A cure for impotence? You're sure? Think once, think twice. The answer is still yes? Very well then you shall have it. Descale your kettle. I repeat, descale your kettle. You'll be the opposite of disappointed (which ought to be appointed but it isn't).

We are all of us impotent. We cannot fix the big things, you and I. We can't bring Trump to justice. We cannot calm the bellicose, illuminate the stupid, or make the hateful loving. Moreover, if we're honest, we cannot fix our own faults. We may know ourselves to be angry or cowardly or timid or greedy or somewhat less loving than Mother Teresa, but we wake up each morning and return to bed each evening much the same. The self-help gurus lie. We are as we are, and impotent to change.

So if the big stuff's out of reach, the only choice is nothing or the little stuff. And I'm a fan of little stuff. I long ago stopped scanning the horizon where the big stuff prowls. I look around my feet instead these days, around my tiny burrow, my dirty little kitchen, for the rats and mice of things that I can fix to cure my sense of impotence. And they abound. Topping the list of fixables the other day was the electric kettle.

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The one I've got at present was a present, a thing more fancy than I would have bought myself but I will not deny I rather like its fanciness. Its walls are glass, you see, so you can watch the water boil. And when the thing's turned on it glows electric blue like something out of Doctor Who. A gimmick, maybe, and the joy wears off with time, but all the same a pleasing beast.

It's three years old, however, and recently, I've noticed, it's got tired. It's slowing down, like all of us, with age and use. It now takes twice as long as it once did to boil the water for the coffee that makes morning possible.

And while the other morning I was waiting for the boil to come, the gaseous release that indicates that H2O has reached the temperature it won't go past - an oddity of chemistry (or is it physics?) the wondrousness of which we lose a sense of with the passing years - I noted that the bottom of the kettle where the heat's applied no longer shone as it was wont to do when it was new. Rather it looked whitish, dull and fractionally irregular. Ah ha, I said out loud, ah ha. That's scale.

Time was when I'd have rattled off the formula for scale, but that was back when I was still at school and bright of mind. There's calcium involved, I think, and something oxide. But what matters is that to a kettle scale is like a prostate gland: it grows with age and slows the workings down.

Look up the prostate on the internet and you'll find only misery. The prostate is relentless, an enemy it's very hard to best. Look up scale on kettles, on the other hand, and hallelujah. The stuff is ripe for conquest.

Mix equal quantities of water, said the internet, and household vinegar. Ah ha, said distant memory, acetic acid. And wasn't vinegar the stuff that Hannibal employed to split the Alpine rocks? If so then here were chemistry and Latin lessons bearing fruit at last some half a century after planting.

I had no vinegar except the brown balsamic stuff which puts the grunt in gravy but the supermarket had a vast array of different types. I looked for one endorsed by Hannibal but came up dry so bought the cheapest.

The internet authorities - and they were many - did not agree on process. Some said to boil the vinegar and water mix then let it sit, while others said to let it sit then boil it. I concluded that it didn't matter much and turned the kettle on.


A kettle with glass sides is like a chemical aquarium and as the mixture boiled I saw with those proprietary visual devices my own eyes the little bits of scale lift off the heating pad and then dissolve. Callooh callay, as Louis Carroll put it, callooh callay oh frabjous day. I boiled the thing a minute, emptied it, and I beheld the heating plate, all gleaming like the dawn and every bit as virginal as when it left the factory in Guangdong.

And thus came tiny happiness, a victory over little stuff, a stay against the sense of impotence. I recommend it.

(And I am confident it won't be long before my coffee tastes a little less of vinegar.)