Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Keeping out the cold

I don't know if I've mentioned it before but we don't have the heating on in our house until half term. It is a sort of rule and- annoyingly- nobody in the house except me seems to find it challenging as October goes on and the chillier nights draw in. This makes me feel like a wimp and I tend to just brave it although I've learnt a few little wrinkles to keep me warmer. For anyone who is still managing without heating, this is my advice on keeping warm.

1. Layers- you've heard it before and it is true. Fleeces are also great as is a blanket in the evenings. Marks and Spencer's thermal socks with slippers are indispensable.

2. Warming food- we tend to make casseroles and soups at this time of year. This kind of fare is both warming and healthy as it delivers lots of vegetables and is usually reasonably low in fat. I do also sometime treat myself to crumble and custard which is an instant warmer.

3. Exercise. If feeling the chill, I take myself off to the gym, usually early evening or late afternoon at the weekends. After working out strenuously it takes me most of the evening to cool down. Again, it is not only warming, it lifts your mood and is so good for you. If we could bottle the benefits of exercise it would be a wonder drug - and it can help you cut down on the heating bills!

4. A hot water bottle. One of the pleasures of the colder weather is the comfort afforded by a lovely hot water bottle, electric blanket or best of all a warmer partner to put your icy feet on. If said partner is the one who insists you don't need the heating on yet, be  completely unapologetic!

5. Memory. Some of you can no doubt remember a world without central heating and the arctic experience of waking up on mornings when there was ice on the inside of the windows and the fire was not yet lit or had yet to get going properly. As kids we lived in a chilly curate's house in Wales and we used to steel ourselves, leap out of bed then dash downstairs to dress in front of the fire. I never spared a thought for my mum who had had to get up to light that fire. I was telling an older teacher about this once and she said that they had children who rarely had heat in the house and whose parents slapped on a layer of goose fat on their kids'chests to serve as insulation at the start of winter, covered it with brown paper and left them in the same clothes until the spring.

Just be glad we don't live in conditions like that anymore!


  1. I usually visit a friend of mine every year, when he is having his summer rest - he's a monk in the community where I was once a novice. On his rest he gets the use of a cottage belonging to a neighbour of the community (a rich neighbour - the cottage is for family guests...). It is secluded and yet only a five minute walk back to the Enclosure and chapel. I spend the day with my friend (as do members of his family and other friends through out the two weeks 'rest') - taking lunch and a few treats (though since I learned the community has £2million in the bank, I'm not as generous as I once was... - despite £2 million being small beer for many a monastery or convent...). While there, I answered a call of nature and was shocked to discover the heating (a small storage heater) was on in the bathroom. It was late August and although not a baking summer, still not really cold. My friend said that he was cold in a morning when getting washed. I noted the tradition at the monastery was that no heating went on until All Saints’ Day. He just laughed and said they’d done away with that tradition (I don’t think one member of the community is under 50 now and most are in their 60s and 70s).
    I was rather shocked by this. I thought it very lax – but then we are apt to make others the receptacles for the goodness or self-discipline we perceive as lacking in ourselves. And ascetism has its drawbacks – it can become an idol in itself or a vehicle for a self-congratulatory inverted pride. But there is also something rather cosy about a chill in the air, but I draw the line at freezing my b*ll*cks off.
    Today has been the Feast of St Teresa of Avila – a Spanish mystic whom you would have thought spent much of her career sweltering rather than freezing in her monastery. However, I visited Avila in February a few years ago and there was snow on the ground... Whatever, her feast day is the anniversary of my first day in the monastic life – 15th Oct 1987... the day before the Great Storm. I awoke at 3am to the sound of the tempest outside (it was not unlike the sound of an orchestra of jet engines) and the next morning found that the woods that surrounded the monastery were badly damaged and around 100 trees crossed the road that led from the village to the monastery. There was no electricity for several weeks and no telephone for several months. Every office (service) was by candle light and I believed we were living a life akin to the medieval monks (minus the lice – and the bonded serfs... (aka slaves)). Of course had I had lived in the monastery for several years I would have found it all rather annoying. But for a 21 year old, it was great fun...
    So that is my advice – pretend you’re some great ascetic but take the precaution of wearing two vests – one either side of your bra! A winceyette nightie doesn’t go a miss either..

  2. Perhaps multiple vests and winceyette nighties might persuade Mr M to put the heating on! You made me think of Keat's St Agnes Eve:

    "St Agnes Eve and bitter chill it was
    The owl for all his feathers was a cold:
    The hare limped trembling through the frozen grass
    And silent was the flock in woolly fold"

    All very romantic until you experience it!
    It feels a bit warmer tonight, and only a week until half term so I think I can say pass on asceticism :)

  3. Yes - Fr Gilbert Shaw notes, that when he used to visit Fr William Sirr, an Anglican friar, trying to establish the enclosed contemplative life in the CofE in the 1920s, that sometimes the only warmth in Fr William's monastery was a candle placed between the two men. An apocryphal post-script to this story is that when they got really cold, they lit the candle...
    No one ever stayed at Fr William's monastery for very long...