Wednesday 28 August 2013

Wiggly Amps

Gunter is another big Boer who visits regularly to go fishing.  He is also an electrical engineer.

At the moment I have an electricity circuit spreading out like a spider’s web from a fuze box fitted behind what will be the bar, the kitchen/toilet block with no real circuits at all (I have an extension cable coming in through the window to power the TV, fridge and computer) and a shop also fed off an extension cable.  Considering that the lappa has a thatched roof, twisted electrical cables and overloaded extension sockets with no earth protection are an uncomfortable mix.  If I switch the toaster on, the lights go out.  Everything is still temporary.  I needed to make it permanent, but safe.

Since the contractor paid to do all this and everything else had gone bust, Marcia and I were left with no choice but to bring someone else in to finish the job.  Marcia arranged an electrician and he now holds the record for the fastest time between turning up on site and getting sacked.  He lasted less than ten minutes.  I was trying to explain to him what I wanted.  I want a bloody great distribution board here, I told him.  He said I did not need it.  I want a three position heavy duty switch here so that I can connect the generator to it.  He said I did not need one.  I want fuse boxes fitted to the kitchen and the canteen.  He rolled his eyes, said something in Portuguese to his mate I did not catch and they both laughed.

Marcia has expressly forbidden me from punching anyone anymore, especially locals, so I walked stiffly back to my room, poured myself a slug of scotch and lit a cigarette.  Thus calmed, I returned, grabbed his tool bag and threw it back in his car.  ‘Podes ir embora’ I told them.  They appeared confused and seemingly unable to understand basic Portuguese.  ‘Fuck Off!’ I told them.  They’d seen enough American films to understand that much English.

Unlike most English contractors working abroad I have met, Gunter’s only ambition is to earn as much as he needs in order to pay for what he really wants to do, with his family back home.  Not for him the distraction of bars, discos and whorehouses.

‘I’ll pay cash,’ I finished as I closed my pitch to Gunter.  I needed a professional and he was standing in front of me, all ten feet of him.

Three days later he was back and fitted the humungous switch I wanted.

‘Let me know when you want the permanent feed cut off so you can connect,’ I told him.

‘No need,’ he replied.

Now this I had to see.

The photograph below shows a true professional making a temporary live connection.

Look closely at the fingertips of his right hand.
He has just wrapped them up with insulating tape so he can work on live cables!
That isn't my head he has in an armlock, btw, that is his knee.
Clearly, this is the right man for the job.  He is due back at the weekend and will do everything in only two days.


  1. If it's any consolation, it's not much easier to get a decent electrician in California. Most are only accustomed to new installations, in houses that are being built. They take one look at my old house and have no clue what to do. Hope Gunter works well for you.

  2. "Look closely at the fingertips of his right hand.
    He has just wrapped them up with insulating tape so he can work on live cables!
    That isn't my head he has in an armlock, btw, that is his knee."

    You colonial types


    1. Have you ever opened the lid on a box of frogs? They just look at you stupidly and maybe one or two will seize the opportunity to try and hop out.

      No. We are mad as a sackfull of cut snakes.

  3. Is it coincidence that the phrase to go forth and multiply is so well understood worldwide? Sounds like you will be up and running for business very soon.

  4. I remember my first experience with an Angolan electrician - maybe the same with all sparkys that have not had the benefit of a 4 year apprenticeship. He had to replace a south africa plug (just like the British ones - unnecessarily large but round prongs instead of square) with a European one. This plug was connected to UPS (battery type thing to keep computers going when the power cuts.

    He cut off the existing plug easily enough. The cables inside were white, black and green. So, he connects the black to one prong, the green to the other. not sure where to put the white, he just cuts it off.

    I am not electrician - I have been zapped a few times and the closest thing to a phobia that I have is electricity.

    But, even I know that green is earth and earth in NOT one of the two prongy things. I politely let him finish and when he had gone - cut it off and did it myself.

    I wonder how many detath or fires have been started that way.

    Speaking of which - Tom - you should weave into one of your four coffee blogs the fire at the Alfandega HQ.

    1. I'd forgotten about that. Thankfully no-one was hurt so we can laugh about it now. The Customs HQ nearly burnt down with everyone trapped inside because all our imported fire fighting equipment was stuck in customs!

      The thing that pissed me off about the aftermath was that they gave me a commendation for fighting the fire and getting everyone out but never gave anything to the driver and building caretaker who had the guts to keep going in and out the burning building to keep me fed with the vehicle fire extinguishers I was using.

  5. When we first wired up this present house, a Dutch friend said he would do it in exchange for wine and meals.

    He did a fabulous job, and as the house is quite small, he did it very quickly. When time came to get the power connected, the French EDF turned up, asked for a certificate from an approved installer, then told me to redo the whole bloody lot. Bastards.

    1. Bastards indeed! Fortunately we don't have that problema here which is probably why, as Nigel pointed out, so many people die in house fires here...

  6. Electricity eh? There's one golden technical rule for understanding it. You take your right hand, or it may be the left, I can't remember (one with a complement of at least three fingers anyway) and you point your index finger at the horizon, the second finger to your left (or to your right, if you prefer) and the third finger down to the ground or "earth". This then indicates that you are in no danger of being able to accidentally put all three fingers into an electrical socket at one and the same time. You may safely then say "duh-huh uh-huh-huh" and wait for an accredited professional to arrive. Simples.

    1. He arrives on Saturday. Can I stop pointing at the horizon now?

  7. I hope his costs are not as sky high as he'll be if he carries on working on live wires!

    1. Very reasonable. If he is to go sky high, let's hope it is after he has finished my job!

  8. Congrats on finally getting the ´humungous switch you wanted´. Now you can finally rule the world!

  9. I'm glad he knows what he's doing...nasty stuff the electricity if it bites you. I remember doing some wiring at home once, and realised I done it wrong. So with a certain type of logic decided just to leave it with a big sign to my self not to turn the lights on after I came back from the pub where I was headed to work out what wasn't right. Naturally I did flick the switch when I ought not with the inevitable consequences...a large electricians bill....


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