Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Fridge freezers (and a bed update)

Readers of what is rapidly turning into the domestic appliance and bed hunt blog will no doubt be on tenterhooks to hear the latest installment in the saga.

This is about the freezer part of the fridge freezer. Naturally like virtually everything else in the flat it comes from my mother's house so is of a certain age.

I think it was acquired when I was an undergraduate, so that places it well over 20 years old. Ironically the first one we bought - same brand, Electrolux - didn't last ten years.

One rare day, I was busy cleaning ( I think) behind this first fridge freezer of ours and noticed a gaping hole in the back. Part of the metal had just rotted away. Off we trotted to buy a new one. It was an AEG. Not long after we had that - the door seal went. Fortunately, and to my utter surprise, it was still under warranty so we received a shiny new door at no cost. When we sold our last house in the UK, we left that fridge behind, we'd probably only had it five years. We left it because the guy who was buying our house was being persuaded to leave his fridge behind for the purchaser of his flat etc etc. So hell, what's a fridge in a house sale?

Naturally when we bought our house in Spain, a fridge was a priority. It packed up last year - probably due to one of the many power cuts as it wasn't on a surge protector. It had lasted around six years. Although an AEG, the spec wasn't a patch on the one we had in the UK, and it had a pesky plastic water collector at the back that I kept forgetting to empty all the time.

So then we bought a nice new one from the electrical appliances shop down the road that sells seconds. It had a couple of scuff marks on the outside and cost around 260€. It looks very nice and seems perfectly functional. We also splashed out on a surge protector for it (and every other appliance in the house).

Back to the 20+year-old fridge freezer in the flat. Some time ago we noticed that one of the bread rolls was soggy, thought no more about it, except that maybe something had got knocked over when put in before frozen - soup or whatever.

More recently, one of the rolls taken out of the freezer was rock hard. Not frozen - merely stale. How odd we thought, not being the brightest of new pennies.

At the same time, the few items sitting in the freezer (usually a box of burgers and some mince - all vegetarian) seemed to defrost remarkably quickly. In fact they had very little ice, if any, on them and were quite soft.

We decided it was not working at maximum efficiency and I should really defrost it. That huge chunk of ice that forms at the front of the freezer was clearly impeding the door sealing properly. I had this problem with the previous freezer in Spain, and was amazingly efficient at defrosting that one.

So I carefully defrosted the freezer and washed it out. It looked rather nice and I did think perhaps I should have done this before. Eventually I turned it on. Some hours later - nothing. It was cold, but there was no ice forming. Just droplets of water. Perhaps it was taking its time we thought, and left it overnight. I even filled the ice cube container, just to check.

The next morning, still nothing. I was getting rather disappointed here as I was convinced the only reason it wasn't working properly was because it needed defrosting.

Eventually I bit the bullet and turned it off. A new fridge freezer was called for. I looked at those exceedingly flash American-style fridge freezers and worked out it would fit neatly-ish into an alcove in the yet-to-be transformed kitchen.

But I also thought the freezer area was too big for our modest requirements and that it would be far too expensive. We decided cheap and cheerful would win the day on this one.

I tripped off down the street to an electrical appliance shop and looked at fridge freezers. Prices ranged from around £330 to £550. That seemed rather dear compared with our good value second bought in Spain.

I learned that the ones with the little freezer compartments on top (which I rather like) have only one motor. The so-called combi fridge freezers have separate motors.

"What's the advantage of that?" I asked.

Woman in shop clearly thought I was particularly thick (you may also think that after reading how long it took us to work out the freezer was not working), and explained:

"Well, if one motor stops working, you can still use the other part."

"That's exactly what's happened to me, but I'm still having to buy a new one," I said tartly.

I said I would take Partner up there to make the final decision. When I got back home we discussed it. After all, we hardly use the freezer and the fridge is working - so we don't really need a new one that urgently - do we? And they weren't exactly cheap.

We decided the bed hunt would revert to top priority.

"Have you looked up the environmental impact of these latex beds?" asked Partner loftily.

I looked it up and read out some horrific stories of people being affected by disgusting chemicals. I have an annoyingly acute sense of smell and am prone to feeling nauseous even thinking about nasty chemicals. This is the woman who made herself ill by sniffing a few containers of floor cleaner in the supermarket trying to determine which smell I preferred. Partner has sensitive skin, no biological washing powder for him, and is sensitive to a number of obnoxious substances. The Tempur latex bed rapidly fell off the list.

The Thermarests on the floor are really quite comfy when they are blown up regularly. There is just no point rushing these shopping decisions I find.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Beds, huh. Tried buying one recently?

It seems that the days of well-sprung mattresses have died and one has to factor latex into the hunt.

Latex? I thought that was for gloves that we wear when fixing the Land Rover. And of course, for products made by the London Rubber Company.

It may well be, but it seems it is also a prime component of the latest shiniest mattresses.

Sprung mattresses, my dears, are a thing of the past.

Then of course there are frames, divans, headboards - my head was reeling.

I needed a bed to lie down.

Now, it has to be said, I am a woman who loves her bed. I might happen to have been sleeping on the floor for the past couple of years, but that is only because I have not found the perfect bed.

What I do not want is cheap tat. What I do not want is to walk into a 'shop' to have to look through a catalogue, be told that the cheapest possible bed and mattress is very good, and that I can't even see it before parting with Partner's hard-earned dough. Oh. No.

I do not want to be shown a picture of a metal bed that bears a very uncanny resemblance to the one I spent some time in aged six when I was in hospital for weeks after I had my appendix out. If it looks like a hospital bed in a catalogue, it is bound to look like a hospital bed in real life and I do not want it in my flat, regardless of whether it is very good value for money.

Nor do I want to have a lecture about how the most important thing about my bed is buying fine linen so that it looks expensive. I am not trying to sell either a bed or a flat. It is for sleeping in and the most important thing is that it is comfortable for me to sleep in, or on, or whatever. (Note to saleswoman - I actually do have some rather tasteful bed linen - my bedspread alone cost more than the bed you were trying to sell me).

So, worn out with all that, and after a not too bad night's sleep on the sofa, I wandered off to different furniture suppliers who actually had things in stock. I sat on mattresses. Loads of them. I wasn't quite at the lying down stage. I bounced around on a few relics from the past - mattresses with springs. I sunk into some top-of-the range latex jobs.

I wrinkled my nose at divans. I worried about cleaning underneath them because I wouldn't be able to get the mop or sweeping brush under there. Cleaning may not be one of my favourite past-times but I do like the option of being able to do it. I envisaged a whole pile of Pippa fur gravitating to an unreachable spot far under a divan.

I looked at nice simple frames. I looked at frames with headboards and footboards. I looked at separate headboards. I looked at wood, MDF, and metal. And PU mixes - described as faux leather in the cheap shop the previous day. Why is it that people selling cheaper products are more pretentious?

I really don't care if catalogue purchasing cuts the price by loads of quids. If I am spending half my day or rather, all night, lying on something, I want to know a) what the hell it is going to feel like and b) what it is going to look like.

But this time I had a choice. I could see what I would be buying. I could buy expensive, I could buy cheap, or I could buy somewhere in the middle. I learned about mattresses, which frames were stronger, which frames were solid wood and which were MDF, and how to move beds around (for cleaning, obviously). I did forget to ask which mattresses would be good for sex.

Next step - drag Partner there one day after work and make The Decision.

The dog may be disappointed though......

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Kenwood Chef

At the weekend I broke the Kenwood Chef.

I didn't blow up the motor or anything crucial like that, just managed to destroy a couple of essential plastic bits.

This is yet another of my mother's antiquated but functioning appliances. I am beginning to think these ancient appliances are in far better nick than I am.

Some time ago, I fished it out of its large plastic box where it had sat in storage for some time and decided to use it. The two plastic rings had perished.

As everyone knows, Kenwood Chefs have a plastic ring thing in the bottom, and one in the lid. If you forget to put the one in the bottom - your soup or whatever sprays all over the kitchen.

I rushed down to The Red House in Main Street (note to anyone interested - now closed). Yes, they had a ring for the bottom. No, they had never heard of a ring for the top. I looked at them perplexed. They clearly didn't believe me.

Anyway, the bottom ring was the essential one, so duly bought, I fitted it in, and whizzed up whatever it was, holding tightly onto the lid. Note - although impossible to manage without bottom ring, the top one is not critical.

We'd bought some spares a few years ago in the UK, so on the next trip back to the finca, I brought back the top seal. I considered taking it into The Red House to prove a point, but it seemed like too much effort.

Yesterday I was whizzing up celery soup, all seals in place of course. Zzzzzzzzzzz went the blender. And didn't blend.

I turned it up as you do when things aren't working. ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ, it went in an even more angry tone. I turned it off.

I took the blender off the top of the base. I had broken the plastic connector on the bottom of the blender and the plastic connector on the top of the base.

Broken plastic bit from bottom of blender and lid complete with seal

'Those two screws on the base were loose ages ago,' said Partner, rather unhelpfully, in my opinion.

Had either of us screwed them up? Of course not.

Result - one broken Chef. Now to source the bits and find out the damage.

If anyone is interested - I blended the soup using the batidora (don't know what it is called in English).

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Three euros for a huge piece of potato and onion tortilla, some bread, and a large glass of red wine. (Algeciras bus station)

It's good to live with a professional decorator, even if spending his spare time painting the flat isn't his idea of fun.

Spring flowers.

HMS Argyll, in Gib over the Easter weekend for some minor repairs.

More about HMS Argyll here, courtesy of Gibfocus.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Garrison Library, Gibraltar

Every Friday there is a tour of the Garrison Library, which is a historic research library here in the centre of Gibraltar. In fact it is only about five minutes walk from my home, but I have never organised myself to turn up at the appointed time.

However, the other Friday, I rang up to see if a tour would be taking place, and wandered up the street to the library.

Slightly set back from the leafy street somewhat, there is a side coach entrance that leads into the garden, or a rather formal front entrance. I was greeted by the honorary librarian, Lorna Swift, who ushered me through to the library to meet the other tour member. Oh. A very select tour.

We sat on the chairs and sofas in the downstairs library as Lorna gave us a brief summary of the history of the library.

The far end of the downstairs library.

It was founded in 1793, and it was such a popular move that various officers in Gibraltar immediately donated books, so that there were immediately nearly 500 books available. In addition, the committee had also written to England for another 670 books.

The success of the library meant that it quickly became necessary to look for new premises and the committee recommended building a new library. Work started in 1800, and the building, designed by Captain William Fryers, of the Royal Engineers, was completed in 1804.

Captain Fryers.

Main staircase.

Detail of the staircase.

Potential members had to be approved.

Canon, believed to have been used by Drake off Cadiz.

The Upper Reading Room c 1860.

Telescope in the Upper Reading Room.

Closely linked with the history of the library is the history of the Gibraltar Chronicle. A printing press was shipped out from England and the first edition was published in May 1801. The paper had a worldwide scoop with its story of the victory of the battle of Trafalgar and the death of Nelson, and a copy of this story is on display. The library houses issues of the Chronicle dating back to the first publication.

Copy of the Chronicle announcing the victory at the Battle of Trafalgar - in French and English - in 1805.

The price of newspapers was an expensive item in the library's budget, so the sand glass was used to determine how long members had to read The Times and other newspapers.

Old copies of The Times.

The outside of the library building, the rear patio, which - like the interior - is available for social functions.

Lorna chatting to one of the tour group (he turned up partway through to augment our numbers to three).

Spiral staircase on the rear patio.

Plant flowering in a shady part of the patio.

Abundant orange trees.

The library, from Town Range, at the beginning of the 20th century.

If you are in Gib on a Friday morning, the library is well worth a tour. The tour is free but donations are appreciated.

Photographs with kind permission of the Trustees of the Garrison Library.