Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Amateur electricians

Ok. Enough of that. Really. No more plumbing.

Because now we have to move on to electrical. And I’m not even going to discuss the electric security fence, which beeped and hummed all night long last night and nearly drove me mad. (Mad, mad, I tell you! And you know I don’t need any help in that department, do I?)

No, now we’re going to talk about wiring.

You know how, when you’re a kid, you get taught stuff and you think, “When am I EVER going to use this information?” Well....

When I was just a wee lass, my dad was always coming up with “Projects”. Projects, with a capital “P”. Building something out of wood, putting up a flag pole holder on the front of the house, repairing the screens on the back porch. He would always have me come along to help. To hold the screwdrivers, hammer some nails, measure the lumber. And he was great about explaining how to do things. “No, hold the hammer back here, at the end of the handle, so you can really whack that nail and get the full use out of the tool.” “Measure twice, cut once.” “If you make a little pilot hole with the drill, the screw will go in more easily, and straight.” “A bit of bar soap on the screw will let it slide straight into the wood.”

I learned so much, and he was so patient. So many fathers wouldn’t have bothered messing about with teaching their daughters these skills, but my dad... well, he loved passing on all those tips. When I went off to college, one of the best things he gave me was my own toolbox. Which has been a source of numerous arguments over the years with Mr. D, who always maintains that all the good tools are his, and I’ve stolen them and put them in my toolbox... but never mind, I’m sure Mr. D is right, yeah? (My point, by the way, is always that he’s not going to be NEEDING the vise grips on a flight to Barcelona, now, is he? Who’s USING the tools, eh? Oh, oh, I’d better quit arguing while I’m winning, don’t you think? But it’s so nice to get no back talk, just this once!)

ANYway. One of our projects one summer was rewiring a lamp. We’d brought back this ancient lamp from great-aunt Ruth’s Lake Michigan cottage. We found the lamp out back, in the studio, covered with cobwebs and smelling all mildewy, like the lakeside air that stayed trapped in the old studio, with its stored canvas canoes and all the old deck chairs.

The lamp was lovely, in a vintage 1930’s way. So we brought it home with us, frayed fabric-covered cord and all.

Do you remember fabric-covered electric cords? So thick and bulky. And then this massive conical plug at the end, half coming undone. Very hazardous looking.

So my dad decided we’d rewire the lamp. Off to the hardware store, for new plastic coated wiring and a new plug.

He fed the wire through the lamp’s base, and rewired the top part of the lamp. “See, just strip off some of the plastic, and then tighten down these tiny screws onto the bare copper wire you’ve exposed. Done. Now we do the same thing at the other end, and attach the plug. There, see? A new lamp. Good for another 50 years.”

We put in a light bulb, plugged the lamp into the wall, and voila! Light on the subject.

But honestly, how often do you come across a lamp that needs a new plug? In America? You have to look pretty hard, these days, to find that kind of a project.

Ah, but yes.... We’re not in Kansas, or even Illinois anymore, are we, Dorothy? Nope, England for a while, and then now, South Africa.

Not sure if you Americans actually know what British electrical plugs look like. They are massive. Massive! Probably three times the size of an American plug. They have three prongs, always, and they make American plugs look anemic and utterly frail. Of course, they do have to deal with much more power (220 volts, versus America’s 110v). So it makes sense, I suppose, that they are so robust. Anyway, British plugs are just gigantic, and have rectangular prongs. And South African plugs look just like British plugs, except that South African plugs have cylindrical prongs. You see where we’re headed, don’t you?

The rewiring project for 2005-2006. I may be exchanging plugs for the next several months. Unscrew all the screws. Take off the British plug. Re-strip the wire, trim it up, insert into South African plug, tighten screws again. Next please.

All the lamps. The iron. The computer plugs. The cd player. The stereo. The blender. The hair dryer(s). The amp. The coffee grinder. You get the picture. And so there I am, these evenings, at the dining room table, rewiring plugs and thinking of my dad.

Good for the soul, and for my fine motor skills. And happy birthday again, Dad! You’ve taught me and helped me, again and again and again. You deserve the happiest of days!

No comments: