A heated discussion

hot water bottle in knitted cover

Mari Wallace just wants to be warm!

hot drink in front of roaring fireWhenever we near the end of British Summer Time and are plunged back into GMT, I know that the battle with my partner, Alan, over the thermostat will soon follow.

Maybe it doesn’t help that I’m American – and consequently used to houses being kept nice and warm in winter.  I’ve lived in England longer than I lived in America so I really should be adjusted to the grey skies, penetrating damp and debilitating cold.  Somehow even the double-glazing isn’t enough to counteract the elements.

In order to get the heating turned up (or even on!) I’ve often resorted to emotional blackmail. ‘You’ll be sorry if I come down with pneumonia.’  This falls on deaf ears.  I should be glad that I have a healthy constitution but sometimes I wish I’d get bronchitis or the ‘flu — nothing life-threatening — so he’d feel guilty at being mean about the heating. Occasionally, when it’s really bitter outside, he’ll relent and re-set the thermostat from its normal 16 degrees all the way up to a tropical 18. I surreptitiously push it up to 20 when he’s watching TV but don’t dare push it any higher because he will know.

Alan has set the timer for the heating to be on from 6am to 9am and then again from 6pm to 11pm.  Between 10am and 5pm Arctic conditions prevail. “Need I remind you, Mari, that we’re retired and on pensions,” he admonishes.  “We simply can’t afford to heat the entire house all day long.” Fortunately, I’m allowed to have little heaters strategically placed around the house so I can thaw myself out if I’m cooking, or reading, or working on the computer, or watching TV.  I actually enjoy ironing in the winter because it makes me warm!  Sad person that I am, I’ve been known to take a heater, via an extension cord, into the loo with me.

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hot water bottle in knitted coverMy winter indoor attire is a thick jumper with long-sleeved top underneath, a thermal vest underneath that, 70 denier tights, woollen trousers, a gilet, fur-lined boots, and often a decorative but warm scarf around my neck.  Sometimes you’ll even find me wearing Bob Cratchit-type fingerless gloves.  Why the photographers from Country Life haven’t booked me for a photo shoot remains a mystery! I can see the caption: ‘Here’s what the sophisticated ladies of Hampshire are wearing this winter’!

My extremities are always cold.   Don’t touch my nose, toes or finger tips unless you want frostbite.  We bought a very expensive electric blanket, the kind with dual controls – so I could set mine to ‘high’ and he could set his to ‘low’.  I have to admit that I have mine on an awful lot.  Sometimes even in the summer.   Isn’t it lovely, on a chilly summer’s night, to get into a toasty warm bed?

Alan has his predictable, set arguments for why we must be frugal with the heating.   He repeats what I’ve often heard English people of his generation say – that central heating isn’t actually good for you.  I find this idea ridiculous.  Americans have had centrally heated houses for generations – and has the death toll increased as a result?  Are they chronically ill?  Next thing, Alan will say that the cause of Americans’ obesity isn’t over-eating but over-heating!

He also threatens that if we spend too much money on heating, there will be none for nice holidays.  I grumble and plop myself down sulkily in front of the fan heater.

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Alan’s just come in so I’d better slip away from the computer before he sees what I’ve written about him.

‘Surprise! Surprise!’ he says, waving pretty papers at me.  Two aeroplane tickets to Barbados?   Did you say Club Class?  And the 5* hotel is also booked for next week?  Passports all in date?    Oh yes, Alan dear, I can organise the packing straightway!

You know, on second thoughts, maybe 16 degrees is the right temperature after all…

About Mari Wallace

I'm an American-born freelance writer and journalist, member of the Society of Women Writers & Journalists. I currently have a monthly column in Countryfile Magazine entitled 'My New Life in the Country - New Yorker Mari Wallace on life in an English village'. I've had pieces published in a range of magazines including The Oldie, Best of British, Saga, Sussex Life.