Thursday, 12 March 2015

I can still fix things

It's good to discover that I can still fix things.

I speak as someone who was never 'good with her hands', who never routinely dismantled things 'to find out how they worked', and who took as little interest in mechanical matters as she did in sport. (Apart from occasional social games of badminton, sport was always for me - and remains - an unattractive competitive tribal notion quite alien to an interesting, comfortable and congenial life) Yes, I might for instance revel in driving a car with skill and speed through glorious countryside - and indeed understand how the laws of physics apply to heavy moving objects with limited adhesion to the road surface - but I never wanted to get my hands dirty under the bonnet, nor become expert with an impressive collection of shiny tools. That said, some minimum know-how was constantly needed for car, home and caravan, just to fix minor things that went wrong, or got broken. That minimum I could do, and did. I speak, of course, about conditions in the Old Life.

What has happened in the New Life? Less than before, I'm afraid. For one thing, my strength and bodily flexibility are less. I can't lift, hold, pull, push, twist and turn as I once could. This is of course partly the effect of ageing and taking care not to place strains on muscles and other bits ever more susceptible to aches and pains. But the former 'I can fix this if it's not too hard' mentality has been replaced with a mindset that says 'You know, I might get rid of this item if it breaks, and arrange things differently'. Which leads to a regular reappraisal of the best ways to organise my life - surely a Rather Good Thing - even though it happens reactively, because something has stopped working and must be considered for replacement. I now ask myself why does it require replacement? Is this someone else's necessity, or must-have gizmo, but not yours? Thus a pair of ornate but malfunctioning wall lamps in the caravan were neatly replaced with coat hooks - immeasurably more useful. And I didn't get a man in to do it for me. I did it myself.

Sometimes though there are things that require urgent action on the spot. They are most likely to occur while on holiday in the caravan, and indeed will be something to do with the caravan itself. Actually, it's astonishing how trouble-free my caravan is, considering its complexity (electrical, gas and water systems, plus all the road-worthiness stuff like tyres, suspension, brakes, road lights, hitching-up gear and flexible electrical connection with Fiona when in tow), construction (aluminium, plastic and wood body on a plywood base, all attached to a steel chassis, with plenty of potential water leak spots) and age (nine years old in 2015). But gradual wear and tear is inevitable. And every year something new comes adrift - generally far from home - and needs a fix.

This year it has been the 'tap-tap-tap flapping noise when it's windy outside', a highly irritating noise when trying to get to sleep. It seemed to be coming from one or other, or both, of the ventilation grilles for the fridge/freezer. Not a thing to investigate at night. But I looked into it yesterday morning.

Removing the grille covers might have been a fiddly job (it was so on the previous caravan), but, pleasantly, all I had to do with each one was to slide two plastic lugs sideways and pull the cover off. This revealed a rectangular frame with insect-excluding mesh attached to it. This frame was easily removable because it was not clipped to anything, just held in position by the grille cover. Ah! There was a little play in it, so that gusts of wind could make it move in and out, creating a little tapping or knocking noise. I wondered why this noise had only now become noticeable, but I was expecting rain and the immediate focus was on stopping any movement, and silencing the noise. I was in a Devon field: some quick-and-dirty method, then. I had some wide, clear tape for potential water leaks and other problems, and now used this in short strips to secure each frame firmly into place. Then I put the grille covers back on. No naughty knocking noise any more. Success!

OK, this was a very small achievement really. A handyman (or caravan dealer technician) would have laughed at it. But they weren't around, and it was myself who investigated, and saw to the job, not Superman or Wonder Woman. So I feel rightly chuffed and triumphant. And very pleased to find that I can still deal with things like this.

After all, my self-perception has changed so much. It must be the ongoing effect of socialisation in the New Life, what happens when you live your new social role totally. You lose the habit of automatic self-sufficiency. That makes it such a big deal, such a big risk, to venture far away from home. My 26-night summer trip to Scotland, for instance, is on one level just an ambitious but well-planned jaunt. On another it's an immense mental challenge, because I will be out there on my own, with only Rosie and Fang for day-to-day support, and, at the farthest distance, several perilous travelling days from Melford Hall and safety. So it's good to discover that I can cope if sundry little things need attention!

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