Lorenz Borsche: Xmas, ghosts and blowing fuses

Christmas, ghosts and blowing fuses

The past year has been full of personal events for us - sad ones and happy ones. Let me tell you a little story how it all dramatically culminated and came to a rest around Christmas.

When my oldest sister returned from her second home in Florida in spring, she came to die here. She and we all knew, that it was only a matter of months, and one arising question was, if she would live to see our baby being born, her youngest niece to be. My sister was a great person and took on her fate with the most admirable composure. In her last weeks, she spent at home on the sofa, she cared for each and everyone, made little gifts here and there and decided who should have what, when she would be gone.

Actually she was the one to make the final suggestion for the name of our daughter and just before she no longer couldn't hold the knitting gear, she mananged to finish a wonderful little jacket for Antonia. Three weeks after her silent death Antonia was born and this great joy somehow softened the sadness in the whole family a little.

Being three of us now (Antonia, Barbara and me) still living in my old flat from student times, we were also happy to look forward to moving into a second flat just one storey below in the same old house, which `only' had to be renovated completely beforehand. Of course time ran out much quicker than you can say ``ooops'', and here it was a week before Christmas when the newly polished floors were drying off just in time, and electricity still had to be connected.

But, right on schedule, Friday before Christmas we moved all the furniture and equipment we had inherited from my sister, as there were eleven chairs, two armchairs, a round and a rectangular glass table, a wonderful old triangular sideboard, a fridge and a deep freeze, filled to the top with goodies. And the same day the gas oven and hearth had to be connected, and the dishwasher too, so we had to look after the plumbers doing their work as well, and everyone was busy, and all doors stood open, and it was cold and dirt everywhere, as it was a grey day, overcast with spitting rain coming down, but when evening came, everything was in place, and the deep freeze was connected via an extension cord to our upper flat and the `Beletage' looked just plain beautiful. Thanks to my sister I had a huge variety of power extension cords at hand, so we could lit up a few lamps and enjoy the sight of the new rooms.

Saturday evening I even managed - with the help of two strong paper clips - to put the warm water gas heater to work, although the plumbers had declared it to be to old to be repaired, and Sunday morning the landlord, an electrician himself, was to come to connect the regular power, and then Christmas could come.

The landlord came and connected and set switches and dimmers, and everything worked fine, and we switched on the last light - when, with a big bang, the main fuse blew up. No, not the magnetic automat, but a main house fuse, which is sealed, and you have to phone the electricity company to replace it. Hmm. The landlord called for the ladder, slit open the new wall paper over a distributor box, left dark fingerprints everywhere on the white wall paint, found the error in the wiring, resolved it, so I called the emergency service to replace the fuse. Some thirty bucks down the drain, but what the heck, light! And power for the deep freeze, and the fridge, and the dish washer...

Thus I took my daughter and wandered off to the hospital into a cold, but sunny afternoon to visit my mother for the last time, as she was to return home just in time for Christmas after an not so easy operation. Coming back to the house I found my wife in stress: the good old dishwasher we had gotten also from my sister, yet two years ago, had spilled the water onto the new floor. A short look: the plumbers had broken the exhaust hose. Well, well, they would have to come on Monday, the 23rd, and repair that. In the kitchen on street level there showed up a little wet spot from the water having dripped through the ceiling, but everything else was running smoothly, wasn't it? I mean, what is a complete renovation without a little mishap? Ah, the gas hearth still had no power connection, which it needs for ignition and lighting the baking oven. So I took the power jack and plugged it... BOOOOOOM. Darkness around me. A faint beep from the deep freeze. The main fuse again.

So I called up the landlord and the emergeny service again. The service man came, and changed the fuse and the landlord came and we disconnected and checked the gas hearth. We couldn't find any shortcircuiting, so with defiance of death on his grim face the landlord plugged in the jack - oh wonder, nothing wrong with it. He even turned it around - still everything ok. I went to tell my wife, when - BOOOOOM - the main fuse blew again. The landlord had reconnected the gas hose, thus earthing the hearth, and that was it. Hoho. So we cut of the power cord entirely and called it a day. We knew now, the oven was somehow broken inside, but it would do its heating and cooking job as well without electricity. We even didn't need to call the service man again, as the second time I hadn't had enough money on me, only a cheque he wouldn't accept, so he was to come back anyway the next morning. Right-ho he came, and the same time the plumbers came, spilled some more water on the floor, but connected a new sewage hose, and the emergency man, being a little puzzled by now, installed the third main fuse in 24 hours.

All right now, I disconnected all auxiliary extension cords, connected all lights, the fridge, deepfreeze, dishwasher and everything worked fine.

We spent the afternoon recovering from all that stress, putting up the Christmas tree and tried to prepare ourselves mentally for the quiet and reflective time to come. At night, when about to leave the flat, I once again checked everything and found the brandnew hot water boiler in the kitchen still disconnected, because its cord had been too short by a handspan to reach the wall socket. So I installed another extension cord next to the sink, plugged in the boiler - BOOOOOOOOM. Main fuse! Fourth time! And a brandnew device. Something was very, very strange here.

The only similarity I could think of was that both devices were connected to the main earth being either the gas or the water pipes. But that meant that we had power on the security wire. On the security wire!!!!! The landlord just freaked out. That of course was completely against his professional honour. Power on the security wire, you just don't believe it. He wanted to come straight away, slit open the wallpaper over every distributor box, dismantle every switch and check every single wire. This was the moment when my wife said ``NO''. She argued that we wouldn't really need that flat straight away, only for spending Christmas, which we would do anyway by the light of candles, the ovens would work, so we would have it warm and cozy and romantic. She was right.

But still this night I slept not very well and a strange thought came to my mind: this last extension cord I had been using could have been the first in the line as well when we had plugged in the gas oven. As I had have to use a second cord to connect the oven, which had been a brandnew one, I wouldn't have noticed. If this old cord would be faulty, it could have been the reason for both, ahem, rather three of the four blows. Now where was the cord coming from? Oh yeah, it was from the collection of my sis. And wasn't it a handmade one? Well, my sister was one of the few woman - at her time - who was not intimidated by electricity and repaired all her electric equipment by herself. The wiring in her flat had some adventurous touch, but I don't remember any seriously hazardous situations arising from that. Should that power cord be the only one of the dozen I grabbed from the leftovers in her flat, which was wrongly wired? Should I have grabbed it twice just by mere chance? Was that something just to remind us of her person and all the facettes of her rich character?

I couldn't get to sleep no more. I got up and went down to the kitchen. There was my voltage meter, still switched on. The battery was low, but you still could check if two wires had connection or not. I connected the meter to the security pin. I checked against another security pin, ok, full connection as expected. Then I checked against the two power pins.

First one - nothing. Second one?

Nothing again. Puuuuh. Thank you, sister. Your power cords are ok. You are innocent. Nothing supernatural here. The error is in the house wiring. That's ok, the landlord will repair it next month.

We had a lovely Christmas evening with our daughter and my mother, and of course thought and spoke of all the members of the family and my oldest sister just the same. I just wished I could have told her that story - she would have liked it.

Heidelberg, the 25th of December, 1996.

BTW: It took three weeks and a fifth fuse blowing to prove that, yes, life wire and earth had been permuted - not by my landlord, but by the Municipal Service, when they had replaced the meters 5 years ago. I have never seen my landlord as pale as when he found out about the security wire having full 220V, although the fuses were switched off....