Thursday, 17 January 2013

Hot space

There exists a school of thought which contends that, hidden within each and every electronic appliance sold to the public, there lurks a small timing device which is primed to trash some crucial function the day after the guarantee expires.

And so, the very day after its guarantee expired, the boiler here at Space started supplying lukewarm water to the shower. And then went on to cease supplying any warmth at all to the radiators. Just as the Met Office began to put out Amber Warnings for ice and snow for the weekend.

We took it as a bit of a challenge. How warm can you keep a (rather large) house, with no central heating? And how warm, in any case, do we need to be, to be comfortable? Or socially acceptable?

Of course, we went and found the convector-heater (every home should have one for just such emergencies, or indeed for softie guests: ours lives in the spare bedroom), and set it up in the kitchen. Its continuous efforts, along with sunshine during the day and cooking during the evening, kept at least one room of the house, almost, in the style to which it was accustomed.

Fils was offered the chance to light the woodburner if he were to put in a couple of hours of revision for GCSEs. This forfeit was pretty soon changed, to the more immediately useful (and fun) "if he would help chop up some more wood".

After that, GCSE revision was done communally (Fille is also in the throes) in front of the roaring flames, instead of the more usual set-up in front of the computer, interspersed with Facebook chatter.

I put on my warmest kit and carried on chattering on Facebook regardless. Neighbours saw my witterings and offered heaters, meals-over and sleep-overs. Most offers were gratefully taken up, and much appreciated, as by the Saturday the cold really began to bite. The house seemed to have been living on stored warmth for the first day or so.

Towards the end of Sunday the mood turned philosophical. Fille mused how people got by in days of yore before the comforts we take for granted. Fourteen degrees had been a normal room temperature right up until about 1970, and is still what is meant by "room temperature" when, for example, serving red wine. It occurred to me, as I listed some of the historical coping strategies (hot-water bottles, extra bedclothes, extra food, extra woollen clothes, including hats, indoors...), that I personally had used several of them, both during the 1970s power cuts and later in various cheap student digs. No-one else in the family, it dawned on me also, had lived anywhere, ever, without central heating.

The very nadir of the whole experience came on the Monday morning (so what's new?). A combination of having to get up early and leave the house quickly meant a cold, dark start for those who were to work or study a normal 5-day week. The neighbours' heaters really came into their own. The temperature in our (un-heatered) bedroom got down to single figures.

But the working week also brought us the repair team, and with them the return of Civilisation. It didn't even cost anything: some enthusiastic sales staff once upon a time had managed to persuade us to renew the guarantee automatically every year.

I must admit it felt a little odd, almost stuffy, with the heating back on. In its abssence I had spent most of the time with the urge to run around and do one thing or another: possibly a survival mechanism to avoid getting blue hands. In a way, it had been refreshing. Now it was warm enough, I just wanted to go to bed. Except that, complicated thought processes are a lot easier when you're warm enough. Like that job application I had been putting off...

1 comment:

  1. On your dodgy boiler. Reliability engineering is a great field allowing us to pretty accurately predict failures in components and systems. We should be able to design products that could last for many years and make right design decisions on parts which should be easy to replace or service. Unfortunately it seems in most consumer appliances it focuses instead on making sure that failures before warranty are predictable after warranty it seems it doesn't matter so much.