Tim Dowling: the power is off – no doubt the fault of the electrician’s apprentice | Life and style
I wake to hear my wife saying something about a power cut.
“Where?” I say.
“The radio just went off,” she says. “And there are no lights on anywhere.” I join her at the window.
“They’ve got their hall light on,” I say, pointing to a house behind ours. “It’s probably just us.”
It is just us. The circuit breakers have all tripped. I climb on a chair and flip them back one by one, trying to isolate the problem.
“I’m gonna check my office,” I say. “If the electricity goes off, alert me.”
I slip boots over my bare feet and run through the rain to my office shed. Looking back toward the kitchen, I see my wife and the middle one staring at me through the windows. I reach over and flip on a light switch. Nothing happens, but the kitchen darkens. My wife and the middle one raise their arms above their heads and wave them like signalmen.
“I guess I’m working inside today,” I say, once power is restored downstairs.
“Do I need to call Kitch?” my wife says, meaning the electrician. I turn on the coffee machine. All the lights go off.
“Yes,” I say.
I run a long extension lead from the sitting room so I can make coffee. Upstairs, I can hear my wife talking to Kitch.
“You’ve got to come today,” she says. “I can’t have him working in the house.”
I’ll get no work done if Kitch comes, I think, because he will require me for an apprentice. I put a slice of bread in the toaster. All the lights go off.
Kitch turns up at about 2pm, tool bag in hand.
“Have you isolated the source, like I taught you?” he says.
“Kitchen sockets,” I say. “Which includes my office.”
“That’s good,” he says. “Make me a coffee.”
I show him where the wire for my office emerges from the house through a hole drilled through the brick.
“Amateurs,” he says.
“Full disclosure,” I say. “I rewired that garden light myself a couple of months ago.”
“It won’t have anything to do with that,” he says.
“Good,” I say. “The inside of it was so complicated I had to post a picture online and ask for help.”
“You didn’t think to call your electrician?” he says.
“I thought you’d be busy,” I say.
“I’m always available,” he says, “to educate.”
He tests the kitchen sockets one by one, treating me, as usual, as if I have an important electrician’s exam coming up.
“Any others?” he says.
“The ones for the washing machine? And the dryer?” He nods.
“Good,” he says. “Show me.”
The washer and tumble dryer are in a cupboard just off the kitchen, stacked on shelves one above the other.
“Why are they raised up?” he says.
“I don’t know. It was always like that,” I say, “but the tortoise lives under there in the winter, so …”
Kitch reaches beneath the washing machine and pulls out a cobwebbed box full of brushes.
“Been looking for your shoeshine kit?” he says.
“Yes,” I say. “For six years.”
He shines his torch on the pipe behind, which is shrouded in a delicate nimbus of black mould.
“That’s overflowed,” he says. “The socket is damp.”
“So my troubles are compounded,” I say. “Beyond all measure.”
“Don’t panic, Tim,” he says.
Kitch changes the socket for a new one, and tells me to put a bowl under the pipe to catch any leaks until he can bring someone round to look at it.
“How much do I owe you?” I say.
“Let’s see how things progress before we get into that,” he says. If he won’t let me pay him, I think, it means my apprenticeship has only just begun.
Next morning I go out early, but as soon as I get home in the evening I go to check the pipe behind the washing machine. Then I immediately go and find my wife.
“Has Kitch been here?” I say.
“No,” she says.
“Then who left the washing machine face down on the floor?” I lead her back to the cupboard.
“Huh,” she says. “It must have shaken itself off its platform.”
“Why would it do that?” I say.
“Because I put a big duvet in it,” she says. I look at the machine, lying there in a puddle like a depressed robot, and I think: beyond all measure.