervene in what he was doing else end up with a shoddy job. It was all to do with the way the curtain rail was affixed to the wooden window surround. With a little help from myself he got the job done to my satisfaction. I should have arranged to fit them myself on reflection. More recently E’s nephew botched up the job I had employed him to do, raising part of the garage roof. It leaked because he hadn’t done it the way I had asked. I expect a builder to know what he is doing and not have to take instruction from me. I am not a builder. He had to return and do it again. When the fitters came to install the new garage door they went at it like a bull at a gate. I noticed the mistakes they were making along the way. It should have been a case of more haste less speed but it wasn’t. Their workmanship left a lot to be desired I have to say and I cringed at some of the work they had done, not enough screws where there should really have been, cables left dangling, no bushing of holes where cables passed through and so on. They weren’t electricians or engineers and it showed. They drilled access holes in the plastic body of the control unit using a drill bit only suitable for drilling wood! The bit ‘tore’ at the plastic which began to split. I wouldn’t mind but they had the proper drill bits for the job! I did some remedial work once they had departed. They were supposed to return to fit an alarm and to finish filling gaps with silicone but after a couple of weeks we had to get in touch with the company to remind them. The company sent another ‘engineer’ who fitted the alarm and filled in with silicone all where it was necessary. When he left I looked more closely at his work. I wasn’t impressed. I had installed a large wooden board to accommodate the fixing of the control equipment but this guy chose to screw the alarm unit to the brick wall above it without using wall plugs! Furthermore he had wired the unit into the main control panel passing the wires beneath the top cover housing the light. In the process he had severed the wires! I moved the alarm down to the board and fixed it there. I had to effect a repair to the wiring and cut a slot in the light cover so the wire would not be severed again. I have no idea why he had chosen to install the alarm as he did nor why he passed the wire beneath the light cover especially as there was plenty of space on the board and easier access to the wiring terminals from beneath the unit. He spoiled what was otherwise a good installation on his behalf.

Shirley Anne

Poor electricians?

I am glad I entered into the electrical trade/business all those years ago. For someone who has an inquisitive mind it is the ideal occupation. People often ask why I took up electrical work and the answer I give is that I wanted to know how things work. It is still the reason even now and it doesn’t stop at electrical things, I am interested in many things and how they work, how they are made and the history behind them too. It is a passion I guess but it helped when I first embarked in my career that I enjoy working with my hands and to be truthful it was essential. There are no such things as poor electricians providing they are prepared to work.

Power to the people!
Power to the people!

I am not super rich and never could be unless I had a large business employing many people but that was never an option for me, I simply wasn’t that way inclined. Being self-employed is in itself a driving force though less so for myself these days because I am fortunate to have a two-pension income. My self employment allows me to enjoy that little bit extra without the worry that I would have to struggle on my pensions alone. I could manage on just my pensions and I could even still save something at the end of the month. It isn’t that extra cash that motivates me though, it is the fact that I am still capable of working and I enjoy the work and in meeting people. Of course I no longer work full-time, I have no wish to and probably couldn’t maintain full-time working for very long, even one day doing that is tiring at my age. On Monday morning I changed the bedclothes and washed the soiled sheets in the washing machine before breakfast then an hour later hung them in the boiler room to dry. It is such an advantage having cellars in a house. As I had nothing else planned I was wondering what I could do for the rest of the morning in the garden whilst the weather was dry. I didn’t wish to continue with digging out bluebells in the remaining section of flowerbed that as yet I haven’t touched. I thought there might be one or two popping up in places where I had been clearing them out so I went into the garden to check. I didn’t need to look far and soon found some beginning to show themselves in a couple of places. I spent an hour digging them out before returning indoors. It was now approaching lunchtime so I thought I would prepare a vegetable stew. Using onions, bell peppers, garlic cloves, carrots, sweetcorn, lentils, barley, green beans, pre-cooked diced chicken and seasoning I made enough for three meals.

Washing peppers
Washing peppers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By now it was 12.15 so I decided to have some for lunch but my phone rang and it was a job offer in the next town. I drove there and did the work which has now led to more work in the weeks ahead. It pays being an electrician if you are prepared to work………

Shirley Anne

Easier than I’d thought

A couple of days ago I went to a house where they had an electrical fault in the main distribution panel and I made a temporary repair allowing a continuity of the supply until the panel could be replaced. Well I went along on Thursday to replace the panel with a metal-clad one incorporating RCD units which the old panel had lacked. The switch-gear, panels and metering where all contained in a neat little cupboard in the hallway and very easy to get into. The replacement panel was slightly wider than the one I was replacing and I thought there may have been a problem installing it. It fitted perfectly in the space as if it had been designed specifically for it. I had to remove the left-hand door before commencing the work but that was simple to do. The most difficult aspect of the job was actually in the removing of the old panel. The new panel took minutes to fit and within an hour or so the whole work was practically finished. The work could not have been easier to do and far easier than I had thought initially. I tend not to take on this sort of work nowadays because they can be fraught with problems, not least of all access. I don’t need the hassle. I have enjoyed my life working as an electrician. my-teacup-1I am not sure just how many replacement panels I have installed during my working life ┬ábut they are many. It makes such a pleasant change to have one so easy to fit. I returned home three hours after leaving it and had the rest of the day to myself though I could have arranged to do another job a mere half-mile from the first. That work I scheduled for Friday morning instead. I am determined to spread out my workload as I had promised myself last year but occasionally failed to do so on occasion. I used to wonder what it would be like to reach this stage in life whereby I can take things easy, now I know.

Shirley Anne

Little by little

A Safeway advertisement from the 1950s.
A Safeway advertisement from the 1950s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although I dislike advertisements in any shape or form that are pushed under our noses it is almost impossible to avoid them altogether. That does not mean I am persuaded in any way to buy into services or goods that are offered through any of them because I am not. There are one or two advertisements which mention the word ‘little’ and sometimes I am thinking I wish the advertisements themselves would follow suit! UK readers will know the phrase ‘every little helps‘ from a well-know supermarket chain‘s advertisement and by the way I don’t shop there, but the phrase itself and the meaning behind it do make sense. I was in the kitchen making myself a coffee and reflecting on all that I have personally done in the house in the almost twenty-eight years we have lived here. When I recall all the hard work and the various projects I had set myself to do over those years I am frankly amazed. I then think to myself what would the house look like now had I not done all that work? It is the sort of thing we would never think of doing all at once unless we had the money but even then we would most probably have given the work to others to do. Doing small jobs here and there, mini-projects and minor alterations and little by little much gets done. We look back and see that it was all worthwhile. Of course many tasks have been performed by others but usually because I hadn’t the time or maybe the expertise or the work was too much for one person to undertake. However where it has been possible and where I have not felt intimidated by the work I have taken it on board. Again little by little I have learnt to do all sorts of things I haven’t been specifically trained to do but practice makes perfect. It starts with a task or a project, the willingness to have a go, an ability that can be built upon. Every journey begins with the first step as the saying goes. In this house my journey has taken twenty-eight years, a long road with many steps but one that has been achieved little by little and costing much less than if I’d paid someone else to do everything.

Shirley Anne

Expectations

Great Expectations (1998 film)
Great Expectations (1998 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Try as I may to cut down on work I am finding it difficult sometimes especially when some people have great expectations of me. This past week I worked at the same address twice and all the work was in the kitchen either changing existing switches or power outlets or moving them in the process and replacing light units beneath cupboards and on the ceiling. No new circuitry was involved just simply rearranging one or two things. The first visit was on Tuesday followed by the second on Thursday after the customer had decided they wanted more work doing. No sooner as I had finished the extra work on Thursday when I was asked to install a new cooker hood where none existed once they had purchased it. Sadly I could have done part of the work which would be required whilst I was there on Thursday thereby making the installation of the hood easier when that time arrived. I agreed I would do the work which will probably take place this coming week. I don’t mind the frequent visits as each time I am there it is only for two or three hours and besides, the pay is good! However as soon as I had agreed to do the work I was asked if I would carry out some wiring installations at another house which means lifting floorboards and coverings and channelling out walls and such. I had to draw the line by refusing that work having found out what that work really entailed. It would be far too much to take on board when I am trying to do less rather than more. Too much is expected of me at times and although I know I can do the work offered I have to be sensible and say no sometimes. One guy phoned me a few nights ago asking if I could basically rewire his kitchen power outlets whilst at the same time install a few more. Now this work can take days rather than a few hours and is something I am not prepared to do at my age but the guy insisted that he would install the wiring and all I would have to do is make the connections. However it isn’t that simple for I would have to oversee his work and ensure he was doing it correctly and using the correct methods too. I might as well do it myself than educate someone else to do it especially if they are not qualified in any way. When I politely asked him to employ another electrician as I no longer take on such involved work he tried to persuade me otherwise. Maybe he just wanted a female electrician around the house. I wouldn’t mind so much but my advertisement does indicate that I only do small jobs these days. Great are the expectations of those asking of my services.

Shirley Anne

How does she do it?

Three light switches with exposed wiring
Three light switches with exposed wiring (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I must be a machine. It sure feels like that sometimes but although machines never tire this one does! This machine needs rest and sleep, fuel and lubrication just like the mechanical version for even mechanical versions will break down without proper maintenance. As my readers will already know, I am a workhorse, work interests me and I seem to thrive on it. I have been getting plenty of opportunities to prove that recently as we approach Christmas for I never seem to stop. Again I had a couple of jobs to do on Friday. The first one was to check the work done by a lady who had replaced several of her lighting switches and a few power outlets by herself. She hadn’t the confidence in her work but although what she had done wasn’t at fault in itself she had omitted to fit earthing leads to the metal replacements and one or two of the electrical connections were found to be loose. That in itself might have caused the wiring to burn. For a little bit more than the price I levied for putting things right I could have fitted the replacements myself. I admire women and men for that matter, but especially women who will ‘have a go’ as long as they are confident and have the capability. However it is always prudent to have the work checked by a professional just to be on the safe side. Once I finished the work, which took me to noon, I was to visit another house about two miles away to check a suspected fault with a lighting transformer, a device which reduces the voltage at the light to 12 volts for safety reasons where mains voltages (230 volts) would be a hazard for instance in a bathroom. In fact the light was in a bathroom and I knew that because I had replaced the transformer a few months ago. It appeared that the transformer had been making a buzzing sound. Of course I would have replaced the faulty unit at no charge except for a small fee to cover my expenses but the lady called me to say that the fault no longer existed. I find that hard to believe and think perhaps she had been mistaken. It meant I could return home for a relaxing afternoon as was my intention. I prepared and ate lunch and soon after I received a call from a regular customer asking if I could fit a replacement light unit for her. On previous occasions when asked I had been readily available and that had taken her by surprise as she didn’t expect to have the work done immediately. On this occasion in answer to her request I told her I would be there within the hour and she exclaimed ‘Each time I ask you are ready, willing and available’. Well what can I say? Perhaps she just calls me at the appropriate time. After a little ‘jiggery-pokery’ with the house wiring and indeed the wiring in the light itself, I had it up on the ceiling and working but we then noticed, or rather she did, that the wall switch was making a buzzing sound. I removed the switch and discovered it intermittently broke the supply to the light when moved. I replaced it with a new one. She was happy, I was happy and I returned home, this time for the last time in the day. I hadn’t been home very long when, you guessed it, I got another call. This was from another regular customer who was having problems with a fluorescent light unit in her utility room and with one or two air extract fans but agreed that I should call early in the following week. It is Friday as I write this. I will be there on Monday (today). At this point I am wondering how far into the week I will be called upon to do work. In past years I have worked up to and including Christmas Eve. Once I answered a call on Christmas Day to reinstate power to an electric cooker! Well how else would they have cooked the turkey! I didn’t charge for my visit.

Shirley Anne

Annoying incompetence

Electrical switches. Top, left to right: circu...
Electrical switches. Top, left to right: circuit breaker, mercury switch, wafer switch, DIP switch, surface mount switch, reed switch. Bottom, left to right: wall switch (U.S. style), miniature toggle switch, in-line switch, push-button switch, rocker switch, microswitch. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On Friday morning I did something I hadn’t done for a long time, I arose at eight o’clock. Now to many that doesn’t sound remarkable in the least but for me and during the working week, it is. I had gone to bed the night before feeling very tired and it wasn’t long before I nodded off to sleep sometime around midnight. However, I had to arise a couple of hours later to pay a visit to the toilet. It was now two in the morning and I once again fell asleep. That meant I had a further six hours solid sleep until I awoke at eight. Although I had no work for the day I wanted to get up early in case any came in but also in order to take out the waste for collection. So after I had done that and had my breakfast I sat down at my computer for a time but it wasn’t long before someone called me. I had been to a house in our village late in January in order to replace a faulty lighting switch, actually two dimmer switches on the same plate. I remember at the time I had to purchase an extension ring for the new switches to make more room behind it as it was too deep for the recessed box. Everything was pretty much straightforward and without event. The call on Friday was from the lady of the house who explained that one of the switches had become faulty and would not switch on one of the two chandeliers that was connected to it. I went there immediately to assess the problem and discovered that indeed one of the switches was faulty. It would be replaced free of charge except for my labour costs. I wouldn’t be charging my normal fee in such circumstances however as it was under guarantee. I had to return home in order to get the receipt from my files and then I went to the supplier to have the switch replaced. I hadn’t purchased it from my regular supplier for some reason but from another not too far away. As luck (?) would have it I was served by the same person who originally sold me the switch but I remembered that at that time his service wasn’t up to scratch. He had tried to sell me something completely different and had charged me for the same but I hadn’t noticed. In fact he had undercharged me by a few pounds. That didn’t matter so much to me anyway. I explained what had happened and he returned with a replacement switch and I returned to the house to fit it but guess what? It didn’t work. He had given me back the faulty one! I couldn’t believe it. At this stage I offered the lady a replacement switch I knew I had in the van but was a metal switch and not the plastic variety which had been fitted. I simply wanted to check that there was nothing wrong with the lighting units and that they could be dimmed as before. When she saw the metal switch she was happy for me to leave it connected. It was a new switch that I had removed from someone’s house as they had wanted normal on-off switches. It had only been in use for a week so it was as good as new. The lady paid me for my time and I returned again to the supplier with the faulty switch but this time I was served by another guy. I explained what had happened and I was reimbursed for original money I had paid. Now I know we all make mistakes and I am no exception but it seems that some people do it on a regular basis. It wasn’t the first time I had problems with this supplier and now I will try to avoid ever going back there.

Shirley Anne

A great day

Never a Dull Moment (Tommy Lee album)
NEVER A DULL MOMENT (Tommy Lee album) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was rather busy on Tuesday. The day started off a little dull and the sun was trying its best to show itself from behind a sky full of clouds. That was seven o’clock in the morning but by eight or eight-thirty it was a different story, blue sky from horizon to horizon and it stayed that way pretty much all day long. I was however out working but all the jobs were inside. The first was in an apartment on the other side of the town centre replacing three ceiling lights. I had a lovely time chatting with the lady who lived there and would have liked to stay and chat longer but my next job beckoned. The second job was a further three or four miles away and involved changing a ceiling light unit, a switch and moving a central-heating controller. This lady too was chatty and we got along like a house on fire as they say. By now it was after twelve and I had to drive another twelve miles further afield into the countryside to the third and final job but this time far simpler, just the one ceiling light to change. Again the lady chatted away with me as I did the work. All three women were single, one a widow and the others divorced. They all had their stories to tell and that was pretty much what we chatted about. I was now around fifteen miles or more away from home and it was almost one-thirty. I drove homeward but didn’t wish to start cooking so I went to my local pub for a late lunch instead. Many people sat outside and I expected there to be fewer indoors but in fact there were plenty inside too. Fortunately there were a few tables empty in the bar area where I like to sit anyway. I was back home around three o’clock but when I got into the van in the pub car park I noticed that my dashboard camera was dangling on its cord. The mounting bracket is a simple affair and attached to the windshield using a rubber sucker. In the heat of the day it becomes loose and falls off the screen. It has happened a few times since I fitted it last year and I had it in mind to design and construct a more suitable bracket that I could attach to the bodywork instead but never got around to doing it. So when I got home I tackled the problem and made an aluminium bracket which sits beneath one of the sun visor fixings and disposes of the need for the sucker so it will now never fall away. It looks a far more professional set-up now that it did beforehand. My next-door neighbour came and chatted with me whilst I was in the van and she sat in the passenger seat admiring what I had done. She tells me that I am very talented but really it is only down to experience. After a lifetime of working in the electrical business and having a background in mechanical and other services too is bound to make these little jobs easy to do. I finally stopped working at five o’clock. It had been a very pleasant day in many ways. There is never a dull moment once I get going.

Shirley Anne

There if I want it

I've Got That Old Feeling
I’ve Got That Old Feeling (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been feeling so much better today, Saturday, than I have felt all week. It looks like I’ve shaken off whatever it was that ailed me. Now I usually do not work in my capacity as an electrician over the weekend but it hasn’t stopped people calling me to do jobs for them. One call I got was from a middle-aged man who explained that he couldn’t do work that entailed working with his hands, DIY projects and such things as in his own words he was useless. He asked tentatively if I could fit a wall bracket together with the television on his kitchen wall. A straightforward job that only required a drill and some hand tools and would probably take a half-hour or so. I said I would do it for him as he lives less than two miles away from me and I could be back home within the hour. I was back home an hour and ten minutes later with some extra cash in my purse! I wanted to replace some more pipe lagging at home so after lunch I set about doing that. E had gone out for the afternoon and our youngest son who had come over for the weekend had also gone out. I like it when I am left alone to get on with things because I work faster that way. The pipes I wanted to recover I succeeded in doing but what a mess to clean up afterwards! The old insulation was so fragile it crumbled as soon as it was touched and it got everywhere. Whilst it was on the pipes it wasn’t a problem and it did provide a decent level of insulation but it really did want replacing. There is still much left to do but gradually the pipes are beginning to look much better. I may decide to splash out and redo all the pipes, not because all the insulation needs replacing, though much of it does, but it will be better all round if I do it anyway. Whilst I was in the cellar working I received several requests for my services, some even asking if I could work for them that day. Like I said, I don’t work weekends! I have taken on some of the work for the week ahead. The work is there if I want it. Must be approaching Christmas! I am now finished for this week both working for others or for myself at home. Tomorrow is Sunday and I shall be doing nothing whatsoever unless it can be done sitting down on the settee.

Shirley Anne