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The Joy of Fix

Some people do Soduko, paint, do jigsaw puzzles or watch telly, I enjoy fixing things. There is something deeply satisfying in extending an object’s life. Saving lots of money or the landfill it might have taken up is a bonus. It’s probably the same joy felt by someone solving a challenging puzzle or winning at Cluedo.

The Coffee Machine

About 10 ago I spent rather a lot of money on a wonderful coffee machine, the Sage Barista Express. For many years it served wonderfully, but eventually like any mechanical device it began to complain and needed some TLC.

The horrible noises it began to make weren’t being solved by descaling or running another cleaning cycle. Part of me was considering its retirement due to its age and excellent service. However, as with my 1989 Land Rover Defender – it was too good to say goodbye to.

So I took it apart to find out what might be wrong. It’s a daunting exercise when you consider what you are looking at cost as much as it did, makes such great coffee and something you might do could render it useless.

What it looks like when you are first tempted to buy it.

But what was there to lose by having a go at fixing it?  Nothing. Yet the thing I had to overcome here was the fear of failure, of making it worse and accepting this gorgeous little machine would have to go to the recycling centre. It was that last point that encouraged me to learn how to fix it.

What’s inside

So I learnt the 3-way solenoid had seized. I learned what a solenoid was, how it worked, and how to replace it. I also learned that this mechanical failure had led to the death of a particular transistor – so I learned how to test and fix transistors. At the back of my mind, I knew I could get this all wrong and kill the machine, but it was nearly dead anyway so I had little to lose.

When the machine jumped back into life I had an amazing sense of satisfaction. I experienced the ‘joy of fix’.

The Dishwasher

I offered to take my partner’s broken dishwasher to the recycling centre but I was nagged by the sense I could probably fix it. I did want a dishwasher anyway, so fixing it would be in my interest too. Many searches and late-night videos later, I found the problem, ordered the part, and bingo, I had a dishwasher that was as good as new. Like with the expresso machine, there was a huge sense of satisfaction.  

The Phone

My Huawei P30 Pro stopped registering the sim card. I tried the card on an old phone and it worked. I tried again in the P30 and it didn’t. It was probably the SIM card reader in the P30. The part was £7 and after an eBay purchase and some time, the phone jumped back into life. Again, the joy of fix!! Unlike most mechanical devices which can take a bit of beating, small things like phones are tremendously delicate. One slip of the screwdriver can be unforgiving, which is why despite the phone working (mostly!) now, I think I broke a small ribbon cable connecting the speakers to the board I was working on – so back inside I went. I don’t particularly enjoy working on phones any more than a vet specialising in horses likes working on hamsters.

The Seat.

My dear friend and neighbour Terry is a regular feed of things to fix, from cookers to heaters to his most recent electric chair. Terry is in his late 80s and isn’t a spring chicken any more, finding it hard to get up and move around. Subsequently his chair was a joy – as it would go up and down and back and forward to make it as easy for him to stand up and feel comfortable. That was until he dropped the remote control into his cup of tea and it no longer did anything. Fixing a few ‘dry’ joints which really didn’t like being immersed in tea and replacing a couple of switches did the trick. It was nice to know that fixing something directly improved someone’s life.

Soduku, The Dishwasher Heater and the Hoover Portapower.

Lou, my girlfriend, loves Soduku and Murdle, which are both puzzles. I love fixing things which is a puzzle too. Whilst Lou is loving solving a number puzzle or murder mystery in paper, I am sitting in bed with a heater pump trying to figure out why it doesn’t work. I turned out to be a relatively easy diagnosis and fix, and thanks to Bosch’s great engineering all the bits were easy to access and replace. It was however an exercise in being too convinced you know what the problem is before you’ve dug into it. All the forums and videos on the internet pointed to a circuit board relay failure, which it wasn’t.

My dear neighbour Jenny is in her 80s and regularly hands me things to fix. Recently it was a very old Hoover vacuum cleaner from the 1970s. It was a Hoover Portapower model S1015-030 . It doesn’t look like most vacuums, but rather like something between a droid in Star Wars and NooNoo in tellytubbies.

Why is it broken? What do the symptoms point to? What’s the likely culprit? What’s it called? Where do I get to the part? Which part does it need? Can I get the parts for a 50-year-old vacuum? Is it worth it? I love fixing it and Jenny would love to see it working again. The buzz of extending the life of such a vintage device is a curious addiction. It turns out that there were some dry joints and also the carbon brushes needed replacing. Whilst those particular-sized brushes were difficult to find, I bought some generic ones and sanded them down to the appropriate size. Bingo, it bounced back to life and boy was it powerful. I don’t know why I thought it would be a bit rubbish compared to a modern Dyson for example. However, it was a rocket ship of vacuum cleaners and would probably outlast most modern vacuums 50 years younger.

Deep Stuff, Man.

I think there’s a little demon in almost everyone that tempts us to throw something away rather than have a crack at fixing it. A lucky few have been brought up with a parent who seemed capable of fixing (and making!) virtually anything, so as their offspring, we naturally have a go. Most others throw away and get something new.

There is a dangerous demon in modern society called ‘Throwaway’ who prowls around society itself convincing companies that longevity is an awful idea and any products they produce must be difficult to fix. Unfixable items in a modern throwaway society are a perfect match to feed modern consumerism.  However, the Barista Express or Hoover Portapower wasn’t designed with that mindset. They were designed to last.

Throwaway’s best friend is called Consumo. Consumo encourages people to buy stuff they don’t need and Throwaway encourages people to chuck it if something better is around, or it breaks. Together these two characters work 7 days a week mostly and enjoy nothing more than putting their feet up and looking at towering landfills, particularly if their noxious odours encourage some other friend of Consumo to find a sellable solution to the smell.

Consumo and Throwaway love Christmas. This is the time to charge up the joy of being a consumer and convince people of that perfect gift. It can be on-trend, highly desired, hand-made, artisan, ethical and environmentally friendly but all you need to do is listen to the beckoning calls of Consumo and your cash or credit cards will be accepted.

Just like the mindset of the developers and owners of the Land Rover Defender (I have one of those too), the Barista Express has built up a community of people who share how to keep the coffee flowing. If something goes wrong, someone somewhere has documented how to fix it. Interestingly, the makers of both of those products do not actively support those self-supporting communities. Both of these companies are fully aware of those communities but neither would refer to them if they got a call from a customer.

The joy of listening to Consumo and Throwaway is easy to experience but short-lived. The joy of fix is harder to experience but deeper and wider. So as the madness of Christmas 2023 approaches and Consumo gets to work, give what I’ve said a little thought. If you have to buy something as a present, give some thought to how long it lasts, whether you need to buy it at all, and even if you could make something yourself that would bring a little sparkle to the recipient’s life.

Some Tips

  • Have a go at fixing something, what is there to lose if it is broken already?
  • You’ll fail but will learn from the experience. Next time you are less likely to fail again.
  • Take photos! Sometimes if you don’t you’ll wonder where all the wires go!