Sunday, 17 January 2010

A mystery...

An unknown agent appears to be testing The Secret Laboratory. This morning a package arrived from an anonymous sender. The address was written in block capitals, so no handwriting clues. No return address on the package, no note inside and the package was franked with a "Royal Mail postage paid" label, so no postmark. Who could it be from?

Inside: two mugs of Welsh origin, each bearing a conspicuous dragon emblem; a small jug of Scottish origin; a brown paisley scarf of English origin; a newspaper clipping from The Wirral News reporting upon the activities of a certain rock band with whom I once had some association.

Sifting analytically through my portfolio of friends, I could see tenuous links to many among their number but no single friend satisfied all of the criteria. Those with a Wirral connection might know of my Welsh connection but not necessarily of the band in question. Those with the band connection might know of my Welsh connection but nothing of the Wirral. Those with the Welsh connection would know nothing of my Wirral or band connections. Those who might have judged that the scarf would work well with my tweed jacket and moleskin trousers might have known of the band and my Welsh connection but what were they doing in the Wirral? As for the Scottish jug, well, was this just a Red Herring? Or a Kilmarnock even - that's a plaice in Scotland.

I confess to being utterly stumped.

Band, Scarf, Scotland, Wales, Wirral; that's five factors. I should try drawing a Venn diagram to narrow the range of suspects but, on paper, Venns only work with three factors. Looks like I'm going to have to fire-up the multidimensionaliser tomorrow. It's been in the shed all winter - I hope it still works. Now, where did I put the 2-stroke oil?

Thursday, 14 January 2010

The WHUMMMP of clean underpantlessness

It is the sound that every solitary male dreads. What begins as a subliminal thumping grows over the weeks to become a truly disconcerting racket, like unto a teenager learning to play drums in the garage. At last comes an Earth-shaking WHUMMMMP! and the lights go out all through the house. Silence. The washing machine is dead.

This would be distressing for either gender, of course, but the special (and most ironic) tragedy for the male is that calling for an experienced service engineer is like phoning the AA to change a wheel; an admission of extreme girliness. Even if the task has never presented itself before, one feels a masculine obligation to give it one's best shot and fail miserably rather than admit defeat at the outset.

The alternatives are even worse. It's one thing to be sitting in the laundrette in crisp white boxers with "Heard it on the Grapevine" going on in the background whilst your Levis whirl around the tub; quite another thing to be sitting in the laundrette in threadbare nylon paisley briefs with "Steve Wright in the Afternoon" for accompaniment. It doesn't thrill the ladies - trust me, I know about these things.

I would have been particularly upset to lose my Hotpoint Aquarius 1000M. After all, this was the rare edition that included the "Single Bloke" setting on the wash programme selector. No need to understand the intricacies of the other settings - just chuck all your stuff in, select "Single Bloke" and press "On". Everything comes out just like your Mum had done it.

Taking care to isolate the machine from power, water and drainage, I drew breath and heaved it from its lair beneath the fitted cabinets and the sink unit. An adrenalin rush, blood coursing through my wiry biceps, I felt alive.

Seizing a screwdriver, I considered which of the many screws were most likely to grant me access and which were likely to send some delicate internal component tumbling down into an unreachable abyss. Selecting three likely-looking candidates, the top was easily removed and the innards of the beast were laid bare.

As I gazed upon the wonders within, I noticed a spring where no spring should be, then a place where a spring should be but where there was no spring. It took a moment but then a rush of realisation, a "eureka" moment as all suddenly became clear: a spring had come loose. Not any old spring though - a very important spring - the one that holds the thingummybob (yes, thanks Gracie fans, we know...)

But why had the spring come loose? Closer inspection revealed that the hooky bit at the end of the spring had broken off, and this, in turn, was because a certain retaining plate had either never been fitted or had been removed by some rogue service engineer in the past. There was no trace of the missing plate within the machine but the evidence of slots and threaded holes (plus the presence of a retaining plate on an identical partner spring) gave the game away.

No hook, no retaining plate and me running low on clean undies. What to do?

The Secret Laboratory boasts a collection of pliers that would shame a light engineering workshop - 14 to be precise, each with a different purpose. Two of these were selected to fashion a new hook on what remained of the broken spring. The spring now in place, a new retaining plate was fashioned from an old PCI slot blanking plate and secured with a screw of exactly the right type found in my Dad's old collection of "everything you could possibly need". He died in 1998 but to this day he's never let me down. Whatever you need, it's somewhere in his collection - you've just got to work out where he put it (and sometimes this involves bizarre "visualisation" techniques, crystals, incense, chanting and all kinds of hippy shit).

Job done! I reckon that saved me a couple of hundred quid. Another work of genius from The Secret Laboratory!

Note: If you want to try fixing your own washing machine, please observe the usual sensible precautions. Turn off the water supply before disconnecting hoses. Have mops and buckets ready before disconnecting the outlet (you wouldn't believe how much gunk is sitting in the sump). Stick a cork or something in the thing the outlet drained to. UNPLUG UNPLUG UNPLUG! Don't trust the on/off switch or even the wall switch - they don't always do what you think. Remember, some electrical equipment can hold a potentially lethal charge even after being unplugged. If you see something that looks like a little tin can, just walk away and call an expert (one of those babies once threw me across a room and I'm lucky to be here). Finally, if you are of the Compensation Culture, do not under any circumstances attempt to fix your washing machine. In fact, don't try fixing anything. Don't even try staying in bed because I don't want to be sued when you get bedsores. Just close your eyes and try not to exist.