When I was little we used to live in a house without central heating, but we did have the luxury of a gas fire in the front room and an open fire in the back. Therefore, the downstairs part of the house was usually nice and cosy. Bedtime was a bit of an adventure but we used to get undressed downstairs and leg it to bed with our hot water bottles so didn’t really get that cold. It is ironic that all these years later with supposed improvements in living conditions that I am colder than I have ever been, bar perhaps once.
I have a cold, and I am cold. I am feeling sorry for myself and think I deserve a bit of a moan. My circulation is poor and my feet can be chilly even in the summer so at this time of year even wearing three pairs of socks and fleece lined Uggi-type boots seems to make no difference. I am wandering around the house with five layers of clothing on and even have to wear my mittens at the keyboard. A good way of getting my hands warm is to wash up – and then only briefly because although the Raeburn is gallantly heating up the water as much as it can, it has had to be turned down due to the astronomical rise in oil prices. Therefore it no longer warms the kitchen and dining room like it used to and the hot water diminishes after a couple of bowl’s worth of dirty dishes. Then it is time to get the kettle on to supply some hot H2O by way of a different source – which of course then adds to the electricity bill. A well worn Catch 22 situation really.
The only time I can remember being this cold was one Christmas when my father was in hospital after having his gall bladder removed. The central heating at home had broken down. Being that it was Christmas – and remember in those days shops etc did actually close for a certain period of time – we had to wait a week or so before we could get anyone out to fix the central heating to avoid paying extraordinary out of hours prices and wait in a queue of similarly afflicted householders. I seem to remember that it was eventually sorted out a day or so before my dad came home from hospital.
I recall that it was extremely icy outside – whether it had snowed or not escapes my memory – but my mum and I used to go out to visit dad at Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow, which was a good train ride away from Uxbridge. So we walked down to the station, sat on a warmish train for a bit before sometimes having to change trains at Rayners Lane and stand around for a bit more. When we got the hospital it was absolutely stifling and we used to look at each other in despair when my dad used to complain that it was too hot in there for him. It is always so difficult to try to explain how cold it is to someone when that person is lying in bed in greenhouse temperatures. In the summertime you can sit outside in the garden in your shorts and t-shirt and not remember how cold you can actually get just a few months later – the brain is peculiar in its selective memory. They always say that women would never have more than one child if their brains allowed them to remember exactly how painful the whole process is.
Then it would be back home for us in the icy cold. By the time we got indoors our feet were numb and there was nothing to heat us up very quickly as we had no open fire in that particular house. We had a couple of radiators, which took their time to heat up a room. So what, we survived and I will now – we have it a lot easier I guess than some. We have an open fire in our sitting room and although it fills the bottom of the house with a thin veil of eye-irritating smoke it does take off the chill. With doors closed it can get quite cosy in there which is great if you have nothing to do all day and can sit around like a character from Jane Austen and do some embroidery, drink tea, eat seed cake, and then perhaps have a sing song around the piano. The staff would lay the fires upstairs in the bedrooms and bustle around the kitchen preparing the aforementioned hot beverages and cook would be up to her elbows in sponge mixture. The most energetic physical action would be reaching one’s arm out to pull the bell that would ring in the scullery.