Sunday, February 10, 2008

Socket and see

"Pray observe the magnanimity
We display to Madame Cynity
And indulge in the felicity
Of unbounded domesticity..."

after A. S. Sullivan,
'The Pirates of Penzance'

As is written in the ancient scrolls, marital bliss involves doing some of those things that only a Man (or perhaps even a Goat?) can provide. You know the stuff: Removing spiders from the bath, wiring plugs, putting up shelves... So last weekend I finally got around to hanging some pictures on the walls of the Crumbling Villa. Out came the spirit level, the power drill and the stepladder, and to instructions from Beloved Wife of "Left a bit" and "Up a bit", I drilled some holes.

It must be a bloke thing. Everyone who ever uses a power drill points the drill upwards and squeezes the trigger before getting on with the actual business of making holes in the wall. Even Gromit does it in A Grand Day Out. (Worryingly, so does my dentist...) And thank heavens for hammer action. The Crumbling Villa is actually made of extremely hard concrete beneath the 1/16 of an inch of crumbly plaster. I recently discovered screws with hooked ends instead of the usual slots. Bang the plastic plug into the hole and screw in the hook until all that protrudes is a very short L-shaped piece of metal that'd probably suspend an Acme anvil. Those plastic picture hooks with three or four panel pins might work OK on plasterboard or wood, but they're completely hopeless on concrete. The pictures, or at least some of them, are now up. The remainder await delivery of my tuit. A circular one.

I am given to wonder why the power drill came with only about one metre of power lead. The manufacturer apparently anticipates that I'm only ever going to drill holes within a metre of a power outlet. This is clearly nonsense, so a vital part of the power drill's armoury, as well as drill bits and a chuck key, is an extension lead. Hanging stuff high up requires that the extension lead be supported by a Beloved Assistant or left swinging until it falls off the plug and comes crashing to the floor accompanied by profane language.

It's not only the power drill either. I selected a vacuum cleaner on the basis that it was the one with the longest flex, and even this came with a totally inadequate four metres of cable. So it's out with the extension lead again. Given the tiny cost of the stuff, would it really hurt Mr Hoover's profit margins to put a decent amount of cable on a mains appliance?

An even better example of tight-fistedness with flex is in the ornamental fish industry. Obviously, where the power lead goes into a submersible pump it has to be thoroughly sealed. Electricity and water are not a good mix. But where is the plug? About 75cm from the pump, that's where! And where is the plug plugged? Into a power strip right next to the fish tank. So what do I have to do? Cut the factory-moulded plug off and extend the wire to a power strip inside a dry cabinet. If any water gets on to the flex where it enters the fish tank, it'll run down to the joint. I have done what I can to make the joint insulated and waterproof, but wouldn't a decent length of moulded cable have been safer?

And this brings me on to another thing. There are probably as many opinions on what constitutes the best power socket as there are international standards. But the industry standard power socket in the UAE is the British three-pin-flat 13 amp fused-plug type, delivering around 240V. So why do so many mains appliances get sold here with various versions of two-pin plugs? Is it beyond the wit of Man to supply plugs for the target market's sockets? It is certainly considered beyond the wit of Man to wire a plug in the UK; by law all mains appliances nowadays have to come with a factory-fitted plug. Inevitably on a piece of electric string that's not quite long enough.

What about adaptors? Oh yes, there are loads of adaptors on the market that will enable just about any plug to be bodged into any socket. Quality varies from prettu good to frankly frightening. And most of these adaptors do not provide an earth. The three-core, three-pin plug and socket arrangement has to connect the earth before the live terminals are exposed, and any metal-bodied appliance needs this earth. Without it, an electrical fault could make the metalwork live in lieu of blowing the fuse. Continental Europe's two-pin plugs have a third flush terminal that provides an earth in an appropriate socket. Sticking one of these plugs into the standard adaptor does not provide the earth connection. Some appliances don't need an earth, and using a two-pin adaptor is OK, especially if the adaptor has a built-in fuse. It would be good if the pins actually fitted securely into the socket. I have lost count of how many times a comedy plug has been so wobbly in a comedy socket that it either only makes a sporadic connection or keeps falling out.

In the absence of an appropriate adaptor, a great favourite among those who have no respect for their own mortality is to wedge open the earth terminal of the socket with a wad of cardboard or plastic (please, not metal!) and then stuff the two-pin plug into the other terminals. This practice, like not providing a metal device with an earth, is dangerous, and is only practised because the wrong plugs are provided by the manufacturers. Even that is an improvement on the disconcertingly common stuffing of bare wires into a power socket.


Jayne said...

I'm pretty good with a hammer drill, but like you, no matter which country I've had to use one in, the power cord hasn't been long enough! Do the 'brains' in the design teams of such instruments honestly think that when you need to drill holes in concrete or brick walls to fit curtain rods, that there will be a power socket situated within an arms length? As you say GG, out comes an assortment of extension cords & plugs & that nearly always ends up in the air turning blue from the swearing!
Don't even get me started on vacuum cleaners! In the past 35yrs, I have yet to find a single sodding vacuum cleaner that does what I want it to do, without me having to kick it!

the real nick said...

1. cordless drill. Still looking for a proper cordless vacuum cleaner though(not the small Black&Decker 'crumbs sucker')

2. No worries, you can lever open the plastic tongue of the earth terminal on a socket with a screwdriver, or your tongue even, to insert the Euro two pin plugs. There's no juice in the earth terminal. Not until the socket is switched on and leaks at least. I did that many times (screwdriver only, tongue not yet) and I'm here to tell the tale.

3. Ace hardware and Ali in Satwa sell three pin plugs, readily fitted to Euro flex in a matter of minutes, if not hours.

Gnomad said...

the reason the manufacturers don't fit enough cable to anything is that they also make extensions leads.

Why sell you a satisfactory product when they can sell you a sub-standard one and make you buy another product just to bring the first one to a useful state? That's modern marketing that is.

You think the electrickery is bad in Dubai, you should see how it is in the Magic Kingdom.

The organisation I work for has a chief "electrician" who has refused to speak to me ever since I tried to insist that he went around my workshop and test each socket, write the voltage on it and sign it to say it was safe. In the same workshop we have some 110 sockets (3 different patterns) some 220 sockets (2 different patterns) and some 4 gang sockets that are both 110 and 220, depending which shape plug you use! the "electrician" refused to sign any of them off as safe.

I am currently carrying out a health and safety audit on the workshop according to the relevant British Standard (BS4163:2007) and not one single piece of electrical equipment or electrical installation comes up to the standard. Not one. Only two pieces of equipment are even close. And this is a school, you know, a place where people entrust us to educate their children in a safe and secure environment!

Mme Cyn said...

(By the way, "Madame Cynity" is very much obliged for the picture hanging, and hopes that you realize that we women ask these things so that you men feel Useful and Needed.)


J. Edward Tremlett said...

Screw the drill. Rip the holes out with your teeth, and then flex your muscles until the windows burst inward.

El Casareño Ingles said...

Bah! Looxury! (that's a fake Yorkshire accent)

When I were a lad ah'd fix ma gran's vacuum cleaner cables an' plugs whilst connected to the mains. 'Ad a few shocks mind, but ah'm still 'ere t'tell tale.

And in Spain in every house I've seen there is no separate earth circuit. Just two wires (live & neutral) with a potential difference to serve as an earth.

See 'ere:

Grumpy Goat said...

A hyperlink to the above Wikipedia article is here.

dubaibilly said...

I agree with every word you've written in this on Grumpy - even the bit about the circular tuit.


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