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!
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.
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.
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. I am not sure just how many replacement panels I have installed during my working life but 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.
Life at work is beginning to return to normal now for me and the work is starting to stream in. I am settling in to the new year after too much rest from the electrical side of my activity. I have been working though…..digging out unwanted plants!’ So far this year I haven’t turned down many requests though there have been a few. They are all small jobs of course , the sort many electrician’s do not take on board unless they happen to be available at the time. Most folk don’t want to wait too long for their work to be carried out and as many electricians are occupied in larger contracts I get to benefit from that. One other thing, or maybe two are that I am a woman and I also have many years experience in my work. I say these things because people who employ me tell me they employ me for those very reasons. Many older women also feel safer having a woman doing the work so I benefit in that way too. There is only one other female electrician as far as I know who operates in the same area and she is often out-of-town on large contracts. I know of only one other female electrician working in the general area but based in another town though I have not met her in person. So work has picked up. I write this on Friday afternoon whilst at the same time watching the inauguration of President Trump, a man I had doubts about when I first knew of his intentions after becoming president. Now I am not so sure about my first feelings. In any event we must allow the man to prove himself. After the ceremony and pomp he will be settling into his new role in the running of the affairs of the United States. I hope he will prove worthy of that role. We will have to wait and see.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When I look back upon my life I really am surprised at the things I have been involved with and the skills I have acquired. I was out with E one day some years ago and she went into a post office to conduct some business. I was left standing alone to browse some of the things that were on sale there and came across some name key-fobs, the ones that have a description and meaning of the name printed on them. Curiosity got the better of me and I selected the two with my names on them just to see what they said. This is what I found
‘Shirley’……..From the Old English meaning ‘From the bright meadow. Usually easy-going, she will dig her heels in when she feels she is right….she knows her own mind’.
‘Anne’…….From the Hebrew meaning ‘Graceful. She is industrious and practical and can turn her hand to anything. A Lady of many talents’.
Now I am not one to believe in such things but the descriptions of my names are actually very accurate and do describe very much my character and abilities even if I do say myself. I bought the fobs! Here are some of the things I have been involved with over the years
Apprenticed with a former electricity supply authority for just over four years City and Guilds Certificates in electrical technology, special techniques, power and equipment and regulations
Basic training and experience with qualified contracting electricians
Experienced in domestic, commercial and industrial fields
Trained in underground mains distribution and overhead mains distribution systems up to 11Kvolts
Experienced and trained in the installation and testing of equipment in distribution sub-stations up to 11Kvolts
Experienced in working with large motors and machinery including overhead gantry cranes
Trained in the testing and installation of all types of metering equipment
Trained and experienced in the periodical testing and maintenance of the old air raid sirens and equipment
Trained in portable appliance testing
Trained in the repairs of most domestic appliances
Fault finding in all types of installation.
Familiar with and experienced in the installation of most electrical cable types Contracting electrician for the electrical supply authority for 14 years wiring houses, factories and commercial premises of all types. Building site works.
Spent the next 21 years working as a maintenance engineer entering at Technician Grade 2 until I departed as a maintenance manager.
Worked on following, large air conditioning plants, refrigeration plant, chilled water and hot water supplies for plant-room equipment, humidity generators and associated controls, air conditioning electronic and computer controls, computer environments and special needs, general plant and building electrical and mechanical maintenance, specialist computer air conditioning units and isolated refrigeration equipment, large refrigeration equipment up to 350 tons, heating and ventilation equipment, elevators, vending machines, catering equipment, fire and smoke alarm equipment, emergency lighting supplies, uninterrupted power supplies and associated batteries, power factor correction systems, building and faulting, testing and installing electronic circuits and control boards and a host of other miscellaneous things.
I left that work to become self-employed returning solely to domestic installations some 17 years ago and for the first 8 years also took upon the maintenance contract for a number of retail outlets of a large confectionery and pastry manufacturer. Along the way in my working life I have become proficient in other fields, bricklaying and general building work, laying concrete, joinery, plastering and plumbing to name a few. I work more or less part-time these days.
I write poetry and songs and taught myself to play the guitar some 24 years ago.