CHAOSTOCOSMOS

Friday, 24 October 2008

It was on a Tuesday morning ...

Recently, British Gas sent my mother a letter offering her £300 off a new boiler. So she brings it to me all excited, like she'd won the lottery and was going to get a new boiler for nothing, or close to it. After stifling a guffaw, I suggested it would cost at least £2,000 (even after the "gift" was deducted), but no, she wouldn't believe that. Of course, I must be wrong.

There was only one way to deal with this, so I rang to get them to come round and tell her how much a new boiler really costs, even with money off. In writing.

Which they did, on Tuesday morning and, lo and behold, the first verbal figure the man came up with, was exactly £2,000. Yes, I had to say it! By the time he'd done his sums, added VAT, and printed it off, it was nearer £3,000.

Now, I know she has absolutely no intention of changing the boiler (heck, she wouldn't even change the settings on the washing machine), but she was talking about it beforehand, saying, "depending on what they say" (on price) ... then saying she did not want credit.

Once she told the man her date of birth, she was told she absolutely wouldn't get credit either, which, funnily enough, is exactly what I'd said. Not that I was beleived, of course. Suddenly, this became a problem and a "Where am I going to get the money from?"

Ah, you're thinking, well, she would say that in front of the bloke to wheedle out of ordering. And you'd be wrong. She did um and ah a bit, but she left him with the impression that she might have the cash if she had to (and she does.)

And she'd HAVE to find it from somewhere, if the boiler went wrong and, when it does come to the end of its useful life, which is probably right about now.

No, it was after he'd gone that she started having her tantrums, which, once more, ended up with her screaming at me and telling me to get out and go back to Tenerife ... All because I offered the "grown up" observation that, if she wasn't going to be selling the house any time soon (we'll get back to that), then she has absolutely no other choice but to maintain it.

That £3,000, over an estimated 15 years of the average life of a boiler (The Telegraph, apparently reckons you should budget for a replacement every decade), works out to be £200 a year (£4 a week), which is about the same as the cost of the annual service contract.

My dad used to put away sums like that to cover these types of replacements and they must be considered as part of heating costs in Britain. And, if you can't afford to do this, then you can't afford to live where you do.

The current boiler still works, just, but there are problems, because it's 16 years old; there's reduced efficiency, of course, and there "may" be problems finding parts for it (I don't know how much of a problem that is yet) and, it's the old open flue type that often has blow backs that have since been declared dangerous. (In council properties, their removal is now compulsory.)

The bloke said he wasn't hard selling, then tried to "put the fear of god up us" with scare-mongering stories of how, if anything goes wrong with it, they'd just slap a label on it and cap the gas off. It just so happens that I worked for British Gas for several years, way back when, so I know they did do that when there's a dangerous gas escape. They didn't do it just for a broken boiler and that sort of selling is the first thing that would send me scurrying to the competition.

But, it also happens that my mother knows a bloke who worked in the gas leaks department at North Thames - on the same floor where I worked - so I told her to talk to him. "What can he do? He can't give me £3,000", she snaps, nastily. No, but he can help us make a more intelligent educated guess over whether there really is a need to be proactive and change the boiler before it goes wrong; how likely parts would be unavailable, where to find out, etc.

In other words, I know she won't listen to a damn word I say, so ...

She picks up her phone, she appears to dial, then, with bearly time for it to have rung and been picked up on the other end, quickly rushes into a vague diatribe about needing help with "something". Her tone and delivery sounded to me like she was reciting into an answering machine, but she was purporting to be having a conversation with a human. If anyone was on the other end, they didn't have much chance to ask what she wanted (she didn't say), reply, chat, nothing. Immediately she "hung up", she recapped that it was done, he'd be round in a day or two. The call was so fast and so strange, I reckon she might have rung "nobody" and acted, hoping I'd drop the subject. Which isn't very grown up.

Either way, the man has never showed - yet, strangely, he's supposed to be a really good friend who would drop anything to help her - and she hasn't mentioned the subject again since.

What happens when we really do need to get something done?

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