Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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Nau Mai Ra, Welcome Home

For everyone who has chosen, or will choose Aotearoa New Zealand as their home, I can do no better that to express my feeling that you are welcome here than by presenting this beautiful song composed and sung by Dave Dobbyn, first in Māori and then in English.

Nau mai ra!
Welcome home!

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One Tree Hill

Some songs tend to haunt me. They get into my head and stay – sometimes long after the welcoming mat has been withdrawn. But there are a few that I’m happy to have stay for an extended period. One song in particular has bitter sweet memories.

It was written to honour the memory of a former work mate of mine. Greg became the fifth staff member of the local branch of the multinational I.T company I worked for.  He was around ten years younger than I was, and we worked together for around two years. He left the company around 1980 to join a local band, which from memory, was called something like Straight Flash.

Greg was very likeable. He was always charming, humorous and witty, always polite, and very considerate of others. In other words he was real gentleman, even though he was still in his teens. Travelling took up a lot of our work day and sometimes two of us might spend up to six hours in one day as we traveled between various jobs. We’d take turns at driving, and whoever was in the passenger seat usually did most of the talking. To be honest, I can no longer recall what we talked about, but I remember that I enjoyed his company as talk was not oriented towards sport and other topics that typically occupy the minds of teenage males.

Unfortunately the branch manager was one of those people who can often be heard starting a comment with “I’m not a racist, but…”. To him all Māori were lazy, and incompetent of performing tasks that require intelligence and skill. While he acknowledged Greg’s courtesy, and reluctantly conceded Greg’s grooming was always immaculate, in fact better than anyone else our small team, he was always critical of Greg’s ability as an engineer. It was the criticism he was constantly under, I believe, that caused him to leave the company and seek greener pastures the music industry.

Eventually Greg became a very close friend of Bono from the band U2 after a chance late night meeting when the band was touring Aotearoa New Zealand. Greg took Bono to the inaptly named One Tree Hill (it’s a volcano, not a hill, and although there was a lone tree near the summit, that was removed for safety reasons several decades ago). The “hill” is of great spiritual significance to the Māori, and apparently Greg successfully conveyed much of the meaning to Bono.

Unfortunately Greg was killed in a motor vehicle crash in Ireland in 1986. This song was composed in Greg’s memory and the vocals were recorded in a single take because Bono didn’t feel he would be able to do more.

I often think of Greg, and wonder what he could have achieved if his life wasn’t cut so short at the young age of 26. Hearing this song as I did this morning, always brings his memory back to the front of my mind. I still miss him. R.I.P. Greg Carroll.

One Tree Hill

We turn away to face the cold, enduring chill
As the day begs the night for mercy love
The sun so bright it leaves no shadows
Only scars carved into stone
On the face of earth
The moon is up and over One Tree Hill
We see the sun go down in your eyes

You run like river, on like a sea
You run like a river runs to the sea

And in the world a heart of darkness
A fire zone
Where poets speak their heart
Then bleed for it
Jara sang, his song a weapon
In the hands of love
You know his blood still cries
From the ground

It runs like a river runs to the sea
It runs like a river to the sea

I don’t believe in painted roses
Or bleeding hearts
While bullets rape the night of the merciful
I’ll see you again
When the stars fall from the sky
And the moon has turned red
Over One Tree Hill

We run like a river
Run to the sea
We run like a river to the sea
And when it’s raining
Raining hard
That’s when the rain will
Break my heart

Raining…raining in the heart
Raining in your heart
Raining…raining to your heart
Raining, raining…raining
Raining to your heart
Raining…raining in your heart
Raining in your heart..
To the sea

Oh great ocean
Oh great sea
Run to the ocean
Run to the sea

 


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I blame the Aussies

Even though the distance between Aotearoa New Zealand and Australia is the same as the distance between England and Greece, Australia is our nearest neighbour. But honestly, who would have them?

Like a big bullying brother, they claim they like us, but take things for themselves that don’t belong to them such as Phar Lap, the pavlova, the lamington, ANZAC Biscuits, the Flat White, Mānuka honey, Split Enz, Lorde, Keisha Castle-Hughes, Rachel Hunter, Keith Urban and Russell Crowe (scrub Russel, they can keep him – he’s kind of an embarrassment).

They even claim the kiwi originated in Australia whereas in fact its closest relative is the now extinct Elephant bird of Madagascar. The Australian constitution even includes New Zealand as a state of Australia. Section 6 of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act says:

The States shall mean such of the colonies of New South Wales, New Zealand, Queensland, Tasmania, Victoria, Western Australia, and South Australia, including the northern territory of South Australia, as for the time being are parts of the Commonwealth, and such colonies or territories as may be admitted into or established by the Commonwealth as States; and each of such parts of the Commonwealth shall be called a State.

And of course they’re not above cheating if it means they get the upper hand such as in the underarm bowling incident and ball tampering. So what have the Aussies done this time?

They got bored with their heatwave, so they sent it our way.

Look, if they choose to cover most of their continent with a hot desert, then they are bound to get ridiculously hot days during summer. But when temperatures reach the high 40s and low 50s (Centigrade), it’s not acceptable to send it our way. While the journey across the Tasman Sea does cool it off somewhat, us Kiwis are not used to temperatures above 30°C (86°F). We can manage the occasional day that hot, but a week of it is too much to bear.

Over the past week every day has peaked at over 30°C. That’s just not on. On three days, my indoor/outdoor temperature gauge has recorded temperatures exceeding 36°C, the highest being 37.9°C (100.2°F). Hey Australia! Come and take your heat back!

Orchardists are having to dump tonnes of apples as they are finding them literally cooked on the tree. Railway lines are being forced to close due buckling tracks and failing overhead wires. Roads are melting in the heat. And I’ve resorted to closing all the doors and windows, and switching on the heat pump. In Aotearoa New Zealand, heat pumps are optimised for moving heat into the home. They don’t work so well in reverse cycle pumping heat out. With the heat pump running at maximum, we can keep the interior down to 27°C (80°F) or below, but even that is above my comfort level.

On the other hand, the wife is enjoying the heat. She commented to me this morning how nice it is to have a proper summer just like she used to have in her homeland of Japan. “Bloody foreigner” I thought, but I held my tongue. Had I not, I would have been in an even hotter situation!


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Hacked router follow up

I was hoping for an interesting episode this morning following yesterday’s fake Spark call regarding a hacked router. It was rather a let down.

The call didn’t come until 10:30 am – an hour late. The caller seemed to be unaware of yesterday’s call, while I stuck to role playing a continuation from yesterday. I kept interrupting their prepared script to tell the caller that I was fully aware that why they were calling and could they just cut to where they could fix it. Eventually I got put through to the “national router specialist” who would help me. As he started through his script, I continued to interrupting to virtually repeat what he was about to say. This would totally confused him and he would start off from the beginning again each time I fell silent. I’m sure his ability to understand what I was saying was almost zero, but hey, I’m an elderly guy with a strong Kiwi accent and I played the role of a bloke that is rather short of patience. He struggled for around 15 minutes to make headway, but it was blindingly obvious that he was not able to deviate from his prepared script. I reminded him that someone from Spark called yesterday, which he denied, so I asked how I knew what he was going to say before he said it. Then he hung up.

I’m sure they’ll call again in a few weeks. and I’ll try to play a more patient personality. Today’s effort only wasted little more than fifteen minutes of their time. I do hope it was sufficient to keep at least one person out of their grasp.


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Flowers

Flowers are a delight when they’re like this:20181104_143551x1200
But a real pain in the arse when they’re like this:20181104_141758x1200
Literally!

First it was the camellias, then it was the flowering cherries. Now it’s the rhododendrons. Traversing the pathway with its 4 metre (13 ft) rise from the car parking pad to the front door means taking one’s life in one’s hands. At this time of the year it sees no direct sun and after even a little rain becomes extremely slippery. It takes skill to manoeuvre one’s way through this pretty hazard without taking a tumble…

 

Introducing Feilding

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In the four years I’ve been blogging, I don’t think I have introduced readers to my home town of Feilding.

So Barry, why not take the opportunity to so now, while it’s in your mind?

Good idea.

Those of you who read this blog via a Web browser at https://anotherspectrum.wordpress.com will see one of four randomly selected banner images at the top of the page. These are crops of a photo taken from a drone hovering approximately 20m/60ft above my house. If you view it via an app or via the WordPress reader, then you may not see them. So for the benefit of those missing out here is the original photo:

drone_view

View from drone 20 metres above house

Our home looks over the township and out towards the Ruahine Range (distant left) and the Tararua Range (distant right). The two ranges are separated by the Manawatu Gorge. What isn’t apparent from the photo is that the skyline is populated by wind turbines. There are three wind farms comprising of a total of 286 turbines capable of generating 300 MW between them. While they are easy to see with the naked eye, they don’t show up in a photograph until zoomed in:

Wind turbines

Just a few of the wind turbines that can be seen from home

The wife and I have decided that the only way we’re giving up our home is when we’re taken away in a wooden box. The view is stunning and varies depending on the room and the weather:

The town is picturesque, having won New Zealand’s annual Most Beautiful Large Town award (yes, a town of 15,000 is considered large in NZ) in 16 out of the last 17 years. The CBD has a distinctly Edwardian feel:

The clock tower standing in the square in the centre of town was built to celebrate the start of the new millennium. It was financed through public donations and the clock mechanism is one that was salvaged from the old post office tower that was built in 1904 and demolished in 1942 after an earthquake made the structure unsafe. Little did anyone realise that the clock would remain in storage for 56 years!

Feilding clock tower

Feilding clock tower in the centre of Manchester Square

I like to walk, and typically that is around the residential streets of Feilding. Our typical streets look like this:

Finally a drone shot of our home. East is to the top of the picture:

our_home.jpg

Yes, the roof needs repainting! Any volunteers?

I don’t pretend to be a photographer and taking any photos at all is a relatively recent phenomenon for me. The two drone shots were taken by my son. The wind turbine shot was taken on my Panasonic Lumix Digital camera. The rest were taken on my Samsung J-1 phone.

This gallery contains 26 photos


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Freezing!

I guess the term freezing is somewhat of an exaggeration. It’s actually 7°C (44°F), but as it’s close to that temperature inside my home office, and I’m sitting at my computer, it feels fricking cold.

Why so cold? We are replacing the windows and ranchsliders [Nu Zild for a fully glazed  sliding door with a moving panel that slides behind a fixed panel] on the the main floor with double glazing. Huge gaping holes where the glass was doesn’t do much for keeping heat in and cold out. However we are looking towards cheaper power bills and a more evenly heated home when the job is completed hopefully by tomorrow evening.

Our house was built in the mid 1980s and apart from a regulation requiring  minimal ceiling insulation, little consideration was given to keeping homes warm. What heating there was was on a room by room basis. Central heating was unheard of and it is still very much a rarity. It wasn’t until early this century that double glazing, wall, ceiling and underfloor insulation became mandatory for all new home construction. Why? I could claim that were are a hardy lot, but the large immigrant population are a namby-pamby softies, and can’t stand a little cold.

The truth is that compared to much of the rest of the world, we have a very mild climate. Summers are not overly hot, and winters are not extremely cold. Where I live, anything below 15°C (59°F) is considered cold and it’s bitterly cold if it drops below 10°C (50°F). We get between 5 and 15 frosts per year and a smattering of snow once per decade at most. It’s hot at 25°C (77°F) and insufferably hot at 30°C (86°F). So artificial heating and cooling is not necessary for survival – it’s a luxury to make life more pleasant.

However, cold homes are also damp homes. Dampness brings in mould and mildew, which is now acknowledged to be a serious health risk. We have a very high rate of respiratory illnesses in this country. Hence the the warm home regulations. Existing homes don’t need to be insulated to new home standards, but the government is looking at mandating all rental accommodation be brought up to the modern standard.

A few years ago, we took advantage of a government subsidy on underfloor and ceiling insulation and that made a big difference in reducing the daily extremes of hot and cold and eliminated mould from much of the house. Our sole form of heating was a woodburner, which made one end of the main floor cosy to too hot while the rest of the house remained cold. It was also somewhat expensive to run. Even lighting it late afternoon and not feeding it after 10PM cost us close to $700 per year for firewood and cleaning, even though we only used it for the coldest three months of the year.

So we had a heat pump installed. Typically in NZ they are used to heat a single room, and multiple units are used to heat a whole house. Ours is a larger unit installed in the main floor hallway with the goal of maintaining a comfortable background heat throughout the main floor while allowing some heat to rise up the stairwell to the upper floor where the bedrooms are. Mostly it works well and is very much cheaper to run even though it’s running 24/7. But on very cold days, the rooms at either end of the main floor can drop to as low as 15°C if the curtains aren’t drawn. And who wants to draw the curtains during the day, especially when we have such a great view. (If you view this blog directly in a browser and not via the WordPress Reader, the views in the random image at the top of the page are taken from our home.)

Neither of us are getting any younger, and we are both more sensitive to variations in temperature than we were even ten years ago. So we dipped into our savings for the double glazing. We’re doing the main floor except for the utility rooms (laundry, bathroom, toilet, exercise room) as they are used less frequently and/or have smaller windows. Even so, there’s 30 square metres (320 square feet) of glass to be replaced, and as our children will no doubt say, it has taken a not so insignificant bite out of their inheritance ($19,000 to be precise). Not that that worries me. I came into this world with nothing, and if everything goes to plan, that’s how I intend to leave it.

There’s a few more “big ticket” expenses that are looming on the horizon. Our car is now 12 years old, and while it’s still very reliable, the day can’t be too far away, when its reliability will be called into question. And as all cars are imports (there’s no local car manufacturing), they are not exactly cheap. A new sub 2000cc car such as a Toyota Corolla or Mitsubishi Mirage is around $28,000 to $30,000.

The exterior of the house is due for a repaint. Once upon a time I would have tackled this task myself, but age, injury and a multi-storey home means this is not a reasonable option any longer. OSH (Occupational Safety and Health) requirements mean that the use of regulation scaffolding and safety harnesses etc is mandatory for our dwelling due to its height, all of which does not come cheaply. I’d be surprised if an external paint job sees any change out of $15,000.

Then there’s floor coverings. With the exception of the kitchen, they’re all original, which means they are over 30 years old. In typical New Zealand fashion, most of the floors are covered in woollen carpet. It’s getting threadbare in places and a decision will need to be made soon as to whether we replace all the carpet or only in those rooms showing the worst wear. Re-carpeting the whole house will cost around $20,000 for a medium priced carpet, so it’s more likely to be done in stages.

Some rooms require repainting and new wallpaper – the grandchildren seem to have the ability to locate seams that have slightly lifted and then tearing the wallpaper back to where it is adhered firmly. At least this is one task I’m still capable of doing (I hope), having papered and repapered three previous homes. But If I need to hire a professional, then it’s goodbye to another $8,000 to $10,000. So this is also likely to be a project completed in stages.

And finally, we’d like to become less dependent on the national grid for electricity. Now that storage batteries are reasonably cost effective, we’d like to install a solar power system large enough to allow ourselves to be close to a net zero user of external electricity. How much? Not sure, as prices are still falling. I suspect something over $25,000, but if the Greens get their wish, there might well be a subsidy similar to the one they obtained for insulation (around 25%). Time will tell.

When we built our first home a couple of years after we married, it cost us a grand total of $12,000 for the land, house, fixtures and fittings, and we managed to finance it with a deposit of only $130! Mind you, my weekly pay package back then was around half of today’s minimum hourly wage. How times have changed!

And in case you’re wondering why I used main floor and upper floor instead of first, second etc, there are two very good reasons:

  1. Difference in NZ and US usage. What Americans call the first floor, Kiwis (and many other Commonwealth countries) call the ground floor. So our first floor is the second floor in the US.
  2. Because the house is on a sloping section (Nu Zild for lot) the main floor is the ground floor (US first floor) when accessed from the west, but the first floor (US second floor) when accessed from the east. The upper floor is the first floor (US second floor) when accessed from the west and the second floor (US third floor) when accessed from the east. And finally, the lower floor is the basement when accessed from the west, but the ground floor (US first floor) when accessed from the east. Confused? So am I!

 


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Stepping into the unknown…

Not really, but it makes a catchy title.

Today we decided to change power companies. We’ve been with our current supplier for over 15 years and two addresses, and while we have no complaints about their service, we felt that as a long term customer we had been taken for granted and largely ignored.

I don’t know how electricity is provided in your locality, but here in Aotearoa New Zealand, it is a highly competitive market. A quick online search of suppliers in our region revealed we have a choice of 59 suppliers! Other regions of the country have more, while some regions have a little less less. Some suppliers generate electricity from 100% renewable resources, others have a mix of renewable resources and fossil fuels, and a few don’t do any generation themselves, but buy on the spot market. Talk about being spoilt for choice!

To make it even more complex, each supplier provides many plans for domestic consumers. Our old supplier has around ten plans, as does our new supplier. All up, I’m guessing we had a choice of well over 200 plans!

Power charges here are made up of three elements: cost per Unit (a Unit is 1 kilowatt hour); line charge (daily charge for connection to the power network; and Electricity Authority fee (the authority oversees and regulates the electricity market).

The electricity Authority fee is common across all suppliers, but the line charges and price per unit varies by as much as 50% between suppliers. Then there’s prompt payment discounts, loyalty card schemes and happy hour schemes. Some suppliers offer cheaper rates for hot water, or different day and night rates. Some guarantee a fixed price per unit and line charge fees for one or two years, others don’t. The choices are bewildering, which is why it’s taken so many years to actually decide to change.

Have we found the best deal? I have no idea. It would take far too long to crunch all the numbers. But we have found a much better deal with our new supplier. Our monthly electricity bill will be 25% cheaper than what we are currently paying, fixed for two years. We get a $100 credit for signing up with them, plus we get a 10 cents per litre (38 cents per US gallon, 45 cents per UK gallon) discount on petrol through a fuel card scheme we already belong to.

When we have been paying between $250 and $400 per month for electricity (depending on the season) on a household income of around $2200 per month, the savings are not insignificant.

Now that we’ve finally made the plunge, and found a good deal, I’ll need to seriously look at doing the same for our telecommunications supplier. How difficult can it be? After all there’s only about 70 suppliers and 500 plans to choose from.

On second thoughts…


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What ever happened to my future?

I remember as a child being fascinated by predictions of what life would be like in decades to come. In the ninety fifties, predictions didn’t include the Internet or mobile communications. Nor were microwave ovens, responsive cruise control, or personal computers. Some ideas have not been realised. I can recall seeing illustrations of high tech cities with high speed personal transport such as flying cars or vehicles that could attach themselves to trains of similar vehicles to improve traffic density, efficiency and safety.

The sixties were similar except that large scale computers were predicted to be commonplace, along with supersonic air and rail transport. One concept that was being considered was the prospect of mankind having more leisure time than he knew what to do with and this is what I want to touch on in this post..

The thirty five hour week was predicted to be just years away and a four day week was thought to be only a decade or so away. We were being encouraged to find interests that would keep us occupied during the long weekends and at the end of a shortened working day. I can remember in the late sixties and early seventies there were concerns that unless we learnt how to occupy our leisure time,the boredom might lead to social unrest.

It was envisioned that full employment would continue as working hours would reduce as productivity increased. Flexible working hours and job sharing were expected to become the norm. The gap between rich and poor had been decreasing for decades and there was no reason to think it wouldn’t continue to do so.

So what happened to that future? Where did it go? I’m not sure entirely. Some of it disappeared in the oil crises in the last decades of the twentieth century and some went with the financial collapse that followed.

A lot more has gone into the pockets of the owners of capital. The wealth that we were told would trickle down to the masses is trickling up the the wealthy few. In fact it seems to be more of a torrent than a trickle. The forty hour working week, which was protected by legislation is now only a memory belonging to those of us over fifty. Poverty was the result of life-style choices, now twenty percent of school children come from households that are below the poverty line.

I grew up in a very egalitarian society, where professionals and unskilled labourers lived side by side. I played with children whose parents were lawyers, bankers, doctors, teachers, business owners, freezing workers, tradesmen and shop assistants. How many children have that opportunity today? Now we have whole suburbs where families are on or below the poverty line, and at the other end of the spectrum we see walled communities sprouting up where BMWs, Lexuses and Ferraris outnumber children.

Single income families were the norm. It was very unusual for both parents to work. Latchkey children were virtually unheard of. Today we see the rise of the working poor, where both parents hold down more than one job, and are still unable to send their children of to school on an adequate breakfast or with something to eat for lunch.

University was a place of higher learning where students were encouraged to discover for the sake of discovery. Today they are little more than factories churning out industry specific qualifications — something that was once the role of polytechnics. Any research still undertaken is for short term industry specific goals. What has happened to pure research and even long term research greater than two years?

Continuing adult education was available to all, either free or at nominal cost in every community. Everything from home economics to glass blowing to second language learning motor vehicle maintenance, and everything in between was available and we were encouraged to take advantage of them to ensure that we would be able make best of the free time we had then and the even greater free time we expected soon. All now gone because they were “not justifiable as they didn’t improve productivity”. How about being socially justifiable? Apparently social well being now takes second place to national wealth, which is being held by a decreasing percentage of the population.

Was the lifestyle we were heading towards in the mid twentieth century just an aberration on the road to pure capitalism or is it something that is still worth striving for?


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whistling for a cuppa

I was sitting quietly beside my wife while she was watching House Rules on TV. I was catching up with the news on my tablet when I heard a kettle start to whistle. Normally I wouldn’t notice the whistle, but for some reason this one did. I looked up and sure enough there was a kettle whistling away on the television screen.

I was puzzled why that particular boiling kettle should have drawn my attention. The kettle scene was part of a TV commercial which had no voiceover. Just a series of vignettes, finishing with a simple text message. So,why was my attention drawn to that kettle? It puzzled me, and I had the feeling that there was something odd with the commercial – something felt out of place.

People who know me will recognise that once my mind grabs hold of a thought, it won’t let go until it feels satisfied. And it wasn’t being satisfied. What was it that made that scene of a whistling kettle that bothered me?

And then it dawned on me. What was a whistling kettle doing in a NZ scene? I haven’t seen one in years. In fact, the last one I recall belonged of my grandmother back in the 1960s. In the winter months it sat on the coal range, replacing the standard electric jug that was used over summer.

I can understand why a whistling kettle was used. Just like the silhouette of a steam locomotive is used on road signs warning of a railway crossing, the kettle is an easily recognised icon.

But do whistling kettles still exist outside TV land? I checked several home appliance stores but could find none. An online search found two shops that had one model each. One shop stocked an electric whistling kettle, the other a whistling kettle that required a gas or electric hob to heat it.

Compared to the hundreds of models of non whistling kettles available, it seems that the whistling variety are about as rare as hen’s teeth. So why are they so common in ads and TV shows?

Most shows broadcast here are foreign (mostly American and British), so perhaps that might be a clue. I searched major U.S. home appliance shops and was totally surprised by the results. In four major retailers, eight of the ten top selling kettles were whistling kettles. What’s more, six required heating over gas or an electric element. It’s not like they don’t have automatic cordless models that are the norm here, they just don’t seem to be very popular by comparison.

Perhaps the cost of electricity and gas is cheaper than in NZ? Consumer tests show that an externally heated kettle takes about twice as long to heat as an electric one and uses more energy. I’m sure there’s a perfectly rational explanation why Americans prefer a whistling kettle over an automatic one, but I just can’t think of one.

I notice that the word “kettle” has almost totally replaced the word “jug” when referring to devices for heating water. In the past, “jug” referred to an upright vessel, whereas “kettle” referred to one with a broad base such as those that were externally heated, or were electric models with a similar profile. I’m not sure why the change has occurred, but it may be due to the demise of local manufacturers. For decades I’ve been heating water for my coffee in an electric jug, and the standard expression we’ve used has been to “boil the jug”. Seems like I need to get use to hearing the expression ” put the kettle on” instead.

In the context of an externally heated kettle, that makes sense as it is put on a source of heat. But the expression doesn’t make sense when where the appliance is not put onto anything – it’s simply switched on. Another expression hungover from another era.

So long as the the change in name to kettle isn’t accompanied by a whistle, I’ll manage.