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.

Tuesday 20 September 2022

RIP Queen Elizabeth II

Mourners enter the Abbey, in pearls and boaters,
Black in hats and dresses, in simple outlines,
Suits and ties and orders, and fascinators,
Sitting where told to.

Soon we hear from Purcell, and Bach on organ.
Lady Scotland reads now, likewise the Prime Minister,
Here comes the Archbishop, who gives the sermon,
Still in our places.

Walkers follow coffin, with drummers drumming,
Playing stately marches, so all can keep time.
Whitehall, through the Horseguards, and down the Mall with
Cheering and clapping.

Left wheel round the statues, and up the Long Walk.
Bearers waiting blank-faced, beneath triumphal
Arch at route’s end looming, a hearse stands empty.
When will they get here?

No more tragic dirges – no time for Handel.
Cars set off for Windsor, a sound of birdsong,
Rumbling wheels on tarmac, and far-off cheering,
Throwing carnations.

On by warehouse, terrace, past shop, past garage,
Poplars, rivers, bus stops. On bridges, pavements,
Central reservations, and lonely driveways, 
Saying their goodbyes.

Halt in rural roadway, with fields on both sides,
Met by men in helmets and red and gold lace,
Cars drive slowly uphill towards a castle.
Carpets of flowers.

Now give rest, O Lord, to thy servant Elizabeth.

(With apologies to Sappho and John Betjeman.)

Monday 19 September 2022

Essence of Britishness

Want to pass as British? The following tips may help.

Complain that death is the last taboo and that the Victorians did it better, moan about the British stiff upper lip and our inability to express emotion, and then lay on a parade for the death of a monarch that is a magnificent work of art in itself.

But don't forget to accuse everyone of mourning in the wrong way.

“Everybody knows this, but nobody will admit it” is something you could chant at intervals during the day and always be right. Also: "We say we do THIS, but actually we do THAT." The British middle classes know what their society is like – snobbish and exclusive for a start – but they pretend to believe it is very different. As E.M. Forster once said, "The female mind, though cruelly practical in daily life, cannot bear to hear ideals belittled in conversation". For example, young women’s lives are all about attracting a man, and society needs them to pair off, but the girls have to say they're keen on getting an education and embarking on a career. (Working class girls have kids young, then start a business.)

When two new tube stations open, moan that they're unnecessary, and that new flat owners prefer to take the bus. 

Avoid innovations that will make your life easier.  

Send journalists to stand bare-headed in a typhoon/blizzard, and then moan that they're standing bare-headed in a typhoon/bllizzard.

When there's a run on petrol because of a shortage of tanker drivers, refuse to "panic buy". You feel superior – you just can’t go anywhere. While moaning about the media fuelling a buying frenzy, whinge that you can’t now drive to Scotland as planned.

Times columnist Carol Midgley is “egged”: It left me winded and pathetically shocked, though of course I pretended to laugh heartily so I didn’t lose face in front of strangers who witnessed it.

Everybody hates the Big Light – the central ceiling light that has been a feature of British rooms since the days of gaslight. A switch by the door turns it on – but you mustn’t. Nobody removes the Big Light or even removes the bulb. Nobody reroutes the switch so that it turns on wall uplighters. Because then they’d have nothing to moan about, and no way of subtly putting down visitors who don’t know that We Never Turn On The Big Light. 

Take your children for a fun day out at a “dull” historical site and give them “dry” lectures about its origins. Persuade them that camping is fun. (Daily Mash. The historical site is probably also “free”, with nowhere to buy sweets, postcards or even a cup of tea.)

Acknowledge that prejudice is wrong, celebrate diversity in street festivals, yet threaten to shoot anyone who says "Can I get a latte". 

Accuse the Americans of being hegemonic imperialist expansionists (and vice versa).

Manage not to see that we took our numbering system and religion from the Middle East, and our language from Germanic and French invaders. 

Be proud of our Anglo-Saxon heritage, while assuming history started in 1066, when the Anglo-Saxons lost.

The BBC will broadcast “very British” escapist and resilience advice shows intended to help viewers through the “tough times ahead” caused by the cost of living crisis. The programmes include a new David Attenborough series about UK wildlife and a week of cost of living-themed programmes, including a decluttering series, Sort Your Life Out, fronted by Stacy Solomon. The corporation’s director of unscripted, Kate Phillips, said the BBC wants “to bring audiences together”. (The Week)

The most bizarre thing about the British right’s entirely fantasised war on Christmas is their furious defence of German traditions related to a Middle Eastern religion imported by a bunch of Italians. (@cooraysmith)

A group of teenagers on the bus neglects to get up when there are elderly people standing. "I gave up my seat and stared at them, but they just continued to sit there!" comments someone who could not be more passive aggressive if they tried.

Don't ask for help, then when none is offered say "Thank you very much!" sarcastically, then complain about the incident to someone else, while congratulating yourself on your directness.

I was making tea for an annoying colleague at work. I deliberately used the same spoon to hoik out the teabag from his cup that I'd just used to stir my coffee. (@fesshole)

I voted Green – to send THEM a message.

More here, and links to the rest.