Sunday, 23 December 2007

Nine Kilowatts is not Enough

When it's cold you might think: "why don't they just plug in another electric radiator". Mmm - not that simple.

Each household has a contract for so many kilowatts of electricity. Some contracts are as low as three kilowatts and we feared that that might be our situation. After all, the previous owners only used the place as a holiday home, mainly in the summer. What would they need electricity for, except for the pool pump, the shower and a kettle for tea in the morning? They would be eating out, or having barbecues and long summer evenings mean no need for lots of electric lights.

In fact, after much discussion with various visitors from EDF and peering at the meter in the wooden cupboard in the kitchen, we appear to be buying nine kilowatts - gosh, lots!

Well yes, until you consider that the four oil radiators we already have switched on are each taking one kilowatt. Then there's two fridges, the immersion heater for the water, the pump for the central heating, the electric kettle, the hoover, the TV, three computers plus printers, a hifi system, the wood splitter, at least twenty-five lights and lamps, not to mention electric drills, power saws, assorted flymos. What if everything was on at once?

In fact it was switching the toaster from two slices to four that did it. One minute everything was working and then darkness and a distant shout of rage from Tod on his computer. And we were supposed to be going out to Eric and Phoebe for supper. A vain attempt to explain to the EDF helpline just meant I had the phone put down on me. Having snarled at each other, Tod had bid a hasty retreat to walk the dogs. So in the dark, alone, I made a tearful phone call to our evening's hosts. Eric gallantly offered to come out to see what he could do and promised to be there in half an hour.

Tod returned, calmer, with the dogs and taking the torch climbed on to the kitchen table to peer at the row of fuses. The big black master switch (the disjoncteur, as I now know it's called) was clearly on, so it could not be that. "What does this do?" he said, pushing up one of the fuses that seemed to be disconnected. And the whole of the house flooded back into activity - fridges whirred, lights lit up, computers rebooted. The joys of living with a man who tries something first and asks questions afterwards!

But now we had Eric on his way, coming to the rescue, and missing out on that hot bath before supper. He arrived with a bemused smile on his face - he'd seen our lights in the distance as he drove along the ridge. For him it was the best solution. He'd visions of having to stay alone in our dark, cold house trying to fix the problem while we sat in the warmth and light at his place, with wife and kids, eating a delicious meal. He thankfully headed home for the bath and we followed later to share in an especially happy evening.

It was last October we started talking to EDF about increasing our nine kilowatts to twelve. Not just a matter of flicking a switch though. The cable from the mast outside is not heavy-duty enough. So we signed the papers, paid the money and waited.

We finally have a date - 13th February - when we hope the work will be done. In the meantime, when I need four pieces of toast I switch off one of the radiators.

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