All services crashed, all at once

When you have to provide for nearly all the utilities yourself, up in the high fells, life can be quite challenging when they all break down at once!

Okay, not quite all: the electricity is coming in just fine on our side (though the repercussions of the seized transfer pump in the water system are shorting out the neighbour’s electrical supply on a daily basis), but it feels like we’re refreshing, repairing, renewing every other possible service up here in the hills, just now, as utilities seem to be breaking down around our ears!

We gave up on our five year old (say, maybe it’s ten years old, who remembers?) phone system at last, and bought in a new collection of three handsets this past week featuring a Call-Blocking service, which has, crossed fingers, done the trick and eliminated the persistent spam calls (often three a day) that would drive Carrie crazy in the middle of cooking or baking. While waiting for the community broadband to reach these parts, we also took out a better contract with BT broadband, so all our online devices work together simultaneously now, and that’s a real blessing in this day and age. We’re just in the process of moving over from an ancient, off-contract Sky satellite receiver system to a (lovingly pre-owned, from a smoke and pet-free home) terrestrial digital Now-TV system for the kitchen, with its delightful ‘live-pause’ feature and direct internet connection — just waiting for one more component before I put it together.

Whew — I had loaded the wood-fired oven up with sufficient firewood to accommodate this coming Saturday’s ‘Sourdough Techniques‘ course, in case I was still disabled — so that’s all set, and we have enough firewood in hand to last well into the summer season, we think. Small mercies in the midst of all the other services requiring attention.

The oil burner got its annual service at last at the end of last week, and this week we’ve ordered in our annual oil delivery, which we expectred to see us through until summer of 2020. We have the two big 2500litre tanks because nobody will deliver up our track if there’s any ice, so it’s great to be able to accommodate a full year’s supply in one go. Uh-oh! . . . Alston Oils, who are great local suppliers, took one look at the tanks this time and refused to dispense any more than 500 litres to keep us going, owing to perishing cracks further up on the best tank. Well, the tanks are at least 20 years old, after all, but still, man! . . . so that’s a new domestic bunded slimline tank with proper monitoring and safety controls, before we have a major oil disaster. Okay, next service: what else can go wrong?

The neighbours have Calor gas, which gets filled on a regular basis, but the LPG tanker is smaller than the kerosene tanker anyway. Our own LPG system for cooking runs only the hob these days, and we have enough spare 42kg bottles to keep us going for at least a year or so now. So that’s heating and cooking pretty much sorted, except that we seem to have a valve stuck half-shut (or half-open, take your pick) on the hot water system, which delivers only tepid water for washing-up and baths. Until we get a new valve installed (seems to be a regular service item, that) we’ll have to make do with the wasteful immersion heater.

Meanwhile, the water system itself has been causing us problems, as the transfer pump gave up the ghost about a month ago, just before I went into hospital, though I was able to rig up a work-around to keep us in fresh water for the interim. Today a new fresh water engineer from Yorkshire is visiting us to renovate the whole system, cleaning out the iron/manganese sludge, replacing the faulty transfer pump, refreshing the media in the two big filter cannisters, renewing the backflush heads with modern digital devices, and providing us with a certificate of service too, to keep the county council happy. We’ll hope the rain holds off for long enough to give the engineer a good run at it, but will the finances hold, more to the point!

Simultaneously, or near enough, the septic tank emptying service is coming up to take away all our accumulated poos, leaving the two households with a clear tank and another two years to fill it. We were glad that the weeping bed downstream of the tank had been cleared out several years ago, and everything is flowing cleanly, but it’s time for the emptying service again, wouldn’t you know it! It could be like Grand Central Station up here, with all the service vehicles expected this week!

Just at the moment, the lawn-mowing service (that’s me on our little John Deere garden tractor with its 52″ mowing deck) is in hiatus mode while I await a 7 foot drive belt coming in from America to power the cuttings blower/bagger system. I had eagerly cut the grass as soon as I could on my return from hospital, but I over-filled the collection bags and burned out the belt drive. I hate mowing and leaving all the cuttings littering the lovely lawn. Drat! It never rains but it pours, eh?

At some point, we’ll have to deal with track access and significant ongoing repairs there, as well, since it’s quite important to be able to get in and out of the place conveniently, after all! But I keep wondering: what other service is going to require attention, imminently, and how will we cope when it’s needed? No doubt we’ll put all our heads together and figure things out, yet again, until we’re all comfortable and everything is working well at last.

Folks who live in the village, let alone such a town as Hexham even, with all its ‘mains’ services, don’t have any idea how very challenging life in the deep countryside can be, I bet! It’s at times like these, when everything goes wrong all at once, that even with the best love and perseverance ethos in the world, with nearly thirty years of experience to fall back on, still you have to ask yourself, is it worth it, this life here?

And then, as per normal, you pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and both a lot poorer and possibly a little wiser, jump back into the fray, all systems go again.


  1. Alston Oils calls to chat about the state of our two oil tanks: the friendly driver could not safely fill either tank, because of dramatic cracks in one and perished plastic on the upper surfaces of the other. Apparently, the hot summer last year has caused a significant amount of trouble with plastic tanks throughout the region, and other folks are experiencing the same challenges we’ve just had, with perished tanks. So, a word of caution: it’s not just us who are having these problems! Better to solve the problem before an oil spill which can bring a fine of up to £50,000!

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