Honey, I Zapped the Kids – A Lively Tale of Murder by Electricity

September 7, 2009 at 2:11 pm | Posted in Article | 4 Comments
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Electricity is useful and dangerous. The fact it’s useful means it’s all around us. Yet the fact it’s dangerous doesn’t mean we all know how to use it properly. Despite WorkCover’s best efforts, safety is still not a sexy subject.

So how do I make you read a safety article? By using Barry Butcher. Barry is a happily married father of two who is about to kill himself and his family – including the pets. You’re going to see how he does it.

Barry has a nice home which he plans to renovate. As we enter the hall, we see an old fuse box with quaint ceramic fuses. Because these used to burn out often, Barry has replaced the fine fuse wire with a much heavier gauge. Next time there’s a fault in the home’s antique, cloth-covered wiring, the fuses will hold their own until the wiring ignites the granny flat out the back.

The resultant fire will account for Barry’s mother, Beryl. A sleek modern switchboard with automatic cut-off switches only costs around $350 installed, but Barry is saving for a new kitchen.

On our left is Betty’s nursery. Like most toddlers, she is endlessly inquisitive. Barry hasn’t put safety plugs in the unused power point sockets and to Betty, they look like portals to another world. In a way, they are. All she needs is a safety pin or paper clip key.

Compounding the risk is Betty’s mother Brenda, who is understandably concerned about germs. She regularly drowns the live power boards with surface cleaner. All except the one under the crib which has been gathering dust, cobwebs and cat fur ever since Betty arrived. It’s hard to tell which way she’s going to go.

Down the hall is the master bedroom. With the nights turning cold, the trusty old electric blanket has come out of storage, still bearing its fold marks. While Barry can’t see that the wiring’s had it, he has lately noticed (and ignored) a hot spot in the bed.

Before winter is over, dinner guests will put their firstborn down in the Butcher’s marital chamber and Barry will neglect to turn the blanket off at the power point.

It will be the last time Horace Henderson ever wets the bed.

Revenge will be swift. As Barry attends the disaster, he will fail to disconnect the faulty blanket. Through cracks in the old plastic cord he will receive a severe (though, unfortunately for the rest of the household, not fatal) shock.

The lounge room is Barry’s pride and joy. His surround sound theatre is far beyond what the home’s designers could ever have imagined – which is why there aren’t enough power points. In the Australian tradition of innovation, however, Barry has devised ingenious workarounds. The power board bristles with double adaptors and piggyback plugs, such that its load capacity is exceeded (though not increased) threefold.

Barry chose a cheap board without an overload cut-off switch and defeated the loose slots by bending the pins of each plug. The unsightly composite is hidden behind curtains that will burn with such ferocity that Blubber the goldfish will boil in his bowl.

Several slender, two-pin extension cords form a daisy chain around the current-hungry audiovisual gear. Because each unearthed connection represents an opportunity for Boof the cat to enter pet heaven, Barry has covered them with rugs, where they will overheat during an impressive demonstration of his ‘Apocalypse Now’ DVD.

Even Barry knows the kitchen poses many risks. But in avoiding the obvious ones, he misses those that are more subtle. While not foolish enough to pry toast out with a fork, he ignores crumb build up in the toaster. The filthy range hood filter is an even more potent fire hazard. He unplugs the jug when it’s not in use, but does so by yanking (and thus weakening) the cord. He keeps the deep fryer clean, but didn’t have it safety checked after buying it at the garage sale.

Barry could have everything in the house electrically certified for less than a night out with Brenda. She will survive all these perils, only to fall victim to a 40 watt reading lamp as it detonates the 20 watt globe installed by her husband. Blinded, she will stumble into a string of indoor fairy lights, rigged out of doors by Barry for a party three years ago. Rain-soaked sockets and sun-cracked wires will finish the job.

Barry’s teenage daughter Briony will also succumb to his negligence. Lazing in the back yard one sunny afternoon, she will reminisce on all the safety lessons her daddy taught her: how not to fly a kite under power lines; how never to leave cooking unattended and how not to use shavers or hair dryers near baths or sinks. At that moment, Barry will accidentally kick her portable stereo into the spa, with predictable results.

Barry is something (but not very much) of a handyman. When working around the house, he uses an extension cord reel. Each time he fails to unwind the cord fully before using his powerful tools, he risks melting it.

Of greater danger is his propensity to attack garden projects without sufficient forethought. Barry will make two mistakes while rejuvenating his front nature strip. The first will be to dig without dialling 1100 for the location of phone, water, gas, cable TV and electricity networks. The second will be to plant a tall, fast growing eucalypt directly under the street powerlines.

Seven years later, while still grieving the loss of Beryl, Blubber, Boof, Brenda, Briony (and, to a lesser extent, Horace), Barry will decide to prune the eucalypt. His lofty aluminium ladder will eventually connect with the powerlines and the shock will hurl him against the trunk. With its root bole stunted by underground services, the tree will collapse under Barry’s weight, rupturing the gas main beneath it.

The ladder/line combo will then spark the gas, setting fire to Barry’s home for the last time. Having miraculously survived her nursery, school-age Betty will die of smoke inhalation in the study.

Barry’s legacy will endure after his house is reduced to cinders. His sister Beverley’s inheritance will vanish as an assessor discovers that Barry lied on his insurance application about the house being rewired. The job would have cost less than $2,000.

The real tragedy of the Butchers is that their demise will be due neither to bad luck nor stupidity. As with most dangerous things, carelessness, laziness and a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude cause far more deaths than the more sensational factors employed by storywriters.

Safety may not be exciting, but it sure beats harming yourself and your family. Electricity is all around you. So learn about it, treat it with respect and don’t pretend you’re a sparkie. Life is tricky enough already.

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4 Comments »

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  1. No bluddy ’bout a doubt’ ya mate…I reckon you’ve answered your own question again :- )

    It reminds me of a great movie I saw recently (Garden State – Written, Directed by & Staring Zach Braff). The lead character makes a comment about how much of his ‘life has been determined by a 1/4 inch piece of plastic’.

    I reckon Safety and Faith may have an heretofore hidden mystical relationship…though neither are sexy, and making them so is a toughy, such a ‘connection’ may, if studied under a well insulated Electron Microscope, reveal a few ways to ‘short-circuit’ a few otherwise lengthy litigious OH&S social & economic downsides? 😛

    Bluddy great article once again mate…thanks

    Cheers

    Stephen G

  2. Thanks very much, Stephen! I’m a lucky chap indeed to have a reader of your calibre and capacity! 🙂

  3. Jan and I were reading in bed, and she was concentrating on something serious, and I was reading this, and I kept disturbing her with suppressed laughter. Good job.

    • I’m thrilled to bits to hear it, Michael. That’s just the sort of feedback to keep me in the hunt with this caper. Thanks so much for taking the time to relate your reaction/s. Best regards, P.


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