An old fashioned fix

The mechanism that keeps the fly door shut broke off during the Christmas day festivities. Someone must have pushed too hard against it and the screws that held it in place against a strip of wood on the side of the door cracked open and the whole thing fell down.

The door still works but you have to close it purposefully. It will not swing shut of its own accord and so my husband decided to fix it once and for all. He’s fixed it before, new screws, and a new anchor strip of wood but somehow it never manages to hold fast beyond a few years, so this time he fixed it the old fashioned way.

He took a piece of stainless steel wire. He has a lifetime supply of the stuff, which he keeps on a roll on his workshop. He bought several of those little cup type hooks, the small brass ones that people use to hold up pictures and he screwed in a line of these along the top of the flywire door. He tied a weight to one end of the wire and threaded it through the hooks to a certain height down the side of the door so it acts like a pulley and weight.

Every time you open the door and leave it open, the weight of the contraption on the end of the steel wire slowly forces the door to close. It’s slow because the weight is at a certain level and density such that the door will only close softly. My husband did not want the fly wire door to slam.

The extraordinary thing about this construction to my mind is the nature of the weight itself. An old tap atop a piece of brass fitting like the top of a squat tap. It once belonged to a family friend, now long dead who used to turn metal for a hobby.


The whole construction reminds me of this friend who made so many gizmos out of metal. This friend fixed things the old fashioned way and rarely relied on modern conveniences to run his life.

Not for our friend the new water jugs. He used the porcelain jugs of yesteryear, the ones that contained an exposed element, which periodically blew. And when the element blew, he replaced it with another element.

Our friend was a man ahead of his time for recycling. He recycled, not because it was good for the environment though that might have been part of his motivation.

He recycled mostly because he was appalled at the cost of things.

In supermarkets he’d argue with the shop assistants whenever the price of an item suffered a steep rise. He’d ask to see the manager every time his regular supermarket decided to relocate items on the shelves – as supermarkets tend to do from time to time so that you need to re-learn the lay out of your local shop, and if the supermarket decides a product is not selling they pull it from the shelves.

This final crime was the worst.

Our friend’s wife hid behind a shelf while her husband regaled the manager with threats of letters to the editor whenever they took his favourite mustard, jam or butter from the shelves.

He liked things to stay the same. At first no one noticed but in time there were other signs.

Twenty years later he had all but lost his identity and could not even hammer in a nail.

It was tragic that our friend should suffer such an affliction, one which took away his greatest talent, his ability to fix things, if only the old-fashioned way.

My husband’s door – however ungainly – is a tribute to this man and to people everywhere who use old style techniques to make the world a better – if not less stream lined – place.

10 thoughts on “An old fashioned fix”

  1. I’m so in love with every aspect of this post. It’s not only well-written, but it speaks to one of my favorite subjects – Redoing the Undone. I have dragged the image to my desktop because your husband fashioned an elegant, Rube Goldberg(ish), functional door-closing that I want to copy.

    I’m sad your friend wasn’t able to to refashion his most valuable asset – his mind.

    1. The notion of ‘redoing the undone’ is wonderful, Kass. Such resonance and so necessary in this day of too much wastage. I’m glad you like my husband’s and friend’s ingenuity such that the image of their handiwork is on your desktop. It’s lovely to imagine it there. Thanks.

  2. I love this. The kind of “fix it” skill that goes into repair is utterly beyond me. It’s utterly betyond, these days, most people. How ARE we going to get on in future generations when the truly skilled die and disappear? Surely everything will not be remedied by a robot?

    1. It’s all beyond me, too Elizabeth. I’m only good with the written word, like you. Perhaps we are too much in our heads. Though I’ve just spent the past three days into today grandfathering two small boys, which to me is no mean feat, while their parents earn a well deserved rest. And yu do so much for your boys and especially for Sophie. That takes some skill, and perseverance, even though there wasn’t much needed fixing. thanks, Elizabeth.

  3. I had a friend once called Eddie. Had my parents been born and bred in Scotland I would’ve been encouraged to call him Uncle Eddie to avoid being overly familiar with an adult but that’s not the way I was brought up. That said, in the absence of biological uncles and aunts (and cousins and grandparents come to think of it), Eddie was one of a number who filled their place and was for all intents and purposes my uncle. Eddie was an electrician to trade but he had the soul of an engineer and could put his hand to most things. That said he was a bit of a perfectionist and as such found it hard to hold down a job so my dad would often offer him odd-jobs as a means of being able to put a few quid his way and allow the man to keep his dignity. The problem with that was, because it was my dad and Eddie wanted to do his best, he ended up taking days to do what a bone fide tradesman would’ve done in a couple of hours. Fortunately my dad was savvy enough to agree a price for the whole job and not an hourly rate. Sometimes I would keep Eddie company while he worked. I wasn’t there to help and I wasn’t much interested in what he was doing but I liked Eddie and he always had stories to tell. Once he was doing some work on the car—don’t ask me what—and as usual he was taking ages over it; there was a lot of polishing involved, that’s all I can remember. This time he decided to explain what he was doing and why and after his explanation he said, “You know, Jimmy, there aren’t any engineers left, only fitters.” What he was doing was repairing a piece of machinery rather than simply replacing it which would’ve been easier and quicker. But he’s right. When I was a kid a semi-regular visitor at our house was the TV repairman. That was a thing. A man would come out and fix the TV. The last time our TV broke we threw it out and bought a new one. The last time my computer broke I used it as an excuse to buy a new one. I have never darned a pair of socks in my life!

    I’m not an engineer. I have an O-Level in Applied Mechanics—I came top of the year no less—but my dad still had to remind me to check the oil and water levels in the car and the tyre pressure too. It never actually dawned on me to do any of that. One of the reasons I don’t own a car now is because of all the trouble I’ve had with them over the years and it’s simply not worth the bother. Once, in the midst of my second major depression, the car wouldn’t start and in despair (not too strong a word) I phoned up Eddie and broke down whilst on the phone to him. Needless to say, within the hour, there was Eddie and his wife to provide comfort as he worked his magic. It wasn’t magic and all he probably had to do was adjust the spacing of the spark plugs—I’m pretty sure he showed me how to do that once—but it might as well have been magic.

    My wife is an engineer. I won a watch there. And she takes great pride in being able to MacGyver a solution to any problem. (She recently watched ‘The Martian’ and was quite critical of how easily some of the problems had been solved. ‘Apollo 13’ it was not but entertaining otherwise.) Oddly enough I’m actually quite good at coming up with solutions to problems; it’s in their execution I fail miserably. I mistakenly put a Revell model on my Amazon wish list last year and Carrie bought it for me even though she was pretty sure it had been a mistake on my part. I opened the box a couple of weeks back, scanned the instructions and put the whole lot back. I’ll never build it.

    I do have one thing in common with your friend: I like things to stay the same. Fortunately we live in a flat where there’s little space left to rearrange anything. It’s a bit like a caravan in that respect and I always hated spending time in caravans for that very reason. Now I don’t mind it so much. There’s comfort in order. I don’t much care what the outside world does.

    1. Eddie sounds pretty wonderful, Jim, a real counter to those of us who are perhaps more cerebral, however slow he might be/have been. As for the engineering side of things, i suppose there are the ideas people, those who might design things and then the doers, those who make and repair. My friend was a bit of both, as is my husband. Me, I’m neither. I rely on others for designs and for repairs. The best I can do is write and relate – in a manner of speaking. Thanks, Jim.

  4. I could write an essay on this! I lament the loss of all those practical skills, too, Elisabeth. There’s something fulfilling about being presented with a problem and fixing it. In the old days, when things were mechanical and not electronic, we could fix almost anything ourselves. My father used to fix our washing machine and simple things on the car, for example. But these days, we have to outsource most repairs, as the gadgets are too complex for us to understand, or else it’s cheaper to throw it out and get a new one.

    1. I worry too for the state of this earth, Louise, all that land fill, especially in light of our tendency these days to throw out stuff, broken or otherwise, rather than to repair or recycle. Thanks.

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