It’s chilly. I don’t have to tell you that, you only have to peep your nose out from underneath the duvet first thing in the morning to know. The first days when you can see your own breath will arrive at any minute. Pumpkins are ripening. That season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is upon us already. It’s time to dig the beige cardigan out of the wardrobe so that I am cosy to sit and write.
Don’t look. It’s disreputable.
It’s beige for a start – I am not a beige person – old, bobbly, a little shrunken, so the sleeves are just that bit too short. Like I said, stop looking. I don’t care. I like it. Ancient mohair and Angora with a little merino wool: slinging into the washing machine instead of hand washing it has felted it somewhat and it’s very comfortable. So it wouldn’t qualify as stylish, but I bet some of you are reading this sitting in your pyjamas, so don’t mock. I have written some of my best (and my worst) stuff in this cardigan. This is my winter writing uniform.
And just now I need it. And not just because of the change in the weather.
We had the boiler serviced. We have a contract with the gas board for which we pay some princely sum which means that each year they come and take the boiler to bits, Hoover it out and shove it all back together again. For efficiency, we include the gas fire in the contract.
This isn’t pretty. In fact it’s hideous. I’ll upload a photo. No, maybe not, it will put you off your tea and bikkies. Yorkstone surround circa 1980 and gas fire of similar vintage. Once the height of fashion, I walked into the house, took one look at it and announced “That lot has to go!” I couldn’t live with it. Several years on, a couple of coats of paint over the stones and I have ceased to see it. Priorities change. Where once I would have torn the house to pieces and insisted on the latest piece of kitchen modernity, I would rather spend the money on a holiday. Or a new computer. These days, I repaint, recycle, swap or ignore such horrors as my house unknowingly gives me. And they include the gas fire and its vile surround.
And that fire is efficient. Long before we switch on the heating proper, there is that little fire to take the chill off in the mornings. Not often used, but a safety net which we turn on for ten minutes now and then, saving gas, money and our consciences. We are not wasting the planet to heat the house, just a tiny amount of gas. Very frugal.
Anyway, the gas man came and took things to pieces. He metered this and organised that and announced that the fire no longer met safety standards and he was turning it off. It wasn’t on, you understand. He meant turning it off forever. As in dead fire. No longer alive. Condemned.
I was horrified.
“But we used it only yesterday and it was fine.”
You know that noise, don’t you? Workmen all over the world are taught it in their first lessons when they begin their apprenticeships. Clench teeth and suck in air. The one the mechanic uses when he looks under the bonnet of your car. Yes, you’ve got it, that’s the noise. He made it, followed by shaking his head, a downturn of the mouth and raising of eyebrows. The implication is that we have been lucky. We don’t feel lucky. He’s just taken away our fire. Except it’s still sitting there, looking ugly and now it’s useless as well.
We have a carbon monoxide alarm, I objected, and it hasn’t gone off or anything. He makes the noise again. He is immovable. The fire is now an ex-fire. It has become an ornament. Of sorts.
We have no alternative but to believe his expertise and I suppose better safe than dead. So there it is. I definitely need the old beige cardie about me. The air is chilly and until we can bear to go the whole caboodle and switch on the central heating, we are to stay chilly, condemned by the gas man.