Today, chronicling the difficulty of repairing things.
I’m attempting to consume less, yet I’m finding the rest of society isn’t organised to help me. In December my fridge broke. That was annoying because I’ve hardly used it. It’s my son who’s been living here and using it. The fridge is just seven years old and was made by Hotpoint. It was a perfectly good fridge freezer and I have no reason to change it, other than it not working. Actually, I hate the colour, don’t like the water dispenser on the front and dislike the logo, but none of those are enough for me to want to waste the resources. Fridges are meant to last, aren’t they? I want to get good use out of it. I want the effort that went into producing it to be worthwhile.
I ponder getting our local self-employed repair man out. I last phoned him when my washing machine broke. He diagnosed the error code as the drum separating from the motor, meaning it was a write-off and refused to come out to even look at it. That was deeply disappointing to me. It expected it to be deeply disappointing to the people who just bought my old house, who found a washing machine that I thought didn’t work. Having said that, they messaged me to ask how I used to dry my clothes and the washing machine was working absolutely fine for them. For some reason it had come back from the dead. I told them I used wind and solar power. I don’t think it was the answer they were looking for.
It seems that Hotpoint fridge freezers are repaired by Indesit, which, given my experience, appears to be missing a ‘h’ in its name. I gave their repair line a call and the person who answered told me that there was a wait of 30 minutes for someone in the repairs department to answer my call. It did make me wonder whether they should retrain her so she could work in the repairs department and then maybe they would be able to answer the phone quicker. She tells me I can book a call-back online for a time I choose. I go online and select between 14:30 and 15:00 in a day’s time. I have to select the service I want, enter the age, model and fault. “Motor not coming on. Not cooling. Light still working,” I type.
Sure enough, they ring me back at the allotted time using a computer dialing system. They then leave me waiting for half an hour before answering their own call to me. That’s a day without a fridge freezer I’ve wasted, yet I’ve saved no time on the phone. They want to know what service I want. I’ve already told them that. Then they want to know the age, model and fault. Surely they should know all this? Doesn’t their system send the information to their call centre? I tell them and then they read it all out to me again. “The light’s on but the motor’s not working and it’s not cooling”, I say. I have to pay in advance and they spend a minute reading me the fine print of the contract. I’m so bored I can hardly stand it. I’m £119.99 worse of.
They can repair it in four day’s time. That’s good. I get an array of automated texts with estimated arrival times and COVID guidance. When Liam the engineer arrives he’s not wearing a mask. I am. He’s walking to the kitchen when he asks me what’s wrong with my fridge freezer. I shouldn’t be surprised that he doesn’t know, should I? They haven’t passed on the information in my callback booking or from the call itself. I tell him “The light’s on but it’s not cooling”. He says, “Well it’s either the compressor or the thermostat and I don’t keep either of those on the van, so I’ll have to order them.” He’s come all this way, hasn’t even seen my fridge yet and he knows he can’t repair it. I’ve already typed “Motor not coming on. Not cooling. Light still working,” into their online booking system and then had to repeat, “The light’s on but the motor’s not working and it’s not cooling” verbally during my callback. It seems that Liam hasn’t got the message either. He needn’t have come.
Fridge freezers contain a compressor to cool and a thermostat to control. How can an engineer come to repair a fridge freezer without either of those parts? He says he’ll order them but they’re very busy before Christmas. I’m sure they are, with all those wasted journeys around the country. Before he orders the parts he needs to know what model it is. That’s the model number I’ve already typed into their online booking system and given verbally on their call-back.
He goes away and I wait for the next text once the parts have arrived.
They’ve arrived and I need to go online and book my repair. The earliest date they can come is 23 December. That’ll be three weeks without a fridge freezer. I know people spent lifetimes without fridges, and it’s hardly a hardship, but I’m just a bit sick of mouldy cheese. However, I’m determined to go through with the repair. I don’t see why I should throw a perfectly good fridge freezer away just because it needs an easy repair. What’s so difficult about a new compressor or a new thermostat? Especially when the rest of the fridge is in perfect condition.
“We estimate our engineer will arrive between 9:25 and 12:25 on 23.12.2020,” says the text. At 12:20 there’s been no sign. I click the link and it says the engineer’s still due between those times. At 12:25 I click it again and it says my appointment is on 13.01.2021. What? I ring them only to be told that the engineer went to pick up the spare parts that morning and they were damaged so they’ve rearranged my appointment. They just didn’t tell me that and I’ve waited in all morning for them. I suspect lies.
That’ll be nearly six weeks to get a fridge repaired. I’m sorry, just can’t wait that long for a fridge. I cancel the appointment and get a full refund. I wonder how much that failed attempt cost Indesit-with-a-h?
I decide to ring my local repairer, cursing myself for not having done that first. He wants to know if it’s a frost-free fridge? That’s a technical question. I check. It appears that it is a frost-free fridge. He decides that it must be the electronics which are the problem and refuses to come out to look at it. He won’t even try looking at it. It’s not worth his time if there’s the possibility that it’s not the compressor or the thermostat. Having a printed circuit board has meant my local engineer won’t repair it, even though that’s probably not the part with the fault. He’s the same one who wouldn’t come out to mend my washing machine.
Modern life: If it breaks it’s disposable, no matter how much it cost, how simple the repair or how wasteful of resources.
I wish I’d kept my 13 January appointment with Indesit now. I decide I’m going to buy a new fridge. I don’t want to, but I’m going to. In the meantime I’m going to spend the whole of Christmas without a fridge. That means no cold beer and no cheese. It’s a minor Christmas tragedy. Cue tiny violins.
On Boxing day I find a Samsung fridge freezer I’d reluctantly like to buy on the John Lewis website. I’ve found many which say they are “packed full of useful electronics”. No thank you. I just want a working compressor and thermostat. I don’t want to have an Internet-linked freezer, nor do I want text alerts or apps to control it. I don’t want it to play jingles or have conversations with me. None of those features are going to last the minimum of 15 years I’d like it to work. If a fridge becomes a computer I give it a lifespan of three years. What starts as a smart fridge ends with all the relative computing power of a ZX Spectrum before you’ve even learned all its features. The exponential upwards curve showing the increase in computing power also shows the decline in usefulness of household goods which include ‘useful electronics’, when it’s inverted.
The new fridge is £719.99. There’s a special offer of £30 off if I trade in my old appliance. That seems weird, I’d expect to pay at least £15 extra to get rid of the old one, yet they’re offering me a £30 discount. I try to buy it and find there’s no discount applied and no way of claiming the discount, so I abandon my basket. Delivery is available on December 29. That’ll be fine. I’m resigned to it. It’s time for a warm beer.
The next day I check the John Lewis website again and I find the trade-in discount code on their website. Good. The fridge is now £679.99. Even better. There must be a sale on. It doesn’t say there is. I apply my £30 discount and it reduces the price by £50. Go figure. Delivery is now January 2. Life’s difficult when you have a mind like mine. At least it’s A+++ energy efficient. The fridge, not my mind. Energy efficiency was the primary factor which nudged me into buying that model.
I get automated texts with delivery times and a link to COVID guidance. The delivery men aren’t wearing masks. I am. They deliver my fridge and I show them the one to take away. They tell me that I haven’t paid to take the old one away. I tell them I got a £30 discount for a trade-in to take the old one away. They refuse to accept that. They decide to take it away anyway, acting as if they’re doing me a great favour. They tell me to wait five or six hours before turning the new one on.
I wait six and a half hours before turning it on. It’s wonderful. I go out and buy ice cream.
The next day it isn’t working. My ice cream is liquid. There’s an error code of C82 in ice-blue characters on the display. There are no Google results for my fridge with that error code. Do I need to tell you that the light was on but the compressor wasn’t working and it wasn’t cooling? No.
I phone John Lewis’s technical department and it says there’s a long wait to be answered, so I go online like they suggest and use the technical support chat. There are 44 people ahead of me. At least I can work on my PC while I wait for it to be my turn. A chatbot asks me what I need help with and asks for my order number. I enter it. The number of people ahead of me goes slowly down. It’s down to 3 people ahead of me. When I glance back, worried I might miss a reply, it’s finally my turn and it says “No agents are available”. My options are to Close Chat or Save Chat. I ring them up again.
They agree to replace it rather than repair it once they see I’ve had it for fewer than 30 days. A new one will come on January 8. At least that’s before 13 January, when my old one would have been repaired anyway.
I get the usual COVID texts about the delivery. They aren’t wearing masks. I am. They deliver the replacement and take the old one away, this time telling me to wait two or three hours before I switch it on. I wait three hours and fifteen minutes. I switch it on.
It doesn’t start and gives me the same error code. I ring John Lewis technical support and get through to the same person as before. She doesn’t remember me. I feel like I’m dying inside. She processes a return and arranges a delivery of another model. On January 14. That’s a day after my old fridge would have been repaired. I now need a fridge to keep my head in.
The day comes. My fridge freezer is delivered. The delivery men wear masks. The fridge works. I almost cry a little.
I’m now having a small alcohol-free cold beer, served at 3 degrees, and wondering why the UK is so uncompetitive. Why is UK output so low per person? Our output is 16% less per person that the other G7 countries. Why don’t we have efficient use of our resources? What is it about our people and our systems and organisation that means we’re an organisational shambles? Why do we have to do the same thing two or three times before we get it right? Why do we repair and reuse so little of what we produce? Why is everything so expensive? How can we change people’s expectations and buying habits? Why is it so difficult to repair things which would have decades of life left in them?
How do I live my life so I have a lower impact?