Sometimes you need to offer a no questions asked hug.

Sometimes the people you love will get bruised by life and you will feel a desperate need to get in there and make it better. When your child is six there is very little that cannot be fixed by a reassuring hug from Mammy and Daddy. When they get older things get more complicated and sometimes your desperate need to get in there and fix things for your child will be rebuffed. This isn’t your fault.  This is a natural consequence of them growing up and struggling to figure out their own strategies for dealing with life’s ups and downs. Of course you are still their parent, the “responsible adult” in the room so you still have to watch over them to ensure they don’t hurt themselves or others while they go through this process. In my experience it is often best to do this from a discrete distance making sure there is a safe zone around your child for them to  work through their feelings but not trying to force your way through  to them.  However even in such a situation it may well be that your child (and quite possibly you) could really use a hug even though they aren’t ready to deal with the additional stuff that might bring up. One strategy that often works for us is to offer a no questions asked hug. It is the offer of a re-assuring hug with no strings attached. You won’t ask why your 16 year old daughter came home crying and went to her room and slammed the door. You won’t ask why she threw her new phone out of  the bedroom window. Not yet anyway. Time enough later for discussions and investigations. For now you only offer reassurance and love.

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Unclogging blocked sinks and drains

I am the lone male in a house of women and the unpleasant job of unblocking clogged sinks and drains falls to me. Here are some of the lessons I have learned about this over the years:

First off let me apologise to any American readers of this blog and admit that I have very limited expertise in the unclogging of blocked toilet bowls. This is something I have almost never experienced in my Irish home although on the few visits I have made to the US this appears to be a fairly common problem over there. I have a notion that US toilets use a narrower throat than is common here which amplifies the siphon effect but is prone to clogging. Most European toilets in my experience have fairly wider bores which give a much poorer (and indeed sometimes inadequate) flush but which almost never clog. If a wide bore European toilet does clog you can often clear it with a heavy flush supported  with an additional bucket of water. Take care of course not to overflow the bowl.

Anyway the problem I have to deal with on a regular basis is blocked sink and shower drains occasionally caused by kitchen waste but much more commonly caused by human hair.

It is sound advice to try and minimise the source of clogging by encouraging your family members to clear any solid debris and in particular any hairs out of the plughole after using a sink or a shower. This won’t eliminate the problem of material that has already gone down the plughole but it may extend the time required between decloggings.

It is possible to get drain inserts with a fine mesh that catch hairs for easy removal. I have had poor success with these unfortunately. If the mesh is fine enough to catch hairs then it will clog almost immediately making for a very unpleasant shower experience as the rising water laps around your ankles.

The simplest and in many cases the best approach to declogging is to use an old fashioned rubber plunger. This is a hemispherical rubber cup that will form an airtight seal over the drain hole and may be used to push and pull air and water in and out of the drain. I have had a lot of success with these but there are a few subtleties:

  1. Always block the sink overflow when using them. This overflow is a second entry to the drainpipe and if you don’t block it then your plunging action will simply push and pull air in and out of this hole greatly minimising your results.
  2. I advise filling the sink with enough water to fill the blocked drain and to overlap the base of the plunger. This means that the plunger is pushing water rather that air. Water has greater mass and greater impact for clearing that blockage.
  3. Once the plunger has formed a water tight seal around the plug hole I recommend a sequence of ten to twenty rapid compress/release cycles without breaking the seal. I find short repeated compressions work better than a smaller number of more flamboyant plunges.
  4. Try to avoid pulling the plunger forcefully away from the plug hole to break the seal. This will simply suck all the crap that is in the drain back up into your sink or bath. While this may seem like a good way to remove a blockage most of it is likely to go right back down the drain to clog up again.

You can buy a variety of products which claim to unclog blocked drains. While these may seem like an easier option my experience with them has been mixed. Many of them are based on Sodium Hydroxide (caustic soda).  I have found that caustic soda used in conjunction with very hot water can be effective at removing fat and food based blockages but is far less effective in the bathroom where hair is the main problem. It is also very corrosive to both humans and to aluminium so please follow manufacturers instructions and safety advice to the letter. A less common formula uses concentrated (90%+) sulphuric acid. While this does work very well on human hair and just about anything else it is even more corrosive than caustic soda and will quickly destroy any part of you or any metal that it touches. It will destroy the chrome finish of your bathroom accessories if you accidentally spill it on them.

What about blockages outside of the house? In my experience these come in two varieties: The less serious is a blocked drain because  a grate designed to collect rainwater has become clogged with leaves or other detritus. Simply clean the grate to clear the blockage. Always replace the grate or else the leaves and gunk will simply accumulate below to form a much more serious blockage. This could lead to the more serious blockage of an underground sewer pipe. You should know where the covers are that allow you access to the sewers under your home but you will generally need specialised equipment to deal with a blocked sewer. I have done it on occasion but at this point I would consider calling in an outside contractor.  They aren’t cheap but they will have the equipment and expertise to clear the problem more quickly than you can and a house with a blocked sewer is not a happy house.

Final note: on very rare occasions I have actually dismantled the U shaped trap under a sink to manually remove a blockage. This is messy and awkward but is the final solution if all else fails.

Second Final note: I forgot about under sink waste disposal (Insinkerator), These are not at all common in Ireland but as it happens we have one and it clogs about once per year. The only solution in this case is to mechanically remove it from under the sink and physically remove any blockage. This is relatively easy to do: First unplug the waste disposal. There is a metal locking ring that forces a watertight seal with a rubber gasket under the sink. I usually have to take a hammer to it to unscrew the locking ring but once the unit is removed from under the sink it is easy to unclog. Just don’t make the rookie mistake of turning on the tap while the waste disposal is removed.

 

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Necktie Advice

Wearing a tight neck-tie give me a headache. I guess it is something to do with restricting the flow of blood to the brain. I know I am not the only man who experiences this but unfortunately there are many occasions where a neck-tie is unavoidable if you want to look properly dressed.

The common solution of opening the top button of your shirt and loosening the tie  looks sloppy and is best reserved for the journey home but here is a tip I picked up from an old desk warrior: Buy your formal shirts one collar size too big. That way you can wear a neck tie properly and and still have  room to breathe.

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Adhesive substances you can trust

You can trust: Two part epoxy, Contact (the kind you wait five minutes to get tacky before joining), Wood glue (when used on wood), Duct Tape.

You can not trust: Super glue (cyanoacrylate),  Solvent based adhesives, Sellotape (Scotch tape), Silicone Sealant, Masking tape.

Edit (4 Dec 2017) : I originally put silicone sealant in the “cannot trust as an adhesive” category but I have since become aware of some genuinely high strength silicone based adhesives that are extremely robust. TEC 7 Adhesive and sealant is an example of this.

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Random thoughts on tools.

Love your tools. They are what makes the difference between you and an ape.

A good tool kit is built up slowly over the years. Better to buy one carefully selected tool at a time than buy a whole bunch of crap that you will never use.

Never ever buy those fancy looking tool kits with fifty tools all fitting in to a carefully moulded box. Most of those tools will never be used and when the ones you do use wear out you won’t be able to fit the replacement back in to the carefully moulded box.

A good chrome vanadium screw-driver will last a lifetime.

Your first tool purchases should probably be:

– A number 2  Pozi screwdriver (chrome vanadium of course). This seems to turn most every screw in a modern house.

– A good sized snub nosed “electricians” pliers.  I have always found a needle nosed pliers more useful for electrical work but a decent snub nosed pliers will turn most nuts you come across until you can afford a set of spanners or a monkey wrench.

– A small insulated flat head screwdriver  (aka a phase tester). This is essential for electrical work.

– A  flat  head screwdriver with a long shaft. This is not for turning screws with – very few modern screws have flat heads but it makes a darn good lever. Chrome vanadium of course.

– A Claw hammer. The claw hammer is a masterpiece of both construction and destruction. The ability to drive home nails is almost secondary to the ability of the claw to pry just about anything apart.

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Being attracted to young women

Based on my own experience and on my observations of older men you will never ever stop being attracted to young women. Unless you are very rich however there will come a time when young women stop being attracted to you.

How you choose to deal with these facts is one of the  things that defines the type of man you are.

PS: This is not really a subject that I would recommend discussing with wives or girlfriends.

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Try shaving under the shower

For the smoothest most comfortable shave you have ever had try this. After showering leave the water running. Wash your face once and then soap up (bar soap works best). Shave in the steamy shower for a close smooth shave. You probably won’t be able to use a mirror so you need to learn to shave by sense of touch but years of squinting in steamed up mirrors has probably taught you this anyway. As an added bonus shaving under the shower extends the life of razor blades enormously.

Warning: Do not try this with an electric razor.

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