So it was time to enable Xmas Merriment Illumination Chez Stevie once again.
My regular reader will remember that I long ago developed the very sensible policy of not removing last year's icicle lights from the gutters in order to get a jump on the job, which in past years has involved me perching on a ladder in full darkness trying to hang lights in sub zero1 weather, while attempting to avoid freezing to the metal gutters.
I decided that as I had used this policy for the last two Christmases and some of the lights were blown and they all were a bit on the yellow side (this happens too for reasons I can't fathom; after a few years of intermittent use, icicle lamps go from a bright yellow to a more sickly shade, making it impossible to mix new strings with old. This may be a manufacturing process at work that forces the replacement of nine boxes of lamps when only one is needed. I dunno) that I had better change them for new ones before The Rage of Mrs Stevie was let out for a run. Also, I had cleaned out the gutters in preparation for Really A Lot Of Wind And Water Sandy2 and for reasons I will explain in a moment this had entailed smashing half a dozen of the bulbs in the string nearest to the downspout.
In front of my house there is a row of Alberta Spruce trees. They began life as two-foot high bushes and stayed that way for a long time. They spent a few years going from two to three, then four feet. Then they shot up to six and seven feet in about six months. This has introduced a new facet of excitement to the business of getting up to the gutters.
The ladder won't lean against the gutters because the trees are in the way. They poke into the ladder at the halfway point and stop it coming into good, safe contact with the gutters. The end of the ladder floats above the gutter edge at a distance of a few inches. It doesn't sit properly until I am three or four rungs up the ladder. Until then each step produces an alarming bounce. When the ladder finally does land and stay in place, it typically does so on a bunch of light bulbs and crushes them giving me yet another job to do. It is all very trying.
Well, this day I had three boxes3 of lights to hang in place of the strings that had hung for lo these many years. So I unraveled two lengths of new icicle lights and hooked them over the rungs of the ladder as high as I could reach as it sat resting against the seven foot tool bushtree. I plugged in the lights and mounted the bouncing ladder to the sound of crunching glass, emitting little manly squeaks of terror at each fresh bounce until I was safely up the ladder, it had an inch and a half of length poking over the gutters and was resting firmly upon the roof edge.
Partly because it warms the wires and makes them easier to work with, partly because I never want to hang a string of lights, turn them on and see darkness again I have for a decade or more always hung the lights with them plugged in. It also cheers me up as the cold freezes my nose hairs and the feeling slowly departs my fingers. Today, it was drizzling to add misery to the overwhelming atmosphere of utter dejection. So I climbed the ladder, pulled up the strings of lit lights and unsnapped one string of the old, broken lights from the end hook.
At least that was the plan.
What actually happened was that the hook, weakened by three years of extreme temperatures and rotted by exposure to ultraviolet light snapped like a rotten twig and the wires of both old strings fell away putting more weight on the second hook which snapped putting even more weight on the third which snapped and so on in a chain reaction of amateur lighting collapse. With a loud zipping sound the lights along the entire frontage festooned themselves on the ground just as I looked on in resignation and Mrs Stevie stepped out of the front door holding the phone.
"It's your mother" she said, casting her eyes about a scene that did not, to her untrained eye, suggest much in the way of hanging-up lights, but rather the reverse.
"Of course it's my mother!" I snarled. "Why wouldn't it be my mother at this, the least convenient time with the light only two hours from gone and rain drizzling down and me not wanting to get off this ladder unnecessarily!"
So of course I had the phone call while trying to replace the gutter hooks and string lights in the drizzling rain which left me no hands or teeth left for holding onto the ladder. Not only that, the new lights proved to be unbelievably cheaply made and despite my having arranged a working ground-fault interruption device in the circuit I would get the occasional unpleasant shock to the fingers. I pride myself in such cases that I can maintain a conversational tone, refrain from swearing and so forth, though my mother did inquire as to why I kept going "agleaggleaggle" down the phone every two minutes.
She finally hung up just as the sun was touching the edge of the roof, which gave me two hours before total darkness, allowing me to quicken the pace a bit, achieving as much as four "aggleaggleaggle"s a minute.
Until I ran out of lights halfway down the house, which was when I remembered the real number of boxes of lights needed for the job.
I did the bonehead dance, not advisable on a ladder made bouncy by mutant Alberta Spruce bushes I might add, and yelled that I was going to Home Despot for more lightsaggleaggleaggle.
Naturally, this being the first week in December, they only had three beaten-up boxes of lights that looked suspiciously used and returned, so I asked a "helper" to test the strings for me.
"Test the strings?" this stalwart asked, looking askance at me with all the indications of someone who has just heard an outpouring of an unknown foreign language.
"Yes! These boxes have been opened and the lights unwrapped! I'd like to know that they are functional before I get them home please, so is there anywhere I can plug them in and see that they are working?" I snarled. I'm not at my best when people are being deliberately thick at me.
"Calm down! he snapped. "I can test them. Keep your cool!"
"I am calm and cool, but if I'm going to pay full price for obviously shop-soiled merchandise I expect that at a minimum it does what it would say on the box if any of the boxes still had sides!" I howled.
The "helper" grapped the bundles of lights and plugged them in, one by one.
"Aggleaggleaggle. There! Satisfied?"
"Very. Good Day!" I did battle with the self checkout, then having checked myself out returned home where I discovered that these were not in fact replacements for the lights I had bought three weeks before, but similar ones featuring longer icicles and a shorter run. I dealt with this by using some class three Words of Power and doubling the icicles back on themselves and knotting them. As a byproduct of this, I received approximately three times the number of painful shocks I had before. I also ran out of lights before the end of the house.
So I ended up re-using some of the old strings to finish the job and wonder of wonders the color of the bulbs matched perfectly with the newer strings. A first.
After this triumph I decided to ready Troll, The Snowblower of Supreme Spiffiness for action by firing up the engine.
I do this every year to ensure that if I need the machine there will be fuel in all the lines and the carburetor will be primed. Usually I have an extension cord rigged from the rear of the house with which to power the starter motor, but my ratty old 100 foot extension cord was stolen (possibly by mistake by a builder but the results are the same). It was repaired and ratty and mucky but it was damned useful and it was mine.
Anyway, this left me with a quandary. Troll has a pull starter but experience has shown that using it is a path to a wrenched shoulder, madness and a potentially dangerous depletion of my reservoir of Words of Power of all classes above three. Troll must be fired to life electrically. It is dead symbolic too. The connection of the power, the flipping of the switch, the setting of the choke, the pressing of the button, the percussive detonation of the starter dog engaging, the cough of the engine, the cloud of black smoke, the chugchugchug of the engine lumbering to life, life LIFE I tell you! AHAHAHAHAHAHA!
So pulling the string on Troll's engine would clearly not do at all. However, there, in the garage, was the solution. And if anything, it was even deader symbolic and completely in the idiom. There, by the side of Troll, hastily moved there as I had nowhere else to stick it, resplendent in its bright orange livery, was my generator - without doubt the easiest engine to pull start I've ever owned or used.
I located the short extension cord that came with Troll and which I've never used after a brief, vocally intensive search, moved the genny out into the rain, cleared off the stuff that had accumulated on top of Troll's engine, and began the ritual of The Starting of the Generator.
Fuel tap on. Engine switch on. Pull the cord gently.
No attempt to start.
Pull out extremely stiff choke toggle and try again, and be greeted on the third pull with the chugchugchug of the generator struggling to...LIFE! AHAHAHAbloody hell push that choke in quick before she stalls!
Then, hands trembling, I connected the cord between the generator front panel and Troll's starter motor, pumped the carb primer until I felt gas under it, then another five times, flipped the engine switch to 'on' and twisted the choke toggle to 'cold' and pressed the start button.
Vast clouds of invigorating black smoke belched from the exhaust and the engine struggled into life life LIFE!
Choking and coughing, eyes watering from the acrid fumes and ears bleeding from the almost-negligently silenced engine, I flipped the switches on all engines to 'off' and packed everything away, satisfied that this day I had Done Good Work.
As I was about to enter the house, the ground fault device tripped, plunging my light fantastic into darkness.
- English-style. Sub 32-degree weather measuring things the way they do in the US↑
- One mustn't call it a hurricane for insurance reasons, apparently↑
- I always forget when I'm buying lights that I double up on the otherwise weedy-looking icicle lights and need at least nine boxes of lights to cover the length of the gutters on this house, so I inevitably end up trying to find lights three weeks before Christmas, which is when the stores have stopped selling Christmas stuff in preparation for the Valentine's Day rush↑