…. Only Inadequate Clothing

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‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inadequate clothing’ Alfred Wainwright 

He was talking about walking the English Lake District but as a child it would have been just as applicable indoors as out.

I awake to a dusting of snow. I love snow when it is fresh and new but we see little of it now. Part of the joy, however, is that I can experience it on my own terms, in the right clothing. I stand by my bedroom window looking out and I’m pleasantly warm. As a child I would have been just as excited but also frozen, already wrapped up like Bibbendum the Michelin Man.

The Lawyer has moved to a flat in a Victorian terrace. It needed some work and in particular the old sash windows had reached the end of their natural lives. One reason given to upgrade them was ‘to keep the heat in’.

Now this is a modern phenomenon. Surviving indoors in cold rooms was part of being small and largely ignored when I was small and passing below the parental radar. Shivering was the default state from October to March.

I don’t remember when central heating first appeared in our home – the 1970s I suppose – but before then the only heat came from

  • kitchen stoves
  • a coal fire but only in the sitting room
  • maybe a paraffin heater
  • more clothes

The paraffin heater smelt like mum was embalming some ancient relative and the ‘smokeless’ coal fire used in the fire grate acted as any early example of why the trade descriptions act was a necessity. Anthracite came in smallish hard black round balls much like I imagine devil’s testicles (because I’m the sort of person who imagines devil’s testicles) and took an age to burn. My gran, never a great one for rules, dragged in wood and created comforting conflagrations to console chilly children (sorry, couldn’t resist that). We toasted bread or crumpets as a treat.

All this reminiscing made me ponder: what was the coldest I’ve been indoors. My children will have their own version. But it won’t include ice on the inside of a window when they pulled the curtains back of a morning. Or when washing was the best of times (you could warm up in some hot water) and the worst of times (you had to undress to do so). Or when you had a pee and were surrounded by your own steam.

The prize goes to the time, staying with friends in Oxfordshire, that it was so cold that the water in the toilet bowl froze. So fascinated was I by having to break the crust to use the facilities I almost missed the concerned knocking of my host warning me to hover and not sit as he had recently been stuck to the seat and didn’t want a similar fate to befall me.

I hear people talk about the good old days. Really?

It is a whole other post to consider the other side of this: because we now crave that comfort so much, we have taken to heating not just our homes but the planet too and even in always temperate England we are pushing 40C 100F regularly. So aircon anyone? I don’t recall this debate as a youngster. The good old days? Hmm, perhaps.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published three books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars and Salisbury Square. In addition I published an anthology of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand this summer. A fourth book will be out soon. This started life as a novel in a week on this blog and will follow later this year. I blog about all sorts at geofflepard.com and welcome all comments. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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44 Responses to …. Only Inadequate Clothing

  1. Sue Vincent says:

    More clothes to go to bed than to play out, I recall, complete with hat, scarf and hot water bottle… and the icicles on the inside of Yorkshire windows…
    I like central heating… but the chill was probably a healthier way to grow up.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. We woke to a similar dusting this morning. I too remember ice on the inside of the windows… actually we have ancient sashes and it can still happen. My father, an ex Far East POW, couldn’t bear the cold and himself installed central heating in the late 1950s. Worst cold memory, aged four-ish in a field far from home with frozen hands and feet, but my uninsulated Islington attic in the 70s runs it a close second. I’m wearing a lot of clothes now…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. jan says:

    Worse cold memory – frozen butt after skiing and falling down a few too many times.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Dylan Hearn says:

    I grew up in a house with one coal fire in the lounge. I had a north-facing bedroom and in winter it regularly had ice on the inside of the window. I remember each night going to bed with a hot water bottle that scalded my feet at first and became an ice block within an hour. The good old days? You can keep them.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. willowdot21 says:

    I can remember waking up and finding icicles on the inside of the window! Having to get dress in bed because it was too cold to stand in the icy bedroom where our breath froze infront of our faces!! We had a fire in the livingroom, one in the dinning room fi Dad was working in there on union business. If any of us were ill the paraffin oil heater was lit in the bedroom, we survived the fumes by luck more than judgement and can you imagine the Helth and safety panics about young children,paraffin and bedclothes! brrrrrr!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ha Ha Geoff! In some mysterious, serendipitous manner you picked up on a conversation held about two hours ago in this tiny house as I peered anxiously through the window at another grey and soggy day here in the Riviera of Antarctica in the middle of Summer………. I have a competition going on with myself that I shall walk in excess of 6000 steps every day and grey, soggy days do nothing to expedite my victoriousness in this competition. So armed fully with the fact there is no bad weather, only inadequate clothing, I togged myself and the puppy up and we set forth. I discovered half an hour in that my clothing is indeed inadequate………….

    Living in a country that modelled itself conscientiously on the society from which most of the Settlers had fled, my childhood was spent in a house where one room was heated and the rest were cold, damp and thoroughly unpleasant………… So while you lot were getting warm in the 70’s we were still living as if in the Mother Country in 1835. It’s really only been in the last decade or three that things have changed.

    Now, excuse me I need to go purchase a new pair of wet weather walking shoes and a serious rain coat!

    Liked by 2 people

    • TanGental says:

      Ah but you guys do rain like no one else. When the Lawyer and I cruised down your west coast heading from Franz Joseph for Queenstown December 2014 and briefly stopped in Hartstown we wondered why everyone seemed miserable (not our normal experience) despite the sunny day. I blamed the Germanic ancestry but the normally incessant rain might also have been to blame.

      Like

  7. We had velvety frost or ice patterns inside our windows and the wood stove is what heated the house. Bedtime didn’t mean pajamas. It sometimes meant extra socks, hat, coat and mitts. I was a kid so it did seem good enough till I experience central heating in the 60s. o_O

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Ali Isaac says:

    We had lots of snow but by this morning it had all gone. It looks pretty but I don’t like it. Living on a hill with a steep drive that’s too long to shovel clear, I am snowed in unless I have advance warning and can move the car to the bottom of the drive. Hubby has 4 wheel so he’s ok. My house always feels cold. But we’ve never had ice on the inside of the windows, luckily. How did we ever manage without heated blankets?

    Liked by 1 person

  9. noelleg44 says:

    I grew up in a house with baseboard heating – you knew when it was on because of the tinkling sound around the room. My Dad replaced the octopus furnace that used coal and circulated warm air through floor vents (which we used to sit on to get warm). The coldest we’ve been in the now modern age is when we lost power for two weeks due to an ice storm. We had fires in both downstairs fireplaces and a kerosene heater going in the family room. Kept the heat inside at 50 degrees and we all wore two sweaters and double socks and slippers. I actually got used to it – and was a little regretful when the heat came back on.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I can’t really imagine an ice storm. I’ve seen them on the TV but I don’t think there has ever been one in the UK. We would crumple if there was! We can barely cope with a little snow.

      Like

  10. You’ve reminded me of my dad. I was forever saying how cold it was in the house and he was always telling me to put more clothes on. 😀 Now I’m spoiled and crank the heat in my house.
    I have never imagined the devil in that way so much appreciated for the visual. And I can about smell your poor, dead relatives being embalmed. Please tell me the frozen toilet water was a bit of exaggerating. ?

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Frost patterns inside the windows

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Norah says:

    You crack me up with your frozen toilet water story, just as you must have cracked up the frozen water, I assume. That is hilarious, as is being stuck to the toilet seat, though I assume it wasn’t too hilarious at the time. The only similar thing I can think of is getting my tongue stuck on a too-cold icy pole. A layer of skin came off (or seemed like) in the removal. I hope that didn’t occur in removing the toilet seat. It wouldn’t look too fancy, walking around with a toilet seat stuck to one’s derriere!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. trifflepudling says:

    Oh dear, I had no idea the frosty experience in our loo had left such a deep mark on your memory!! I suppose we were kind of used to it, though it took us another 2 years after that to have it rebuilt. My lasting recollection of that weekend (apart from your both being there, of course) was the lovely Dundee Cake and bottle of Port which you brought with you. I think of that every Christmas!

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I remember sitting on your sitting room floor sharing that too. We must have played Scrabble or Cludeo or something. I also recall, I think, a certain lack of sphincter control with such a rich catalyst – but only we boys….

      Like

      • trifflepudling says:

        I don’t remember that latter bit! Perhaps I don’t file that sort of information … Here’s what I found online: “The night of the 12th-13th [December] was a record-breaker as the mercury plunged below minus 18C widely, while a large part of the country was snowbound for more than three weeks.” 12th and 13th were Sat & Sun. I seem to remember you were unable to travel on the Friday (11th, I guess) because of the wrong sort of cold effect on the rails and so you must’ve very kindly decided to come the next day – for a memorably Arctic experience on the night of the 12th! There’s a nice video of Worcester here (sadly none of Oxfordshire) complete with a Dog: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2YdDkADp-8

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        Hey well done. I was sure Brize Naunton was minus twenty but that’s memory inflation for you.

        Like

  14. Oh they were, Geoff, they were. I remember when we had central heating installed. It was the best thing since sliced bread. I remember only having to bath on a Sunday evening. I remember only having to have my hair washed every Sunday (perhaps I was too dirty?). I remember Grandstand and Dickie Davies on World Of Sport, but that’s another story. Just what were those people doing behind him? I remember the teleprinter and how it was most frightened thing my youngest sister ever saw!

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      The teleprinter! Yay, it was like a Dr Who monster waiting to pounce. David Coleman balls. And the wrestling! Saturday’s aren’t the same. I dusty toy remember the joy of one very wet Saturday in November. dad was playing rugby, gran, mum my brother and I were in front of a roaring fire, the racing was cancelled because of the wet and they ran High Noon with Gary Cooper. Simply perfection, eating crumpets and watching one of the movie greats.

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  15. trifflepudling says:

    Golly, Hugh – fond memories of all that: almost identical! Squashed next to the (G-plan style) gas fire at Saturday lunchtime watching both those progs, with the cat singeing by my side! I loved that teleprinter thing (Hamilton Academicals, Stenhousemuir!). We never had central heating at home, but we did have it at weekly boarding school so, amazingly, school was warmer (marginally as they had the heating on very low) than home. My father never had central heating when he moved to his own house as a widower, but he had these useless storage heaters (Economy 7). Fortunately he always seemed to be hot and wore short sleeves but the cat would’ve appreciated proper heating!

    Like

  16. Rachel M says:

    New Zealand homes don’t have central heating and I’ve woken up with ice on the inside of the window. I’ve never frozen to the toilet seat though! That sounds dreadful. No snow up here at all. I’m very jealous.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. jennypellett says:

    Brrr…yes, I remember ice on the inside of sash windows and a kitchen aga that we all huddled around. Our coal was kept in the basement and we had to take turns in fetching it up the freezing back stairs. Happy days…

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Ah! Ice on the inside of the window. I’d forgotten about that. Thanks for the flashback!

    Liked by 1 person

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