The woolly hats and scarves have been retrieved from their box on top of the wardrobe. The coal scuttle has been filled and the kindling wood carefully chopped. The hatches have been battened down and additional oil filled radiators bought. And why all the preparation for an apparent trip to the arctic? Sadly, I have to report that the central heating boiler is dead.
To have no central heating is to be plunged back into the middle ages. There's something truly medieval about waking to a freezing house; to go out into the cold streets to run whatever errand, and know you're returning to a fridge. It also puts me in mind of my childhood. Back in the 50s and 60s, no-one except the very wealthy had central heating, and we didn't think it that odd to be able to see our breath condensing indoors, or scrape ice off the inside of our old, wooden-framed, single-glazed windows. Back then the only warm place was under the bedcovers, and somehow we seemed to survive it all. But now we appear to be less able to cope with feeling cold. Modern life is all about control, so we think we should be able to control the temperature of our houses. Not being able to do so makes us feel terribly insecure.
But Christmas is just around the corner. In fact, it seems to have been just round the corner for months now. You can usually tell it's Christmas when the annual John Lewis TV ad appears. This year it features a snowman making a long and difficult trek across a snowy country landscape to a town, and returning with a hat, gloves and scarf for what I assume is supposed to be his snow-wife. The whole thing was shot in New Zealand and apparently cost millions. But I have some problems with it. If I leave aside the obvious issues (ie the fact that a snowman is made of snow and has no functioning body parts or organs that would permit locomotion), how does he manage to negotiate the inside of a department store, and then both choose and purchase a set of accessories? Are we to believe that, in his local town, there are shops that specialise in selling things to snowmen? How are negotiations conducted? How is payment made? Is there a Snow Dollar or Snow Pound somewhere in the economy?
And another thing. Is the bonfemme de neige meant to be his wife? Their facial expressions (if they can be thus termed) certainly seem to suggest it. But what if they were fashioned from snow from the same drift? Would that not mean that they were, if fact, blood (or water) relatives; more brother and sister than husband and wife? Y'see? A simple TV ad about a couple of anthropomorphic snowballs opens up a whole can of worms. Frozen ones.
I write this on Monday evening. A log is blazing cheerfully in the grate. There are two as yet unopened sacks of coal outside. The central heating engineer can't come until Wednesday. For the first time this week, for some reason, I'm not overly concerned...