Monday, May 26, 2014

Buying Back My Faith in Humanity

Our front door was ‘upgraded’ a few days ago, and it really shattered my faith in humanity. It probably wouldn’t have been so traumatic if I hadn’t needed to replace my electric shaver the week before.

Allow me to explain:

My old shaver was great; it came with a handsome faux-leather carrying case, sturdy cleaning brushes and a pop-up sideburn trimmer but, sadly, it was getting on and was more than ready for the electric shaver retirement home so I went out and bought a new one. The new one had no carrying case, a sorry excuse for a cleaning brush and no pop-up trimmer. And, needless to say the device as a whole could have served as the poster-shaver for low-quality material, poor workmanship and a complete lack of concern for producing anything remotely satisfying for the customer.

This, naturally, put me in that “everything just keeps getting shittier” frame of mind so I was pre-primed when they came to ‘improve’ my door.

Still, I generally don’t invest that much emotion in a door, but this is a venerable old door: it’s the same one we’ve been using since we moved in and, over the years, it has done everything you could ask of a door: it opened, it closed, it had a brass letter slot that allowed the postman to slip the mail though so it landed on the inside mat with a satisfying ‘thunk’ (and scared the life out of me every time it happened). Granted, it had a large gash on the front, making it look suspiciously like a battering ram had been applied to it in the past, and pieces of the door jamb appear to have been hurriedly tacked into place, but this only served to enhance its appeal.

(By the way, some years after we moved in, we found out that the previous tenant had died in bed and, after not being seen for days, the police came and battered down the door.)

Heedless of our wishes, on the appointed day a workman came to tell me he couldn’t do the door because he had an emergency in another flat where a woman—whose door had just been upgraded—had locked herself out because the improved doors swing closed automatically. So he made a new appointment and left me wondering what I would have done if I suffered the inconvenience of a job and thinking that they were going to have a great deal of those types of emergencies in the future.

In all the years I have lived, well, anywhere really, never once has this thought entered my mind: “You know, if only my front door swung closed by itself, what a huge improvement that would make to my life.”

Yes, after managing to unlock, it while carrying several bags of groceries, I could kick it open with my foot only to have it slam closed in my face. Or I could step outside in my bathrobe to put the trash on the front porch only to hear the ominous sound of myself being locked out. How have I been getting along without that innovation all these years?

And so, on the second appointed day, the workman came and ‘upgraded’ my door. The door itself would remain, but everything associated with it—the locks, the hinges, the letter slot—would be improved.

So the workman took the old, battered door from the door frame and spent several noisy hours sawing and sanding and filling my flat with a thin layer of dust. Then he returned the door to its previous location and explained the improvements.

In addition to the new self-closing hinges, the upgraded door features the latest in letter-slot technology, which includes flaps that snap closed (seriously, you could use them as mouse-traps) on both the outside and the inside, and contains within something that looks like a set of miniature whisk-brooms. These are designed, of course, to make it impossible for the postman to push your mail through. They can only stuff it in far enough so that a bit shows on the other side and you have to wench it through the rest of the way. A huge improvement if you like your mail crumpled and torn.

There were also improved locks, which looked a lot like the old locks but which the workman assured me were more secure. I asked him if he might fix the door jamb to make it so that, if someone happened to lean against the new, secure locks, the tacked on pieces of wood wouldn’t simply snap off, but he told me all he was authorized to do was upgrade the doors, not the door frames.

All of this put me in serious funk and left me scouring my mind for a single example of something, anything, that had actually made my life better for having been ‘improved’ but I could not find a single one.

It was with these grim thoughts that I went to the pub where I ordered my usual pint and handed the requisite amount to the barkeep. Then I received a penny back in change.

“We lowered the price of a pint,” the barkeep said, as I continued to stare in wonder at the penny.

I smiled. “You have just restored my faith in humanity,” I said, and it was true.


  1. Some improvements do live up to their name - we've had a new heating system installed this week which, although I am still in the process of cleaning up layers of brick dust, is very very pleasing. We now actually have radiators in the hall and the downstairs loo so the house won't be quite so cold in the winter, and radiator valves so the upstairs won't be quite so much like a sauna. AND we have a programmable thermostat so it automatically sets to different temperatures at various times of day. This is a great improvement from the previous no thermostat at all, so the heating used to be either ON or OFF, nothing inbetween.

    I am a happy bunny, though I'll be even happier when our new bathroom's been installed in a few weeks. We'll have a shower with actual water pressure ( ours had got so bad that we'd given up with it and started using one of those rubber ones that you attach to the taps, or just showering at the gym). Plus, no longer will we have sinks with separate hot and cold taps, which I seem to remember you mentioned in your first Postcards book, but we'll have joined the 21st century and will have proper mixture taps or whatever those things are called. Hurrah!

    Can you not get someone to "accidentally" lean on your door and break the frame so they have to fix it, by the way? And I'm sure those self - closing things can be disabled. At least, the ones at our school could...

    1. You shouldn't take my rants so seriously; it's just me being a grumpy old man ;) We did have new storage heaters installed some time ago and, although the heat is still on or off, it;s a huge improvement over what we did have. And our double-glazed windows also make a big, and better, difference.

      As for the automatic closing of the doors, as is typical of our landlord, the mechanisms to close the doors were so cheap they have already failed, so the door, while it doesn't stay completely open, it also doesn't close by itself. So that is a big improvement.

      And a pint of beer is still a penny cheaper than it used to be ;)