Friday 23 September 2022

Beat the Cold and the Fuel Crisis 6

There's a fuel crisis, and the young think that "no central heating" meant "no heating". Meanwhile oldies reminisce about the beautiful frost flowers on the inside of the window panes. I remember chilblains. Caroline Stow Crat and Samantha Upward share tips.

Caro: We’ve lived through fuel shortages before – the war, the oil crisis. How did we cope?

Sam: We need to reinvent some old technology. In the early 70s oil crisis, you could still get oil lamps and oil from the corner shop! And the papers offered tips on making Roman-style lamps... There are safer versions online and you can buy lengths of wick, and oil lamps and kerosene.

Caro: And Roman replicas... and Indian brass lamps. I remember in 1973 candles sold out pretty sharpish.

Sam: Or you can put out lots of tea lights in glass holders. You can even get battery-powered ones, and candles.

Caro: I could read in bed with a head torch. And dinner parties can be candle-lit.

Sam: In the olden days, you put a water-filled carafe in front of your candle.

Caro: I like those regency mirrors with integral candle holders, same kind of idea.

Sam: And that’s why you had a big mirror over your mantelpiece. Motion-sensitive lights everywhere might help. Kids won't remember to turn lights off – but they might if you tell them it's to save the planet.

Caro: And let’s not revive the paraffin stove. Give me a good old log fire.

Sam: But the pollution! People are ripping out their woodburning stoves.

Caro: There’s always something! You could buy a van and follow tree surgeons around, or go out at night and take waste wood from building sites and skips.

Sam: You can get coffee logs, or one of those devices for making logs out of old newspapers. Perhaps London will turn black again – and be known as The Smoke.

Caro: And Edinburgh as Auld Reekie – reek was smoke, not a pong!

Sam: If turn on the central heating, keep it low, and make sure your radiators have individual controls. So you can have real heat in the living room and gentle warmth everywhere else.

Caro: Room heaters blast hot air into a room – you can then turn them off.

Sam: Put up a screen round the back of your chair, drape a blanket over the top and direct the room heater into it directly. Or move into a house with smaller rooms.

Caro: What about transport? During the war Mother drove a pony and trap – I think the trap is still in the stables. 

Sam: At least you’ve still got room for a pony. What about dog carts pulled by Newfoundlands?

Caro: The RSPCA would have something to say! But we can sell the ride-on mower and bring back a herd of sheep – or goats – or alpacas.

Sam: Why cut the grass? You could make hay for haybox cookery!

Caro: Did it really work? I hear microwaves, pressure cookers and slow cookers use less fuel.

Sam: Remember leg-warmers? I knitted my own!

Caro: We should all learn to knit – or befriend an old lady who can.

Sam: A shoulder shawl really does keep you warm.

Caro: Keep your feet in a foot muff or on a foot warmer (fill it with hot water). 

Sam: Tack a bit of old carpet over the letter box to avoid a howling draught.

Caro: And wear a vest.


Why not buy a Victorian terrace house and open up the fireplaces? If you’re lucky, you’ll find original cast-iron fire surrounds behind the boards and bricks. If not, buy some from a salvage yard. Double-glaze all the windows. And rebuild walls – what’s the opposite of “open plan”? Closed plan? Small spaces are easier to heat. Put back the wall between what was the “front parlour” that was kept for best and visitors, and the kitchen. Make that back room into a kitchen with an Aga that’s always on. Live in this room – bring in the telly and a sofa. Cook and eat round the kitchen table you’ve bought from a hipster cafĂ© that’s gone bust. For night-time, make the beds with blankets under the bottom sheet, and three duvets. 

My mother used to knock herself out chopping logs so that she could build a fire in the sitting room. When we moved into the draughty, unmodernised Victorian servants’ quarters of a big house (cut off to make a separate dwelling), this was the only source of heating apart from the Aga and paraffin stoves. She carried on chopping when we had central heating and it wasn't necessary. I see her point – it’s attractive and cosy and gives the room a “focal point”, as decorators say. You can’t huddle round a night-store heater. But she could have hired somebody to chop the logs.

People are now "ripping out" their Agas because they're too expensive to run. We fuelled ours with phurnacite (compressed coal-dust blocks). It would cost less, but it's not great for the environment, or the lungs of anyone living nearby.

I love autumn – new shoes, pencil cases, crisp leaves & crisp air - but a bit alarmed I already have to wear two cardigans to work from home. Absolutely no heating goes on until October in this house so I just have to … think of apple crumble and cute scarves, I guess. (@lottelydia. Charlotte, you could change the rules.)

Fuel crisis? Hurrah! Means I’ve won the argument with my wife over the thermostat.  (@Lord_Steerforth, paraphrase.)

More tips here, and links to the rest.

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