Real life

In praise of bots

2 October 2021

9:00 AM

2 October 2021

9:00 AM

British Gas finally agreed to service my boiler, for no reason I could make out other than the boiler wasn’t new any more. All the while it was new, they refused to go anywhere near it.

The majestic Worcester Bosch was installed four years ago as I began my renovations, egged on by the builder boyfriend’s bold assurances about the king of combination boilers. When I rang and asked to take out a Homecare agreement on it, I was expecting them to jump at the chance of what would surely be money for old rope.

It was hardly going to break down any time soon, or ever, according to the BB, so I was baffled when they turned me down.

If they had installed it, that would be different, they said. But as I had gone ahead and bought a new boiler of my own choice, willy-nilly, from the plumb centre down the road, without even stopping to consult them on their many attractive boiler-installation choices and offers, I would have to service it myself, was the gist of it. Well, not myself, but I would have to get the man who installed it to service it. The tone was very much one of a lover who had been cheated on.

In any case, their policy was not to go near it. ‘Ever?’ I asked, for I had always had one of their policies on my boiler at the old place. And I’ve been a loyal customer of their gas and electricity for years.

‘Computer says go screw your new boiler,’ was the essence of the reply. In many ways, it was just as well, because a glitch in the renovations meant the Worcester Bosch was purring away while suspended 20ft above the kitchen floor.


It ended up thus, almost poised in mid-air, after I lost patience with the lack of head height in the lower ground floor garden-level basement area and ordered the floor of the raised ground floor kitchen, directly above the basement, to be taken out, making the two rooms into one.

We now have a double height kitchen diner leading to the garden, which is fabulous. But once the floor was gone I realised the boiler remained stuck to the wall 20ft up in the space near the ceiling which was the old kitchen.

I had the Albanian boys cobble together a mezzanine level, which doesn’t really work because you still have to put a ladder against it to clamber on to it to access the boiler.

I have some plants up there too, which I have to do acrobatics to water. ‘It’s all a very monkey fingers solution,’ says the builder b, using his charming nickname for me.

‘I can manage,’ I say. But I have always dreaded the boiler breaking down —although the BB still swears this will never happen — because an engineer would have to clamber about, and we all know health and safety doesn’t tend to allow clambering of any sort.

And what about servicing? I know what’s going to happen if I ever do sell the place. Some young couple will bombard my solicitor in the closing stages of the conveyancing with demands to see the boiler service history.

No amount of assurances that the boiler is top quality, and works, and has been looked at by my mate Terry the plumber, will placate a couple of millennials who need a tick in the box of an official looking form in order not to feel ‘unsafe’.

On a whim, therefore, I tried to buy a Homecare policy again. I ended up on a web page with one of those ‘bots’ talking to me. Turns out the bot is a lot more understanding than the humans in the call centre.

The bot was more than happy to insure the Worcester Bosch, allowing me to take out a policy and book a home visit. I mean, it wasn’t seamless. At first, I received two emails in rapid succession, one informing me I was covered for boiler servicing, and the next one informing me I would not be able to book a boiler service due to Covid complications.

But the bot sorted it, and the engineer turned up on the appointed day. As he came down the stairs into the kitchen, I pointed to the ladder propped against the mezzanine, resigned to this being as far as the enterprise would go.

To my astonishment, he said it wasn’t the worst place he had seen a boiler. He had recently serviced one fixed to the outside slope of a pitched roof. And without further ado, he clambered up the ladder.

Twenty minutes later, I had in my hand a piece of paper conferring on my boiler the highest possible rating. I waved it triumphantly.

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