Keep it Clean

Anyone who’s visited our house would agree it’s never particularly spick and span. None the less, I seem to spend my whole life cleaning and washing things. Teeth, hands, clothes, dishes, carpets, windows, shower heads, guitar necks, cats’ paws, computer keyboards – the list goes on and on. I’m frequently reminded of Joan Rivers’ remark about washing up: “what’s the point? Three months later you’ve got to do it all over again.” More like three hours later round here.

There are some things, though, that are so off the bottom of my cleaning list that they aren’t really on it at all. Cars, for instance. I allow rain for the outside and organic decomposition for the inside to take care of this chore. Penny sometimes gets a fit of revulsion and drives the boys outside with hoovers and sponges but their results don’t always reflect the amount of grumbling. In any event, two days later the cars look just the same as before.

Sometimes I leave my cleaning duties and actually try to fix things. If it’s anything mechanical, forget it, but I’m getting a bit more handy with wood (though I never dare show any of the results to John, the cabinet-maker who lives opposite). In general, everything has to be bodged up with whatever we have in the shed and if I need two matching bits they’re rarely of exactly the same size. None the less, there’s satisfaction to be had, after an hour of grunting and cursing, from having a previously wobbly gate now neatly close. The fact that two months later it’s gone all wobbly again doesn’t discourage me. As for indoors, it’s amazing how many successful repairs can be effected just with sugar soap, WD40, duct tape and a large hammer.

Perhaps because we leave things unattended for too long, repairs performed by experts are often nerve-shredding affairs. Whether it’s the dishwasher or the cats or the car or the log stove that’s suddenly making a funny noise or belching smoke, I know that soon I’m going to get a shout from the kitchen or a phone call telling me that matters are much worse than I’d suspected  and what do I want done about it? The car wants worming, the dishwasher’s got a bird’s nest in its chimney, the cats need new spark plugs – the problems all blur into one. Each demands of me what I think is masterful decision-making and negotiation but is actually capitulation from a position of weakness followed by receipt of a hefty bill and, if the expert knows me well enough, a lecture about not letting the item fall into such a repulsive condition again.

The one thing I will not and cannot clean is an oven. I think many people share this sentiment. We bought a new one some time ago and have used it pretty much every day since. We keep the glass at the front shiny and wipe down the fascia so, when it’s shut, it looks pretty good. However, when Jon at Eclipse Cleaning said he now cleaned these as well as carpets we thought it was time the inside was looked at too.

Jon’s expert arrived at 9am as promised and got to work. The great thing about ovens, I reflected as I went up to my study, is that they’re simple: no moving parts to wear out, no unheard-of defects which would lead to one of these alarming reports. In, out, swish it all about with the magic chemicals and it’d be as good as new. He said he’s be done by half ten. I started dealing with my emails.

The call upstairs came at 9.17, rather sooner than usual. “Brian! You’d better come and have a look at this…”

With a sinking heart I went down. It was the top oven, the one we use most of the time. He was pointing at what looked like holes from a close-range shotgun blast in the bottom of the casing.

I felt perplexed; also ashamed. “I’d never noticed that before,” I said at last.

“Well, you wouldn’t, with all the…” He paused delicately.

“With all the grease blocking the holes.”

“Right.” He was relieved he didn’t have to say the word. Child-minders must get it all the time when searching for a tactful way of telling parents their children have nits.

“How did they get there?”

“The grease turns acidic…corrosive. Eats through the metal.”

This was an unexpectedly revolting truth to face at 9.20 in the morning. “We use the top oven most of the time,” I explained, “because it’s smaller. More efficient.”

He pointed at the holes. “It’s not though, not with those holes. A lot of the heat’s going out. Plus, the grease is seeping into the oven lining. Can be quite flammable.”

I’d heard enough. At least he didn’t say ‘this is a death trap,’ a phrase most experts come to use sooner or later about any appliance I own.

“You might be able to get a new sleeve for the oven,” he suggested. He mentioned a couple of spare-part firms. “I’ll crack on with the bottom one.” He opened the lower oven door and looked inside. I was half expecting a family of rats with singed fur to jump out. “Not too bad,” he said encouragingly.

Fifteen minutes on the web dispelled my previous illusion that ovens were simple. There were a bewildering number of parts and, of course, a bewildering number of ovens, all with long serial numbers. Ours had no number, just a name. I picked up the phone and after three rings got through to a woman from one of the firms who, to my great surprise, was not only very helpful but also knew about ovens.

A few minutes’ chat revealed another shocking truth: the oven, which I’d convinced myself had been installed in about 2006, was in fact far older, indeed had been discontinued about 10 years ago. “There’s a model number on the inside of the door,” she told me. “That’ll help.”

I went downstairs. We managed to find the panel but the corrosive grease had done its job on this as well. I went back up to the study. “It’s quite long,” I told her. “I think it’s got a six in it. Or maybe it’s a B.”

“Never mind,” she said. “I think I know the one you mean. I’ve been looking it up while I was waiting. There’s a firm in Scotland that might have a new sleeve. We don’t sell these. You’d need the lining as well. Would you like their number?”

Suddenly, the situation started to defeat me. I know what was going to happen: the sleeve and liner would arrive, at vast expense, and turn out to be slightly the wrong size due to heat-expansion of the frame or some metric/imperial confusion. An oven repair expert would then need to be found and there would be further explanations about why we’d allowed it to get into such a disgusting state. Then he’d find something else that was about to pack up…I couldn’t face it.

“I think what I need to do…” I began.

“…is get a new oven,” she said brightly.

“Exactly. Do you sell ovens?”

“Oh, no. Just spares.” She recommended a few manufacturers.

It struck me, not for the first time, that the helpfulness and intelligence of someone in a customer-service department is in inverse proportion to their ability or even their desire to get you to buy something.

our oven - with holes smaller
This is one of the photographs Penny took…

I thanked her profusely, hung up and went back downstairs to make my report. The expert was finishing up. The encouraging news was that the bottom oven was now gleaming, as were the oven racks which had previously looked like something you find at the bottom of a weir. “I suppose the top one will be OK for a bit if you don’t use it too much.” He paused doubtfully. “I wouldn’t leave it too long, though.”

“Don’t tell me,” I said. “It’s a death trap.”

After he’d gone – I couldn’t face doing it until then – I put a sheet of silver paper on the bottom of the upper oven. This would not only possibly prevent further caustic grease from dripping into the holes but, more importantly, would make the hideous problem invisible.

When Penny returned she whipped the silver paper out to take some photos. “Before and after,” she explained. “’Why you should keep your oven clean’. Jon at Eclipse could use these.” I agreed. Personally, I’d had almost enough of ovens for one morning.

our oven - with holes 2a
Not close enough? Need more detail?

She peered at the holes. “I reckon we could get these welded,” she said. I’d never heard of anyone welding an oven before, but then she is far more resourceful than me. In any case, if sugar soap, WD40, duct tape or a hammer couldn’t fix it I was way out of my depth.

I have to admit that the bottom of the oven hasn’t been welded yet and the silver paper is still there. We’ll get it sorted soon, though. Or buy a new one. Or the oven will explode. At least it’s clean, though, which is a start.


Brian Quinn
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Keep it Clean


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