In the USA it means a place that needs some work. But for me it’s what I do. I fix things. I always have. I wasn’t much good at things like woodwork at school and I had no clue about how my Scalextrix cars worked other than that the electricity turns the motor that turns the wheels. Maybe there isn’t much else to know. It didn’t help me fix them, but maybe removing 3-in-1 oil and carpet fluff isn’t strictly electrical engineering. I’ve never looked at a syllabus.
I had motorcycles that didn’t and cars that sort of went and mainly because I had next to no money I had to fix them myself or they didn’t go. The one time I gave up and paid for a garage to fix my car they took about half a term’s grant (ah yes, dear reader, there was such a thing before Market Forces and your total indifference to doing anything about it) to fail to fix the kind of problem that is obvious when you start looking at it and begin to think. There was an intermittent electrical fault. The car would stop, then start, or miss a couple of beats, or slow down, or just stop for no reason anyone could see. In those days the sparks came out of a distributor which did that, spinning round and working a cam to put the spark into the right wire at the right time. To regulate things a pair of weights pulled a spring apart as they spun round at thousands of times a minute. The little pile of metal dust told me (and not the garage) eventually what was wrong. The spring had worn out after fourteen years or so and the weights were hitting the edge of the distributor, inside. So the electricity didn’t get to the spark plug when that happened, which wasn’t always.
I don’t know what happens under car bonnets now. You’re not supposed to. Like mobile phones and computers, you’re supposed to chuck them away and get another one when they start to go wrong.
Except that hardly squares with saving resources, whether they’re child labour in China or cadmium in batteries or just my money. So this week it’s time to fix the laptop as well as my iPhone. Both of them have the same problem – after three years of use you can only use them for about two hours at the outside. I know I’m letting the entire economy down but we’re hardly on speaking terms anyway.
Right now I’m waiting for them to arrive in the post, along with the special tools to hack the iPhone apart and the earthing strap to put on my wrist and my metal desk so the static in me doesn’t fritz the electrics. And you’re reading about someone who used to have blue flashes coming out of his fingers when he closed the car door on a Ford. Switching to a Mercedes cured that. It was what the seats and carpets were made of, natural fibres instead of static-generating synthetics. So wish me luck. I can still fix things. It’s what I do.