25 Jun 2011

It was nearly a near death experience.

A few weeks ago Tonia was browsing the intranet at work, which has a section that’s a sort of Craig’s List for Council employees. You can find all sorts there. One listing in particular caught her eye; a bunch of teak mid-century dining room furniture, listed for FREE. Seems a guy was clearing out his mother’s house, and just wanted to be rid of the lot.

Mid-century furniture is a bit of a thing in our house. Tonia prefers British made, Haywood or G Plan, while I favor Danish designers, like Ole Wanscher, and Koford Larsen. We both agree, we’d love to collect, but know that we don’t really have room to be collectors. We have to content ourselves with collecting pictures of the stuff instead.

The furniture listing offered a dining table exactly like ours, chairs to match, and a number of sideboards. Mid-century sideboards are also a bit of a thing in our house, so we were excited. Undaunted by the fact that we already have a lovely sideboard (full of yarn) we asked for the smallest sideboard of the lot anyway. Because how hard could it be to fit another sideboard in the house?

Tonia brought the sideboard home this week, and instantly, we knew it was a mistake. Maybe a mistake. It didn’t look that big in the picture. So it sat, hugely, in the living room that night and, when we woke up the next morning, it was still there. We debated whether to keep it, or find it a good home.

After Tonia left for work I started shoving furniture around the room, in a manner that has come to be known as “swoosh-bang”. Swooshing involves scooping up something that is out of place. Banging is the sound the cupboards make when I put the thing away. I didn’t wake up with a plan to swoosh-bang that day, but then I never plan for it. It just sort of happens. I swoosh-banged for an hour, and not only managed to make the new sideboard fit, I also filled it right up with yarn, for which I make no apology. Who amongst us hasn’t assessed furniture for yarn storage potential?

So everything fit and it was looking good. But of course all of the art on the walls was now in the wrong place, so that was my next task. I took stuff down, and dusted, banged in new nails, and hung art in new places. And then, as I was tidying up, the power went off. I was listening to the radio, but I hadn’t flipped any switches or anything, so it was weird. I went upstairs to the breaker box and, sure enough, one was tripped. When I went to flip it back, it sparked and popped. I tried again, and the same thing happened. Not good.

I called my neighbor Frank, and he called Simon, and they came round and together unplugged everything on that circuit. They poked around. They tested outlets. And then they said, “Call an electrician.”

Ian, the electrician came the next day, and he cut power and isolated things, and tried one thing and another. After about an hour he pointed to the pictures I had hung the day before, and he asked, “How long have these been here?”

I told him that I’d just hung them, and that actually, I had noticed something funny about the ease with which the nails went into the wall just there. And he pointed to the outlet near the floor, directly below the pictures, and said, the wires come down the wall and go into here.

Ian cut away the plaster, and exposed the plastic trunking where the wires go through. There, in the trunking, were two little nail holes. The nails had not gone into the wire inside the trunking, but they had pierced the sheath of the wire, and it was enough to cause a short, and take out the whole circuit.

I didn’t hit those wires carrying 220-240V when I drove the little nail into the wall. If I had, I’d have been toast. I was a whisker away from disaster that morning, and didn’t even know it. How I managed to live here eleven years and not learn that you should never pound nails above an electrical outlet, is a mystery. I guess it must be one of those things you learn when you’re young in Britain, and I didn’t grow up here, so I didn’t learn it. Poke a fork into an outlet in the US, and you’ll get a shock, certainly, and maybe even a burn. Poke a fork into an outlet in Britain, and you’re dead. I know better than to do the latter, but the nail thing was not in my knowledge bank. Probably, if you have lived in Britain your whole life, you know this, but it still bears repeating. Don’t pound nails into the wall above a socket. Seriously. You could die.

Dealing with a swoosh bang, and a nearly near death experience all in one week has, I’m afraid, put me off my stride. I’m not as far into the Cast On production process as I’d hoped to be, but I’m determined to pedal a little faster next week. Despite being behind schedule, and several drachmas poorer for pounding that nail, there are a couple bright sides to my cautionary tale. I did not die, and I’m very happy about that. And, as it happens, my new best friend Ian, the electrician, raises alpacas. And you should have heard me gay gasp when he told me that.

Posted on June 25, in Blog


  1. kimchi wrote:

    that is a LOVELY sideboard. and it looks even more beautiful with yarn in it!!!
    but OMG. OMG!!! i’m so glad you are okay! recover and relax. miss you and sending you hugs! :o)

    Posted on 6.25.11 ·
  2. kimchi wrote:

    p.s. omg. Ian. electrician. ALPACAS????

    Posted on 6.25.11 ·
  3. Julie wrote:

    So glad you are not toast! otherwise, a lucky accident that brought Ian into your life! an Alpaca connection, very cool!

    Posted on 6.25.11 ·
  4. Marisa wrote:

    So you gained a truly lovely piece of furniture, avoided death, and now have another potential fiber source!?! Phew! Now go have a cup of tea and count your blessings.
    PS It’s good to hear your voice (at least in my head as I read this post). You’ve been missed.

    Posted on 6.25.11 ·
  5. Erin wrote:

    Yikes! Glad it was only near-near-death! And hooray for nice free furniture. 🙂

    Posted on 6.25.11 ·
  6. PaulaK wrote:

    Oh my. I’m so glad you survived; you’ve made me glad I have only stuck forks into US plugs. Lovely yarn storage cabinet, I mean, um… sideboard.

    Posted on 6.25.11 ·
  7. Jina wrote:

    So glad you’re okay! And thank you for passing on the info about electrical sockets. Being a mother of two young toddlers (living in the US), I’ve often wondered what would happen if they stuck a fork into an uncovered socket. Now I know. And if we ever go to Britain, I will definitely keep them away from any combination of utensils and sockets!!! Scary.

    Alpaca?!? How common is that…the random raising of sheep, alpaca, etc?

    Posted on 6.26.11 ·
  8. Amy Hewgill wrote:

    Good to know. This information is new to me AND vitally important given the fact that I am also American and now live in a British colony. Thanks for passing that on and saving me a few bucks in the process. And I am also glad that 1. you are not dead and 2. your yarn looks fabulous in it’s new environment. btw, what are those fabulous little cloth? baskets? Where did you find those? Please don’t tell me IKEA, my little country still doesn’t have one. blast!

    Posted on 6.26.11 ·
  9. Mara wrote:

    Wow you did have an eventful week! The electricity bit probably is a British thing. We even teach it in the schools and there was a major government educational program in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s to let people know of the dangers. I remember when I was tiny being a bit player in one of them – I had to pull a plug out of a wall by it’s wire to show how not to do it.

    Posted on 6.26.11 ·
  10. Rae wrote:

    I am glad you did not die. I had a dump truck side swipe me in the Miata. I am also glad I did not die. Odd how just another inch or two and life could be so different for each of us. Can’t wait for the next podcast… Drawing a new font this week. I think I’ll listen to some old podcasts as I draw away….

    Posted on 6.26.11 ·
  11. Amy, the baskets are from Ikea. Sorry! They actually look like they’re single crocheted, from some plastic lanyard-like substance.

    Posted on 6.26.11 ·
  12. Katia wrote:

    A near alpaca experience, could have been worse :-).

    Posted on 6.26.11 ·
  13. Good afternoon Still Alive Brenda,

    I love your internal furniture moving stories, because that’s how I live, too.

    I live with an electrician, but he expects me to raise the alpacas when we move to the (planned) farm.

    I like your arrangement better…

    Huge love, A

    Posted on 6.27.11 ·
  14. Nina wrote:

    Oh my goodness! That sounds awful. On the bright side your side board is gorgeous and an object to incite great envy in the hearts of knitters everywhere.

    Posted on 6.27.11 ·
  15. Olivia wrote:

    Hahaha…Ian the alpaca raising electrician. It could be one of those romantic comedies or something. The sideboard is so pretty! I like the bins you have in it too! Good find! And congratulations on not dying. Try not to do that again!

    Posted on 6.28.11 ·
  16. Joan wrote:

    Geez Louise – guess it wasn’t your time – so much alpaca you were meant to go through:)

    Posted on 6.28.11 ·
  17. hunter wrote:

    I am filled with the urge to mail you a hammer with a nice, non-conductive wooden handle. Just to be safe.

    Posted on 6.29.11 ·
  18. prairiepoet wrote:

    Whew! So glad you are safe and sound. Stay away from those wires. I can’t believe you hired an electrician who raises alpacas. Only in Wales. I love alpaca and alpaca/wool blend yarn.

    Posted on 6.29.11 ·
  19. iloveyarn wrote:

    i imagine this wouldnt have happened had you been doing something more productive

    Posted on 6.29.11 ·
  20. Electricityisdangerous? wrote:

    ‘d hv thght t wll knwn fct tht lctrcty s ptntlly dngrs, rgrdlss f yr cntry f rgn.
    Th fct tht y, nd thr mmbrs f th mrcn cmmnty dn’t sggsts flng n yr dctn mr thn spplmntry ndrstndng n rs.
    Hw cn ny dult rch pnt n thr lf whn thy fl to rls ths, nd yt stll rmn lv?

    Posted on 6.29.11 ·
  21. Dana wrote:

    Brenda, I’m glad you didn’t die, and I now have furniture envy. 🙂

    Posted on 6.29.11 ·
  22. Marceli wrote:

    I’m just glad to hear you’re well, and working on the podcast. So interesting how life can change in a split second… And a good electrician that raises alpaca??? Sounds like jackpot to me!

    Posted on 6.30.11 ·
  23. Sally wrote:

    O. My. Goodness.
    I grew up here.
    I’m an electrician’s daughter.
    You were very lucky….
    love the Swoosh-Bang thing.

    Posted on 6.30.11 ·
  24. susan in dulwich wrote:

    Yipes! I’m really glad you’re okay. I didn’t grow up here either and have been willy-nilly nailing things into the plaster walls in my house without considering electrical wires. Thank you for sharing this cautionary tale.
    I like your new sideboard. You two have excellent taste – I think mid-century stuff is lovely

    Posted on 7.1.11 ·
  25. cls wrote:

    An electrician who raises Alpacas? Send him here?

    Posted on 7.5.11 ·
  26. Eleanor wrote:

    I just want to say thank you for your fantastic podcast – I referred to it in my dissertation for my Fine Art degree 5 years ago when I was discussing knitting and fibre crafts as valid mediums for ‘high’ art and sculpture. (There was a lot of sniffiness about this in the art world.) I was so happy that you got to be on the 4th plinth – I felt thoroughly justified and proud! If a pair of Tighty Aran Whities aren’t a sculpture, then what is? And if the knitter who made them is not an obssessive compulsive artist then… that just leaves crazy.

    Please get one of those gadgets that detect hidden wires before hanging any more art. x

    Posted on 7.7.11 ·
  27. Ken wrote:

    Interesting story about electricity in UK and why the system is 220V instead of 110V as it is in the US where Brenda grew up. It seems that the British had just spent millions of pounds on completely refurbishing the gas system through the UK when electricity became the thing to do (keeping up with the US), but 110V cost about twice as much to install. So now everyone is stuck with a dangerous load, actually about 240V in European standards.

    Love you, for heaven’s sake be careful!


    Posted on 7.19.11 ·
  28. Rebecca Eaves wrote:

    Hi Brenda, I’ve been looking for the perfect stash cupboard for ages.Your’s looks great! We are going to an Alpaca Farm birthday party at Toft Alpacas on 6th August.Very exciting! x

    Posted on 7.26.11 ·
  29. Laia wrote:

    I’ve been leary about pounding nails over sockets for years, even though I live in the States. I’ve lived in several apartments of questionable construction and don’t trust that things have been done right.

    If I ever move to Britain, I will be doubly paranoid about pounding nails.

    Electrocution: Just Say No.

    Also, very jealous of your new furniture. I’m having Small Space Depression right now (300 sq ft total) and wish I could have more space for nice things. OK, well, I would have a bit more space if I didn’t have so much stash of yarn, fiber and fabric. But still.

    Posted on 8.8.11 ·
  30. Um, Brenda, I’m grateful that it was only a few drachmas that you lost. Please take care of yourself, you are the only you we have! Yay on the new furniture, and double Yay on the yarn storage.
    I just have one question.
    is. Ian. married…

    Posted on 8.12.11 ·
  31. India wrote:

    Hmmmm….there is much good food in the UK, and a lot of it is outside of the cities. Shame you didn’t find it :0(

    Posted on 8.30.11 ·

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