This is the first of a number of ‘interesting’ experiences gained from just one year working for Granada TV Rental in the early 1970s. If you’ve ever been a field service technician going into different people’s homes, then you’ll know what I mean when I say “You’ve seen life”.
Our patch covered part of SW Herts and the adjacent part of Bucks and therefore contained a wide range of different people and types of property. From sleazy rented bed-sits to the large detached homes of several well known stars and TV personalities of the time who lived in Rickmansworth or nearby.
I was sent off my normal patch to Little Chalfont to look at a B&W set with sound but no picture. The senior technician smiled knowingly as he handed me the job card and said, “You might want to leave some of your tools in the car when you first go in”. This was a coded way of saying that the inside of the house was an unpleasant place to be and having a good excuse to pop back out to get additional tools or spares, would provide a welcome breath of fresh air.
The house turned out to be a bungalow and as I headed up the path to the front door, I noticed the smell – Aarrgghhh CATS! I rang the bell and waited. A little old lady opened the door and invited me in. Inside, the smell was unbelievable and as I walked up the hall, with each step I could feel the carpet sticking to the soles of my shoes. There were cats of all sizes, colours and breeds everywhere. I negotiated a path carefully through the fur and detritus and successfully managed to avoid treading in anything unpleasant.
I was directed to the kitchen and shown the TV. There was a big old ginger tom laying on top. “That’s old George” the woman said helpfully, “He often sleeps up there because it’s warm, just push him off. Would you like a cup of tea or coffee dear?”
“Erm, no thanks” came back the quick reply, “I had one just before I left the workshop”. (Excuse number 2 in the book of ‘I won’t touch anything here that I absolutely don’t have to, especially if it involves ingestion’) “I understand that you have sound but no picture, is that right?”
“How many cats have you got?” I enquire pleasantly, trying to remember that I should always be polite to a customer.
“I don’t know exactly” she replied, “I think somewhere between eighty and ninety, but they come and go as they please and it’s difficult to keep track”.
OK, back off the TV and switch on. I think the set was a Thorn 1400 or 1500 chassis. Valves all light up, sound comes on, I could hear line whistle (well, this was 40 years ago when my ears still worked) no static crackle on the tube face from the EHT, but I could draw an arc from the top cap of the PL. OK, must be a duff tripler. Back out through the minefield that was the hall to get the soldering iron, a replacement tripler and a few lung fulls of fresh air. Back into the house after taking one final deep breath.
I removed the tripler and found it was slightly sticky. “Funny”, I thought to myself and then I made the mistake. You’ve probably done the same sort of thing haven’t you? It’s when you know you probably shouldn’t do something but you still do it anyway. Yes, you’ve guessed right! I moved the tripler towards my nose! I can’t exactly put into words the aroma that greeted my nostrils but imagine the worst smell of burning you can and then mix it with stale cat urine of the strongest vintage and you’ve got a pretty good idea. Yes, George was obviously a very lazy old cat that couldn’t be bothered to get up from his warm perch and had relieved himself where he lay right over the tripler.
I imagine that cat urine is quite a good conductor of electricity but have honestly never had the urge to try to collect a sample and measure it. However, I quickly concluded that George had an extremely weak bladder and could only achieve a dribble rather than a continuous stream, because had he been able to achieve the latter, 20 kV would have travelled upwards at the speed of light and saved the vet the job of removing his testicles, although it might have provided employment for a local plasterer to repair the cat-shaped dent in the ceiling.
I left the set working, threw the duff tripler into the back of the car (an HC Viva Estate) and spent a long time washing my hands in the spare water I carried for the windscreen washers. The car stank for weeks afterwards.
A few days later old George did it again. This time the attending technician removed the set and the customer was ‘Cease Hired’.