Iain Cochrane: Confessions of a meter reader

“Hapless, hairy, northerner” Iain Cochrane finds all human life when he knocks on doors. Sometimes he also finds iguanas, and when he’s really lucky, a bearded dragon. And people think reading gas meters is easy

But I have a smart meter!” they say…a lot. The reality is that those evil entities known as energy suppliers don’t read their own meters. They outsource all that nonsense to people like me. I literally do not know why a meter needs to read. I just go where they send me and record the numbers. Even smart meters. As I always joke, “Well I must crack on. These smart meters aren’t going to read themselves are they?” (ba dumm tish – Ay thang yew, I’m here all week)

All human life is behind these closed Brighton doors. When you ring a doorbell, you just don’t know what you’re letting yourself in for. For instance, in the 15 months I’ve been doing the job, eight women have answered the door in nothing but a towel. similarly, six men have responded to a friendly knocking in just their pants. You learn not to react but to suggest a level of modesty before any further action is taken…or not.

Iguanas – 1

Sex shops – 1

Funeral parlours – 3

Bees rescued – 7

Happily, the number of pleasant, helpful homeowners far out-number the unpleasant obstructive ones. And this being Brighton, every third house I enter has a piano in the corner or a guitar hanging from the wall which lends a bit of common interest to break the ice and establish a modicum of trust. One bloke in Woodingdean was even kind enough to let me fondle his BAFTA!

Oh, and the celebs. Modesty forbids me to divulge who and where. Or possibly it’s the current data protection laws.

Bearded dragons – 1

Tarantulas – 3

Corn snakes – 1

Convents – 1

Then there’s the occasional personality who defies pigeon-holing. Like the wonderful old lady whose short-term memory was itself a memory. 

But whose recollection of her childhood remained perfectly intact. The reason for my visit established, she then enthused that I “Run orf and read my meter and then come back, sit down and tell me all about yourself”. She began by asking me what my passion was. “Music” I said. Clasping her hands together and gazing heavenward, she waxed “Ahhh, MUSIC! If music be the food of love…” 

She was unable to finish the adage. Instead she asked me, three times in the space of five minutes, how many children I had. But then her story unfolded. She told me about how, as a little girl, she and her family ‘escaped Poland’.

You don’t meet many like her anymore (Ukraine situation pending). What struck me most of all was her passion for life. Amazing, eccentric, life-affirming lady.

People who mistake my uniform for that of a traffic warden – 10 per day (at least)

People who have threatened to “rip my (bleep) head off” – 1

Rats – 2 (both dead)

So it’s not all about recording numbers. There’s an element of social work too. Although I can’t remember specifically how I responded to the six people so far who have told me they’re terminally ill. It does somewhat put you on the spot. And I see signs several times a day warning me of an immediate danger of death by electrocution. People think reading gas meters is easy!

On the upside, I’ve dropped a trouser size and the 7 or 8 miles I walk per day has got me feeling almost fit and healthy!

So if a hapless, hairy northerner knocks on your door and asks to read your meter, just let him get on with it. And yes, he’d love a cup of tea.


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