Monday, March 7, 2011


I have always liked fixing things. There is something satisfying about making a broken thing into a working thing. Of course some of it is economical - or tight fisted depending on your point of view - but I have always thought of it as just bloody sensible. 

As a young person I would prepare for a future of fixing things by taking apart things that worked perfectly well. This activity would, more often than not, render them not-working. And being a newcomer to the ‘fixing things’ business, they seldom became working things again. I remember taking an alarm clock to pieces and, unable to re-assemble it, put all the pieces in a goldfish bowl and called it art. This was the start of a long relationship with what has become the ‘art of the available’ – but more of that later no doubt.

One of the up-sides of the world going to hell in a handcart is the new respect for recycling and the obscenity of built-in obsolescence. It has given my satisfaction in fixing an object of very little worth a new moral underpinning.

There are certain things I have found indispensible in my desire to be able to overcome the tricks played by the Break-Down Fairy. Depending on where I am they may include a kit of hand tools, power tools, a range of vices clamps and holding things, and materials to replace a bit which is not the shape it should be. For really weired bits I have a box of strange shaped things labelled ‘weird shit’. [He does. Ed.]

When I started driving I would always have a socket set, a box of assorted tools, ramps, jump leads, a Mole grip, a hammer, a tin of Plus Gas (think WD 40) etc. - and a wire coat hanger in the boot. 

The real dilemma though is what to take when space is limited, for instance when you don’t have a car, or  when you are flying and have serious weight restriction to take into account (the anvil’s out then…). 

When I did more touring than I do now, most of the work stuff would be in the truck, so I had a small bag in the cab containing gaffa tape, a Mole grip, some black pepper and English mustard (food needs fixing as well) - and a wire coathanger.

When I stayed in a lot more hotels than I do now, back in the days of analogue TVs I always had a set of small plastic ‘twiddlers’ which could be used to re-tune TV sets which the previous guest had always managed to shag up, a corkscrew - and a wire coathanger (you may see a pattern developing here).

Now I no longer do the sort of work I used to, I hope I can rely on others to provide the necessary tools and gaffa tape when I am at work, I usually eat at better places where the food is not (usually) in need of the mustard and pepper treatment to make it bearable. But the one thing I try to take with me is a wire coathanger (OK, you were ahead of me on that one). 

The selection of hangers in our local supermarket.
Top left is a plastic coated wire hanger and is the closest
one can get to a real wire coathanger these days - bah!
One thing they are particulary good at is being emergency replacement aerials. Most of my early cars had extendable aerials whhich would sooner or late break off. The twisted bit just below the hook of a wire coathanger fits snuggly on the hole and will withstand the tremendous speeds of youth. My first few cars could get up to 60 miles an hour and most had coathanger aerials at some time. I remember seeing one on someone else’s car which had been bent into the shape of a full-figured girl. I cannot find a picture of sexist-hanger-aerial-art on the Interweb just now, maybe later, meanwhile here are some I have found.

Wire hangers  are not only brilliant as aerials. They will hold things together, keep things apart, reach things dropped down the back of a safe (or other immovable object) break into a locked car etc. etc.

They can even be used to hang your washing in the fresh breeze at the window or over the heater in hotels. Most hotels have taken to providing those two part coathangers that can only really hang on the slidey things on the rail in the wardrobe [Syntax collapse - Ed.] [Can't be arsed. PJ] and are sod all use as aerials.  We have several bits doing important but forgotten jobs around the house and I used one as an envelope-related graphic device on the souvenir programme Tricia and I produced after our wedding.

There was a time when I was blessed by the Wire Coat Hanger Fairy - a distant and altogether more benign relative of the Broken-Down Fairy. In the event that, for example my exhaust had fallen off, I would only have to walk a few yards up the road and I would find a hanger left  for me by the WCH Fairy. Nice as this was I can’t help feeling that it would have been better had I been blessed by the Exhaust Pipe Not Falling Off In The First Place Fairy (or the Car That Doesn’t Break Down Fairy but this manifestation of the supernatural became extinct before the advent of the car – but I digress).

It would be fair to say that the wire coat hanger has been a strong and lasting influence on many aspects of my life. 

So, imagine the  rush of nostalgic emotion and the flood of adolescent imagery that struck me when, on the way back from a cement-buying spree in Montauban, I pulled up behind this truck:

I was hooked. I had to find out if this was the motherload, or just some garnish on a load of old Renaults. I just had to discover the destiny of this jamboree-bag of hangers. I considered various options. Maybe 10,000 unemployed youths would be paid to sort them into bundles of 10 as part of some bizarre Euro work creation programme and then sold to raise funds for Sarkozy's holiday fund. Or maybe they were destined for Emmaus where there are polytunnels filled with bins full of the most awful acrylic knitwear which would not be much improved by hanging up, but would be easier to sort through were you so minded. And Moissac, which is just down the road, has three of these worthy charitable establishments. 

Or maybe they were on the way to an artist's studio.

The mind was awash with possibilities.

But it seemed more likely that they were heading for  scrap. I could not resist the temptation and followed the truck, complete with trailer and half a ton of white cement.

Loading up with Ciment Blanc €10.90 a bag from Brico Depot.
(Which incidentally is owned by Kingfisher who also own B&Q)
And sure enough after a mile or so we turned up at a scrap metal yard. I was determined to get a look into the trailer and a better picture.

I really wanted this to be 44 cubic metres of hangers.

So I followed the truck through the gate adorned with notices announcing something to the effect that I should not enter, and parked up.

In the centre of the yard was ‘The Hill’. (I did not manage to get a good picture of The Hill - maybe later)

The Hill was the only high point for seeing into the container which was rapidly disappearing into the nether regions of metal world.

From the other side of the yard a Liebherr with a four jaw claw lumbered across toward me.  


The Jaw is like the grabby thing at the funfair that promises to deliver teddies, watches  and rolled up tenners to bloody idiots. Thing is, it looks like Larry Grayson’s left hand and could not pick up a ball of magnetic wire wool covered in Evo Stik ®™ in zero gravity.  Unlike its smaller carnival-cousin, this one had the jaws set at a business-like angle and I had no doubt that it would  make short work of unloading  coat hangers.

The Hill is behind the big yellow Liebherr thing.
The hanger truck is on the left reversinginto metal world.
The French can be very officious. [Something of an understatement. Ed.] An Englishman wandering into Metal World with a camera is on page one of Interdit  – Le Journal Francaise de Chose Interdit Absolutement  [Forbidden - The French Journal of Absolutely Forbidden Things. Ed.].

It is just below asking them to work through lunch. 

Fortunately the trailer on the back of the car was interpreted as ‘serious’ or 'offical' or 'appropriate' and I was not stopped at the gate. Once in and parked up, I slipped into my high visibilty jacket which is the perfect way of disappearing in this sort of establishment.

Armed with my cloak of invisibility and camera I strolled up The Hill as if I owned it, grabbed the picture...

There may be a Renault Nasty underneath this lot,
but I personally I think this is Zero Zero (pure hanger).
...narrowly avoided the crane with the grabby thing on the way down, and before they knew what was going on, was off up the road in a cloud of cement dust.

Somewhere in all the ‘Ninja Dump Raider’ nonsense I had neglected to fully absorb the coathanger wiredness of the situation. 

Maybe I'll go back and see if I can find their last rusting place.  I will let you know…

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful. Thanks for the laugh which broke out involuntarily when viewing the close up of the back of the truck.

    I was once rescued by a wire coat hanger from being locked out of my car on the Rock of Gibraltar, surrounded by apes.

    I had only nipped up there to kill time as I was early for picking up G from the airport. I got out to take photos of aforementioned hairy beasts with my newly purchased duty free point and shoot camera. Sadly the car was one of those that likes to lock the doors automatically when you close them. So it was only some worrying time later when a passing Spanish speaking local came by that I was able to fully appreciate the sensible precaution of always travelling with a wire coat hanger. The mission was a challenging one, as for some inexplicable reason the previous owner of this end-of-life Ford Taunus estate car had seen fit to saw off the knobby bits that usually sit on the top of the things that you pull up to unlock the door. But he was gritty and determined and the wire coat hanger was up to the task - clearly, or I would not be here to tell you this story today.

    I blame the rise of cool wash fabrics and the subsequent demise of dry cleaning esablishments for the shortage these days.