So we got a letter from persons acting on behalf of our electricity supplier, bzztpower PLC, saying they needed to replace our meter. I know from previous attempts to do this that our meter and the meters of our neighbours above and below are connected in a stack with ours at the top, so disconnecting us will also disconnect them. So, I let them know the work is going to happen: you’re getting a 20 minute power cut on Wednesday morning. Any problems? Excellent.

Meter Man arrives. We turn off everything in the flat. He mounts his ladder. He gets to work on the collection of meters in the porch. He removes a very large fusey type thing. Downstairs Neighbour sticks his head out of the door and shouts that his equipment is smoking. I can’t see his face in the gloom of the hall and assume he’s joking.

He isn’t …

It’s not only smoking, it’s smoking quite excitingly: clouds of strangely clear white smoke as if someone inside is spraying out very fine talc. Playstation, TV, laptop all fritzed.

Supervisor is called, from Somerset via Reading so I’m impressed by how soon he arrives. Eventually establishes that not only are the meters wired up in series, they’re also non-compliant. Rather than each having a neutral feed of their own, they share a single neutral feed that goes through all three meters. This is the kind of thing frowned upon by the better class of meter man, as disconnecting the neutral feed from our flat therefore also removed it from the other two flats and they got the full blast of 415 volts. Top flat has a breaker which immediately tripped (astonishing; last year’s East European cowboys that caused us so much entertainment and diversiondid something right) and so the flat was protected, but downstairs flat started tripping in quite another way. And if Meter Man had touched the end of the neutral feed, he too would have started smoking; at least, in the brief period of contact before he got thrown thirty feet away, but his passage through the air would probably have extinguished any flames.

NotNorthernLeccy, who supply the other two flats, are called as our guy isn’t allowed to open up another supplier’s meter and together they make a go at rewiring the whole meter caboodle, before working out that they’re outclassed by the needs of the wiring. To cut a long story short, after much head scratching and discussion, we will need a local electrician to do quite a bit of rewiring (the meter guys only do meters), plus representatives from bzztpower and NotNorthernLeccy to rewire the meters, and this will all need to happen on the same day, starting quite early, if it’s all going to be done during hours of warmth and daylight. Meanwhile the insurance companies of bzztpower and NotNorthernLeccy are expected to have a pleasant game of pingpong with Downstairs Neighbour’s claim for the slagged gear. Fun, fun, fun.

It occurs to me that plumbers might get cold and wet sometimes, but they would have to try very hard to die just by touching the wrong pipe.