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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

My clever Nigel

Nigel was the smartest man I’ve ever known. Years of practical experience helped that, but he just had an innate cleverness that meant there was almost nothing he couldn’t work out. I relied on that, as, in fact, many people did. One great example of that is something I use nearly every day.

The photo above is of an electric gate system that he figured out, designed and built, mostly by himself. It is so very Nigel, and an example of why I was both so impressed and proud of him. I planned on blogging about that gate months ago, but never got around to it.

The background to this story is that when we bought the house, there were two wooden gates across the dive, painted to match the fence on the left side of the photo, but without the trellis at the top. They were heavy, awkward to open, and manual. In rainy weather they became heavy and swelled up, making them harder to close. And, we got wet opening and closing them.

We always kept them closed so that we could let the dogs run free. However, that meant that when we were entering or leaving the property, we had to open the gate and then close it again, and that was a pain—especially for me.

When I say “we” had to open the gate, I actually mean that I had to open the gate. Nigel would usually open the gate in the morning, though sometimes he had me come downstairs to do it for him, like if he was running late. When he opened it, he’d drive off and leave it open for me to go down and close, and the dogs and I would go out to do that. This was in the time BL—Before Leo—because that little guy would have gone tearing down the drive through the open gate.

When he was nearing home, Nigel would ring me, we’d have a chat, then he’d tell me how far away he was so that I could make my way downstairs to open the gates for him. He’d close them after he parked—and after he greeted Sunny and Jake.

This was a nuisance, especially when it was raining, and extra especially annoying in winter when it was both raining and cold. We knew we wanted an electric gate opener, which would mean a new gate, and Nigel set about solving the problem.

We knew that conventional electric gate would be very expensive since we’d have to have power run out to the gate, something that was difficult in itself, especially because the circuit breaker is difficult to get wires to because of the way the house is built. We knew that would cost many thousands of dollars just to get power to the gate; the cost of the gate and mechanism would be on top of that.

Solar power was the obvious answer, and Nigel designed the system and ordered the parts, including the opener mechanism itself. The missing piece was the gate.

Nigel couldn’t get just a gate anywhere in New Zealand (they all either wanted to supply the complete package or were too expensive, or both). Part of the problem was that it’s a non-standard size opening, so we needed a custom gate. Nigel ended up ordering the gate from a company in New Zealand that brings in custom-sized gates made in China—after consulting with me about the style: I suggested it should be solid on the bottom, rather than open, like it is on the top part, so that that the dogs wouldn’t stand there and bark up the drive, annoying the neighbours. Nigel agreed with me, and it’s worked out exactly as we intended.

So, on a very cold, windy, rainy, and wintry Sunday morning, we drove to meet the guy who’d imported the gate so we could collect it from him as he headed south to Hamilton (ironically). Since it’s made of aluminium, it wasn’t heavy—just awkward. We strapped it to the car roof, endured a wild ride back—though we still stopped for lunch on the way home.

Meanwhile, we’d had the fence at the right of the gate replaced to make it stronger. Originally, it was just like the fence to the left of the gate, and poorly built, so it was too weak to deal with an electric gate.

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, before we’d hung the gate, we installed the solar panels (I held them while Nigel screwed them in), then he wired everything up, and adjusted how the mechanism opened and closed, until he was happy with it, though the final adjustments had to wait for the gate to be hung.

We hung the gate together, without much trouble or too many cross words. When he was done attaching everything and testing it, he proudly showed me his handiwork, and it was impressive even then. He had no idea that I’d been watching out the window much of the time.

Nigel wasn’t done yet.

He had to adjust a few things. The opening mechanism was powerful enough that it pulled the bolts out of the gate, so he had to fix that problem first. Then, he wanted the gate to stop at a certain point, and no further, when it closed. So, he installed a rubber bumper on the driveway at the left side of the gate so it could hit that to help stop it being rubber, he said, a car could just drive over it without damaging the tyres).

Next, he pounded a wooden stake, like what’s used in construction to hold forms for concrete, into the ground to give the gate something to stop against when it opened.

Finally, he added a wheel so that when the gate is closed it’s resting on it, rather than hanging off the fence post with all its weight. The ground slopes slightly inward from the gate, so when the gate is open the wheel is hanging in the air, which means it doesn’t get stuck on anything.

We had two small remote openers, one he put in his car, and the other was for me. That way we could drive up and open the gate—no more getting out in the rain to open it. He also put a button on the fencepost above the gate so that it could be opened, since the point of the gate was to keep the dogs in, not security, and because that way no one would try and force the gate open, possibly breaking something.

He also got a wireless key pad that he planned on attaching to the fence outside the gate and positioned so that visitors, like family, could open the gate without getting out of their car, but he never got around to installing it, and we’ve since lost track of where it is; maybe it’ll turn up when I pack things up.

The gate has worked perfectly ever since, and it made our day-to-day lives so much easier. But Nigel still rang me every day on his way home, just for a chat.

I tell this story mainly because I want to share how awesome and clever my husband was. It’s true, as I said on Sunday, that he didn’t always finish his projects, but when he did, shit they were amazing!

Nigel never went to university, something that’s not usually necessary in New Zealand, but it was something that he sometimes felt he’d like to do, anyway. It was largely irrelevant for him: He was naturally gifted and almost magically knowledgeable about so many things—technology, business, politics, human nature—that if he had a limit to what he could do, I never saw it.

Well, that’s not entirely true: He often misplaced things and I had to find them for him. I became “The Finder of Lost Things”, a name I admittedly gave to myself, but it was accurate. Maybe that was my contribution to his many projects.

I said earlier that I’d planned on blogging about the gate months ago, and never got around to it. I took that photo up top back in May, and the gate project was actually completed months before that. One of the reasons I didn’t talk about it before was that Nigel was modest about his own abilities and was actually embarrassed if anyone made a fuss about the stuff he did or could do. So, much as I wanted to share his awesomeness, I often didn’t so that I wouldn’t embarrass him.

The fact is, I relied on Nigel so heavily, especially for technological things, that I kind of lost the ability to do a lot of things for myself. Why would I maintain my computers, for example, when he could do it better and far more thoroughly than I ever could—in fact, better than anyone I could hire? Over the past few weeks I’ve realised how deeply reliant I was on him, and so, how much I have to learn—or re-learn, as the case may be.

But Nigel taught me that the true mother of invention is persistence—keep researching, keep learning, keep trying until you figure it out, even if that means taking your time. That will serve me very well in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

But, then, I have a great example to follow. Nigel was the smartest man I’ve ever known.

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