I finally mustered the courage to ask the gas company to send someone to relight the pilot light on our heater the other day. I felt I had to seeing as winter has really set in.
"You want us to do WHAT?" I half-expected the person at the gas company to say when I phoned. "Light your pilot light? What are you: a man or a mouse?"
"A very cold, shivering mouse," I would have had to confess as I sobbed. "Please don't be mad at me. I just can't figure out how to do it myself."
It was not my fault the pilot light went out.
Most years I keep it burning like the sacred flame at Olympia, right through summer, for fear the weather will turn cold and I will not be able to relight it.
But this year our gas supply was cut off during the bushfires that devastated our area of Canberra in January.
A contractor came later and relit the gas on our hot water system, but he said restarting the gas heater was our own affair.
No worries, I thought.
Hey, it was summer. We would not need the heater to be on until late autumn.
And even though I was born without the do-it-yourself gene that gives most blokes at least the desire to be handy around the home, I had managed to light the pilot light on the heater a couple of times over the years. I had no idea what I was doing, of course. I just waved a lighted match around the general vicinity and hoped for the best. Hallelujah, it worked every time - er, until this time.
I have to admit I have never been good with fires.
I got into trouble when I was a kid because I was caught doing my cousin's school homework in exchange for him chopping my share of the firewood.
Before we married, my future wife Katherine and I went on a camping holiday and I used all but one sheet of our newspaper supplies trying to light a campfire. That is when she took over - and had no problems at all.
I was truly delighted when we moved into our house nearly seven years ago and it had ducted gas heating. Now we could be toasty warm all winter and I would not have to do anyone's homework or rely on Katherine to get the home fires burning.
The main unit was outside on a side wall, but the whole thing was was controlled by a simple remote unit conveniently situated inside.
Um, did I say simple?
Well, yes, simple provided you have a mathematics degree.
I have come to grips with it though. I have worked out how to turn it on and off, anyway, though the advance timer remains a mystery and sometimes it comes on unexpectedly and noisily at 3am. Oh, and sometimes it does not want to start at all unless you turn it right up.
A couple of gas heater experts have examined the control unit with wonder and told me they have never seen anything like it.
So it will really, really annoy me if in 10 years some smart-arse who comes to our house says: "Wow, John, I see you have the only XCRTER546765 ducted gas control unit left in the world."
"Oh, that old thing," I would say, looking at the circa 1973 unit on the wall. "Is it really the only one left in the world? Can't say I am surprised. The rest probably ended up at the dump. Useless damn things. I never did work out how to use it properly."
"You're joking, aren't you?" my anal retentive friend might say. "The XCRTER546765 is the only ducted gas control unit ever made that doubled as a pre-timed coffee percolator and toaster. Don't tell me you never took advantage of that on all those frosty mornings? Waking up to a warm house and the aroma of freshly brewed coffee and hot buttered toast?"
"You're kidding me?" I would say, my jaw dropping.
"You did read the manual?"
"Um, well, no, not all of it. I gave up after the first page. I was waiting for my baby son Jack to grow up and study algebra at university."
"Oh what a pity," the smug visitor would say. "What about the indoor automatic pilot lighter? Do you use that?"
"No," I would have to confess, thinking back to all those cold nights I knelt outside at the control panel and tried to wave a match in the vicinity of the pilot burner I could not actually see. All those cold, WET nights when it was hard to even light a match. All those cold, wet, WINDY nights when it was hard to keep a match alight even if you managed to get it alight. All those cold, wet, windy, DARK nights when I really relied on that match to give me some light so I could try to figure out where to wave it.
Who makes these gas heaters anyway? Really, really, really short people with sick senses of humour?
The control panel on ours is at ground level and you have to kneel down to get to it. I guess this is appropriate if you feel the need to say a little prayer, like: "Where in God's name is the #$%$^# pilot light?" or "Jesus, where'd I put that box of matches now?"
There is a diagram on the side of the unit but I am pretty sure it is just the diagram of the London tube Piccadilly Line, and is no help at all unless you want to go to Leicester Square.
"I have had enough," I told Katherine last week when I came in from the cold, drenched and shivering with a whole box of spent matches and a pair of aching knees. "I have tried and tried and bloody-well tried over the past three or four weeks. I don't care what you say, I am going to have to call someone to relight the pilot light."
I am pretty sure this was the course of action Katherine would have recommended three or four weeks before, but she obviously did not want to offend me.
I may have been born without the do-it-yourself gene, but I am proud to say I have lashings of the "I have testicles therefore I can do it anything" gene.
Turns out, the folks at Actew-AGL were quite nice about my cry for help. No one laughed at me at all.
A courteous fellow came by the morning after I phoned and lit the pilot light in a jiffy.
He did not even question my manhood or my mousehood.
Heck, he was so nice I am thinking of ringing the gas company back and asking them to send someone around to show me how to make coffee and toast.
©June 3, 2003 John Martin. All Rights Reserved
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