Covid chronicles: Sharp practices

Richard Lutz finds a pensioner willing to tool up during lockdown.

Britain has a population of 68 million. More than 41,000 have died from Covid-19. Germany has a population of 80 million. Less than 10,000 have died. Do the maths.

Why have the Germans got it so right? Why has the UK got it so wrong? Are our politicians inadequate? Are our experts ineffectual? Is our health service not as great as we wish to believe?

Why has the UK blown it?

I’m pondering this question when Len McD saunters out of his sheltered housing front door. He has his new toolkit with him, his knarled 84 year old hands twitching for an emergency. Annie, a senior manager with a startling head of red curly hair, has lost her Peugeot keys behind the front fascia.

Ten minutes after appearing, Len releases his head from an impossible angle wedged against the windscreen. He has the keys plus a mighty scratch on his long forearm. There’s talk of a surprise bottle of High Commissioner to be delivered tonight.

I’m sitting outside with CJ, who lives her quiet life in this housing development for the aged. We witness the whole rescue operation. I’m impressed with the successful recovery. As is Annie, I’m sure.

“I was an electrical engineer,” Len explained, not really explaining it at all. “I just bought this kit and wanted to try it out. Can’t beat Von Haus.”

He showed me a set of socket wrenches, spannersscrewdrivers and other shiny tools. “High tempered steel, some of them coated with chrome vanadium.”

Actually, Len lost me on that bit. 

“During lockdown,” he went on, “I was itching to do something so I walked over to the refuse tip over there (he points to a fence) “and saw all this good equipment thrown away. Trimmers, strimmers, lawnmowers, power tools. A complete waste, so I took them back here, fixed them up and give them away.”

Len took me to an unused communal kitchen in the sheltered housing ground floor. It had become his workshop. Tools, small motors, gears, spools and coils of wire were stacked on the kitchen counters. He opened a pantry door. “It’s my warehouse. All the machines, fixed and ready to go.”

There was a hedge trimmer with a big blade. “How did you repair that one?” I asked. Repairing garden stuff is not my forte.

“A couple of new bushings and it’s perfect,” Len said and he added quietly, “It’s Spear and Jackson. From Sheffield. Do you need it?”

I certainly did. I demanded that I pay for the new bushings (£8). Len McD wasn’t too happy about taking the cash but we agreed it could go a local charity if it bothered him.

“And mind the fuses,” he called as I walked away with my new possession. “Five amp at the most. Most people these days put 13 amp in these things and wonder why they blow.”

I’ll remember that. Fuses always confused me.