Thursday, April 15, 2010

Cold House Blues

The weather has been on the turn in Melbourne. Summer promised to last forever, but we’ve been plunged into overcast days and freezing nights. As soon as autumn arrives, my home resembles an Antarctic station where the heating has broken down.

Although it’s double brick, which means you have a few days grace before any violent temperature change registers, once it does you’re at its mercy.

This house has everything set up for shivering, in particular large-ish rooms, glass-and-timber double doors in the loungeroom, high ceilings and not a scrap of insulation.

Sometimes it’s actually warmer outside the house than in.

The one consolation is the gas heater in the lounge. It’s fairly ancient, but it does do an initial heat-up of the loungeroom pretty well, even though I know that once July strikes it just won’t win the battle against the cold, no matter how loud and determined its rattle becomes.

I had to really persuade myself to turn the loungeroom heater on this early in autumn. The weather bureau was promising a few 25-degree days towards the end of the week, so it seemed indulgent.

As soon as the heater goes on, the wet clothes come in. During the winter my loungeroom loses its ambience and becomes a de facto clothes dryer. I have a large selection of clothes airers of various sizes that become a fixture in the lounge.

I have a large electric heater for my office, but I’m just not ready to turn that on yet; here, my green instincts line up perfectly with my stinginess and my relative poverty. The heater is a 2400 watt-er, and it also heats the space up well, but in April? I’ll shiver for another couple of weeks, thanks very much.

But heaters on or off, the whole house is cold, and the cold is an alien presence, an enemy that is forever chasing me. The only way to beat the cold is to literally run away from it. I must keep moving, keep thinking about what I’m doing, what I’m planning to do next, refuse to give in to it.

This is the part of winter I find most challenging – I have to summon up a new sense of discipline and a proactive approach while my body just wants to hibernate. Don’t stay too long in the shower; don’t lounge on the floor in front of the heater when there are things you need to do; don’t tackle the dishes too late in the evening because the kitchen will be freezing; move the clothes around to ensure they’re drying. Keep your plan for the day in mind.

This sounds so simple, but yesterday, when cold and looming clouds descended suddenly (it’s warmed up a bit today) I was at a loss. Work was scarce, I felt low and really needed to get out of the house. But I couldn’t bring myself to. The weather felt oppressive, and I felt trapped and unprepared for it.

Recently I found myself thinking about buying myself one of those wearable blankets, for telly watching at least. They may not be exactly flattering but at least they’re comfortable. I looked at a website selling these (I’m not going to provide the link – they don’t need me to help their advertising!) and they are similar in shape to a monk’s robe, giving the wearer a sage-like appearance, while the video ad would have you believe that keeping warm by simply wearing several layers of clothes was never an option – which is pretty much what I’m doing.

One glance at those things suggests that they’d be dead easy to make, even with an existing blanket – in fact one made from a wool blanket would probably be warmer. I’ve also seen TV advertisements for quilted pyjamas, a bit like wearable doonas.

But I don’t think a wearable blanket or doona would work for me anyway as it’s simply another layer – they’d have to have an inbuilt electric blanket to get my temperature beyond the icy. What I’d really like is one of those electrical heated throw rugs – now you’re talking!

During my search on the net I did find something that offered low-tech artificial warmth that’s wearable – a scarf with a neck section and hand pockets that are filled with rice and flax seed. You heat the scarf in a microwave and wear it around the house. Sounds very comforting but I think you’d also need something for the legs.

But I am one of those people who feel the cold to an extraordinary degree. I sometimes go to the house of a friend to watch a DVD on his big plasma screen. The trouble is he’s just the opposite of me when it comes to temperature, and would often cheerfully strip off to his undies, given half a chance, in a temperature that to me is merely temperate.

We now have the drill under control for all but the warmest nights – he leaves out a mohair rug and a cotton blanket, both of which I drape around me as I settle down to enjoy the movie. I also bring a shawl to drape around my shoulders, and – yes, I’m going to admit it – thick woollen socks! Well, at least it stops us bickering about turning on the gas heater.

Still, while I might complain, I do sleep better in winter, partly because the light does not break through yonder window until much later, so my overzealous pineal gland calms down a bit.

(Note after a lovely sunny interlude the weather got cold again and I felt compelled to add to this little entry.)

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