17 August 2011

Green DIY with Soot and Tuna Flakes

We have a log-burning stove in our lounge.  It's a great and green way to keep warm in the winter.  We have a chimney that handles the exhaust from the stove and is a very successful carbon-capture facility, judging by the amount of soot that gathers up it.

Chimneys being what they are, they have to be swept regularly, at least every other year, in an attempt to avoid burning the house down.  There is a metal sheet behind the stove that seals off the chimney from the lounge.  The flue from the stove passes through this sheet and the sweep has to pass his brushes through the flue to do his job.  An unfortunate consequence of this is that much of the dislodged soot misses the sweep's vacuum cleaner nozzle and is prevented from completing its plummet to the centre of the Earth only by the floor of the hearth that lies lies out of reach behind the sheet.

Over the five years that we have lived here, we have had the chimney swept twice.  Goodness knows how many times it has been swept since it was constructed in 1985.  I suspect that the space behind the sheet could be almost full.  Last time he was here, the sweep suggested I make a two-inch hole at the bottom of the sheet so he can get the nozzle of his vacuum cleaner in and remove such errant detritus (I paraphrase; whether he is that erudite or not I cannot say).

'Tis once more the chimney-sweeping season, and so I decided to act upon the necessity drawn to my attention of excavating said hole in the sheet.  Since I do not possess a two-inch drill or other conveniently-sized boring contraption capable of cutting metal, I set about the process in the following manner.
  1. Drew, near the bottom of the metal sheet, a circle around the lid of an old fish food pot which happened to be about the right size (and which now acts as a holder for drill bits).
  2. Using one of the small drill bits from the fish food pot, drilled a series of holes around the circle drawn in step 1.
  3. Using a larger drill bit from the fish food pot, enlarged the holes made in step 2, so that at least some of them overlapped to make a slot.
  4. Decided which end of a junior hacksaw blade to hold (the proximal end).
  5. Wrapped the proximal end of the junior hacksaw blade with insulation tape so that it would not cut a hole in my palm during the next operation.
  6. Pushed the other (distal) end of the junior hacksaw blade through a slot made in step 3 and sawed through the metal that remained intact between the holes.
  7. Removed the metal disc now released from its former location in the sheet of metal.
  8. Swept up the pile of soot that fell through the hole now in the metal sheet.
Flushed with success, I then had to find a way of closing the hole when it was not needed by the sweep.  I thought of getting a metal blanking plate, such as might be used in electrical conduit.  Now, the best place to get one of these, I thought, would be B&Q.  However, I couldn't be bothered to go all the way to B&Q and, in any case, we have a perfectly good hardware store on a nearby high street.  I am all for supporting local businesses and so I went to the hardware store.

Seeing that I was searching for something, the lady behind the counter asked what I wanted.  I explained I wanted a blanking plate and she showed me the plastic electrical blanking plates that the shop carried.  I explained what it was for and that the heat from the stove precluded the use of plastic.  Undaunted, she said, 'Why not use the lid of a tin can?'

I must confess to being bowled over at the sheer brilliance and creativeness of this idea.  I bought a small pack of the self-tapping screws I would need to fix the lid in place and hurried home to find a tin lid in the recycling bin.  Had I gone to B&Q, I may have been told that there might be something three-quarters of the way down Aisle 473 on the right hand side, or that such a thing was not available, or one could be ordered for a week next Thursday.   

Unfortunately, the baked bean tin lid at the bottom of the recycling bin was not large enough to cover the hole and still have room to drill holes for the fixing screws.  Fortunately, the tin of Asda savers tuna flakes in the cupboard was exactly the right size.  Furthermore, we had a small 'Tupperware' container (I use the name in a generic sense akin to the use of 'Hoover'; a Dyson is, of course, a Hoover) that was the right size to hold the contents of the tin that was to be sacrificed, thus ensuring that Monday's sandwiches would not be rancid.

All that remained to be done, after removing the lid from its can, was to punch two clearance holes in the lid to allow the shanks of the self-tapping screws to pass through, drill two corresponding interference-fit holes in the metal sheet in which the screws would find a firm grip, and fix the now recycled erstwhile tin lid in place in its new role as a blanking plate.

Job done!

06 August 2011

On Growing Old and the Ignorance of Youth

A couple of weekends ago, we were far from home celebrating my Beloved's mother's birthday; about 365 miles away, in fact.

For all of you who are now green with envy at my being so far from the 'outlaws', let me say immediately that this vast distance is a big problem for us. I actually like my in-laws and wish they were closer to hand, particularly as they get older and more infirm. My own father and step-mum live 200 miles away, and the same sentiment applies.

My Beloved's father is not, to put it mildly, a well man. In respect for the squeamish among you, I will not catalogue his impressive collection of surgical procedures. Suffice it to say that his heart is not likely to be made available for transplant ...

On the Monday after the festivities, we convinced him to see the doctor about an acute problem he was having. The doctor, on seeing how breathless he was, checked his blood pressure and pulse and promptly sent him to hospital where he was admitted.

I find myself thinking more and more about the ravages of age—perhaps because I am in my late fifties and beloved members of the generation before mine provide a salutary warning of what could lie ahead of me ... I reflect on how active and vital my father-in-law used to be—he did 20-mile walks easily when I first met him, and was involved in all manner of activities—and how much he struggles now. I see his frustration at the diminishing of his powers, and contemplate the inevitability that lies not far enough ahead of us ...

As a younger man, I hardly ever thought of ageing, let alone being old. We seem unable to grasp that the old were once the young, and that, one day, we will become the old, should we be lucky enough to live so long.  This seems to produce a disconnect in us that impacts forcefully on the way we treat the old.  We talk to them as though they are infants rather than possessors of hard-won experience; we see them as inconveniences to be stuck away in homes instead of people who spent themselves to give us a good start in life. For the young who are prepared to listen, the old are a source of wisdom and good advice; they have seen it all before, been there, done that, suffered and survived harder times than any we have seen.

I am disgusted by the contempt that certain elements of the young seem to display for the old.  Then again, they seem to be the sort of ignorant fools who show contempt for anything and anyone they perceive to be vulnerable; the sort of scum that torments puppies and terrorises old ladies.  One day, they may get a taste of their own medicine ...

I know there are old people who are bitter and obnoxious—I have met a few—who expect respect but give none.  Some of them have been that way all their lives and see no reason to change, some have become that way because of the way they have been treated. Nevertheless, in general, we should cherish our old folks, especially our parents and grandparents, particularly those who have helped us to find our way in life.

My father-in-law came out of hospital last Friday, much improved, much less breathless, but on additional medication. We are grateful for every second of his life.