Mending box

Ready for repairs

Ready for repairs

This is my little tool box, stocked with all sorts of things that can be used for stitching, darning, patching and generally making things last longer. I’m sure that I will add to it (especially since I know I have some other darning wool, but can’t seem to put my hand on it).

I’m particularly pleased that everything in there, as well as the box itself, was already in the house. Now, I just need something to practice my boro skills on.

Plugging the leaks

I haven’t written about it for ages, but one of the ways that we try to be a little bit more sustainable is by boiling the majority of our water in a Kelly Kettle. In case you don’t know what one is, I’ll let the manufacturers explain:

the Kelly Kettle is essentially a double-walled chimney with the water contained within the chimney wall.  Once the camp kettle is filled with water, simply start a very small fire in the base, set the kettle on the base and drop additional fuel down the chimney (natural environmentally friendly fuels such as twigs, leaves, grass, paper, dry-animal dung, etc.!).  The large internal surface area of the chimney heats the water extremely fast so, very little fuel is required.  The fire is all safely contained within the fire-base and the chimney of the kettle itself so, a) strong wind and rain does not interfere with the fire and b) the kettle is safe to use in many areas where open fires are not suitable

A roaring success for boiling water!

A roaring success for boiling water!

They are really designed for camping and outdoor pursuits, but we use ours at home every day… usually on the back doorstep. We sometimes light it in the greenhouse if it’s raining or very windy, but that’s for our comfort, the Kelly Kettle will work outdoors in really unpleasant conditions. We fuel it with waste paper, trimmings from around the garden (especially the willow hedge) and sticks that we collect whilst walking the dogs. We boil it a couple of times each day and store any excess hot water in two very good Thermos flasks for later use.

We have been doing this for four years now… I’m not sure how much electricity and money it has saved us, but if we assume that it gets boiled 600 times a year and that it saves us £0.05 each time, it has more than paid for itself and we’re well into profit.

I suppose that most Kelly Kettles only get used occasionally, so ours has had quite a hard life. Even so, we were very distressed a week or two ago to notice that it was leaking from one of its rivets. I’ve mentioned before how much I hate replacing things and much prefer to repair them (see this post if you want an example) so we started discussing what we could do. Our Kelly Kettle is stainless steel (we have very soft water here in west Wales, so aluminium was out of the question for everyday use) and neither of us had any idea about how this is best repaired. An internet search was in order… resulting in a link to the manufacturer’s own web site, telling us exactly what to do . Now there’s a company that I have respect for: a company who don’t want you to throw their product away and buy a new one, but who want to tell you how to make it last as long as possible.

All mended!

All mended!

As a result we have a fully functional Kelly Kettle once more – repaired with food-grade silicone sealant – and a very warm feeling about The Kelly Kettle Company of Newtown Cloghans, Knockmore, Ballina, County Mayo Ireland.

Do you know of other companies who behave like this? Because if you do, they too deserve some credit.

My radio

I like to listen to the radio when I’m cooking or planting seeds or generally pottering around, so a portable radio is essential. About ten years ago I asked for a wind-up one for my birthday – I thought that this would be great both because I would be saving electricity and I would be able to use it anywhere, whether there was a power supply or not. Mr Snail-of-happiness duly provided me with a model that was not only wind-up, but also solar-powered. Brilliant – if it was sunny, I wouldn’t even have to expend any energy!

And for several years it functioned well – mainly living on the sunny kitchen windowsill, which faces south-west. I used it for, perhaps, an average of an hour a day. But then the batteries stopped holding their charge and it had to be wound up on days when it wasn’t sunny, because it hadn’t stored any energy. ‘No problem’ said Mr S-o-h, ‘I will replace the batteries.’ It’s great to have someone about the place who understands electricity and electronics, so off he went to open it up and see what sort of batteries it needed. And then came the problem. This radio was not designed to have new batteries. The screws holing the case together were not standard and could not be undone using a normal screw driver. Mr S-o-h was not deterred and fiddled about until he got inside, replaced the batteries, reconstructed the radio and all was well. It sounds easy, but actually it took him ages.

And for several years it functioned well. But then the new batteries stopped holding their charge. Once again Mr S-o-h had to break into the casing, but now the non-standard screws were becoming damaged and the plastic of the case was starting to weaken (it had been sitting in the sunshine for eight years after all). We realised that eventually, if we kept opening it up, the radio would completely fall to pieces and, indeed, it was already no longer holding together well. We discussed replacing it, but this was not what we wanted. The idea of buying a replacement went right against the grain – we got it because we didn’t want to produce waste, so we certainly didn’t want to throw it away.

So, Mr S-o-h modified it so that the batteries live in an external holder where they can be replaced without opening the casing. It’s currently held together with a big cable-tie. I guess that, eventually, the plastic will disintegrate and we will have to construct a wooden box to keep the workings in. The tuner isn’t very good any more, so now we are confined to a single radio station, unless we embark on a bit of a struggle. But it’s still going.

We are now so attached to this radio that it cannot be allowed to die… I just wish that when it had been built, the makers had the ethos of sustainability, rather than deliberately making it difficult to repair and maintain. I guess that we just aren’t very good consumers from the perspective of manufacturers.

Solar, wind-up radio in its latest incarnation… still going strong

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