Not Living In The Fridge

Canidae 1.0 isn’t the only electrical device in my vicinity that has broken recently. In fact I seem to chalking up quite the body-count of dead appliances recently.

I’ve been in my current apartment since August 2008; nearly five years now. It’s surprising how the time has passed – it doesn’t seem like that long!

Anyway, the white goods have been here longer than I have, with the exception of the washing machine. (The original one blew up in 2010; I’ve never known a washing machine to endure more than three years of regular use.) It’s fair to say that the surviving devices are showing their age.

Recently, my cooker got gas-safety-tested by the landlords; it failed on every account. In fact, it turned out that the machine was essentially a carbon monoxide death-trap. When the grill was tested, it flooded the flat with oily, greasy black smoke. Even with every window all the way open, I could still smell it three hours later! Somewhat worryingly, it also gave me a rather weird frontal headache (presumably that was all the CO tightening all those capillaries, then?).

Carbon is a wonderful atom, but not when it singly-bonds itself to oxygen, unfortunately. Damn you, alpha-process elements! (It’s rather strange to think that, billions of years ago, somewhere a massive star went bang, did a load of batshit-crazy supernova nucleosynthesis, spat its byproducts out into the interstellar medium … so that several gigayears later, I could have a carbon monoxide headache. Seems like a bit of a waste somehow, doesn’t it?)

Anyway, the end result was that the cooker had to be shut off at the gas mains. Losing the grill was a non-problem – I’ve never used it! – and losing the oven wasn’t a huge bother. However, I do use the hob almost every night, so not being able to cook on there was something of an adjustment. I found being demoted to microwave meals to be a little, well, a little unwelcome, to be honest. However, the relative lack of washing up was welcome. It wasn’t ideal, but I figured that at least the situation wasn’t getting any worse. Everything was under control, right?

Then on Friday morning, the fridge-freezer started making a weird noise.

Now, a bit of context. My kitchen is poorly laid out. If I owned this apartment – no chance of that in today’s London-fringe property market! – I’d immediately have that room gutted and re-done. (Actually, I’d probably do over the bathroom first – but trust me, you do not want the details of everything that’s wrong there!) But I don’t own the apartment, sadly.

Anyway, the kitchen has very little space, and that which is does is poorly-organised. To get to the kettle, you have to go sideways between the washing machine and the fridge. This is because the fridge is about three times bigger than I actually need. It’s large enough that one could hide a body in it and still have room left over for one’s weekly groceries! In fact, scratch that, TWO bodies! Maybe even three, if two of them were midgets.

The fridge is, quite literally, bigger than I am.

What the landlord was thinking, I have no idea. (Were they thinking? Hmmm…) It’s also one of these over-computerised devices. Now, I’m not any sort of technophobe – for heavens’ sake, I have a PhD in physics! If I was a technophobe, I’d have spent the last five years in quite the wrong place. However I do believe that technology has its limitations, and there are some situations that don’t really benefit from having tons of computational gubbins hurled at them.

Case in point – does a fridge-freezer really need a CPU? Honestly?

Apparently someone thought the thing in the kitchen did. It even has a programming screen; not quite a full-on development environment, but it feels pretty close. Is it a fridge or is it actually a MySQL server? Sometimes I’m not so sure. Am I doing the wrong thing by putting my milk in it – perhaps that shelf is really for OCR’ing your documents?

It seems to me that the more complicated you make a device, the more things there are that can go wrong with it. And you don’t get much more complicated than any sort of general processing unit, do you?

I take it you’ve guessed where this is going – just like poor old Canidae 1.0, the processor in the fridge has quit this green earth. An old-skool electrical-mechanical fridge wouldn’t have this problem, of course – you just chuck out the bits that don’t work and replace them. Unfortunately, fried microcircuitry isn’t really so amenable to revision.

Consequently, the refrigerator now has an internal temperature of 20°C. Apparently, while it may not feel like summertime outside the house, it certainly is summertime inside the fridge! Maybe I should just get a deck chair and go and sit inside it with a G&T and a sunhat – it’s certainly big enough to house a deck chair, anyway.

I tried defrosting it; I tried power-cycling it. Nothing works. It would appear that, like the parrot in the infamous dead-parrot sketch, the fridge-freezer is no more. I supposed there was no point having it waste any more electricity, so I turned it off. I’ve spent the last couple of days with neither a fridge nor a cooker.

This is proving … inconvenient, shall we say?

To be fair, not having a fridge is actually somewhat less catastrophic than I thought. The main upshot of it is that I can’t keep any food overnight – it has to be eaten on the day it’s bought. Exceptions to this include dry stuff like bread and canned items. The biggest problem-item is the milk – unfortunately, even pasteurised milk seems to go bad rather fast without refrigeration. I experimented with leaving a bottle out overnight; when I got up eight hours later, one sniff was enough to establish that I wasn’t having this toxic sludge anywhere near my stomach! Drinking my morning tea without milk felt weird. It also means I have to have toast for breakfast, rather than muesli or porridge. (Thank heavens the toaster is still working!)

As an interim solution to the milk difficulty, I bought a bag of ice at the supermarket earlier. Apparently 2Kg of ice costs £1, which seems rather steep given that it’s just frozen tapwater. I carried the bag of ice home – good exercise, no doubt! – and poured all the cubes into one of the compartments from the freezer. The idea was to make an ice-bath to keep a small bottle of milk cool in.

It’s worked to an extent; the milk has remained drinkable for more than ten hours after buying it. However, the ice is melting, and it’s clear that it will all be water by the morning. Also, now that the little milk bottle is half-empty, it’s become rather bouyant. It’s bobbing around at about half-mast in the pool of meltwater; this makes keeping it properly-cooled more difficult, as it now juts out of its intended heatsink! It’s clear that this strategy won’t work overnight, unless you were to buy the ice a couple of hours before bedtime, I suppose. (Sadly this is not really possible at the weekends in the UK.)

I have spent most of the week pestering the rental agents; they assure me that something will be done, at some point, some time in the future. I’m not exactly filled with enthusiasm by that; these are the people who have failed to repair the downstairs store room for more than a year after last year’s burglary. A few more days of this and I think words like ‘witholding rent’ and ‘breach of tenancy agreement’ might just be heard…

In the meantime, I may be doing many things, but the groceries certainly are not living in the fridge, that much is for sure!

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