Well, yes, that’s because it is, but every time I feel like moaning, I spare a thought for those who are homeless and those who, for whatever reason, don’t have access to central heating, though with rising prices, that includes a great deal more of us this year. Honestly, I feel we’re returning to my grandparents’ time, of how ‘being cold’ was something they not only expected, but put up with without complaint. Not that I’m suggesting anyone should do so now. We’re supposed to move forward, not slip back. Every generation expects the next to see improvements, to have a better life.
The council found my grandparents on my mother’s side alternative housing owing to such supposed improvements (I say supposed because I’ve now have reason to believe they were told lies as to those reasons). I was an infant, but I have vague memories of the old house is the important issue here. The door opened on a long, narrow corridor, with a room to the right. At the end of the house, stairs on the left led up, or further along a corridor led to the right. The stairs were dark and steep, and I remember them distinctly because I once fell down them. They went to a first floor where my grandparents had their living room/kitchen, and their bedroom. Another flight of stairs went to another level, where there were two more bedrooms. There was no bathroom. The only room to have heating was the living room/kitchen, where a fire burned in the stove for heat and for cooking.
The corridor at the bottom of the house led directly into the scullery. I recall the house had some sort of furnace that provided a hot water supply, but the house definitely had no central heating. Few houses did back then. A large tin bath hung on a hook in the scullery, and when people wanted a bath, they would take this bath up to the living room, placed it in front of the fire, and filled with hot water. Owing to the difficulties of having a bath, many people didn’t bother to have a full wash nightly. We knew some families where a bath was a weekly ritual, but I recall my grandmother always made sure I was as clean as could be (I can feel her scrubbing behind my ears to this day), and that she wouldn’t go to bed without using a bowl of water for herself.
The scullery also contained a sink, and it was here that my grandmother would do the family’s laundry. I can still picture her green glass scrubbing board and the old wooden mangle. People didn’t have washing machines and were lucky if there was a local laundromat or could afford to use them regularly if one was available. Washing meant hard graft — soaping up clothes and scrubbing them against the ridges of the glass board, then setting all the washed clothes aside to rinse. Once rinsed, my nan passed the clothes through the mangle, then hung them in the yard to dry. Once dry, she ironed them, not with an electric iron, but a hot plate iron that was set on the fire. There was no temperature control, and one had to be careful not to burn the clothing.
The door from the scullery led out into the small yard — half concrete, half soil, the soil area fenced off and used by my grandfather to grow vegetables. Not because he enjoyed gardening as a hobby, but because they needed to supplement their food supply. He would also grow tomatoes up on the roof, but that’s a whole other story.
My grandfather would play football with me in this yard, which was surrounded by brick walls. There was one other door out in the yard and this led to the outside toilet. I only remember visiting and cannot recall using it, but I do recall stories my grandfather would tell of going out there late at night during winter and having to chip the ice off the seat before he dared to sit down, hoping skin didn’t stick.
This is making me sound as if I’m 90, but this isn’t so long ago. We’re talking late 60s and even into the 70s. I never had central heating until I left home at age 21. My parents never had central heating until two years later.
Did we moan? Yes. Sometimes we did. I can recall going to school in the snow up to my knees and they still expected us to get there. Occasionally, they turned us away at the gate and we had to trudge back home again. There were times we complained about being cold. We washed one limb at a time, quickly covering it. We got dressed under the covers while still in bed in the morning, and we weren’t the only ones doing it. I can talk to my mother-in-law, who had a completely different upbringing in a separate part of the country, and yes, I admit she’s much older than I; still, she can remember similar stories. She never had central heating until the late 1980s. Remembers coping because that’s just what people did. She tells me that people seldom got sick out in the country, although I can’t say the same for people I knew living in London, where some places were ill-looked after and sometimes damp. My parents didn’t even have an actual fire — they had to make do with electric heaters, which were costly.
So whenever I’m snug indoors, I’m reminded it could be much worse. I remember hard times that people didn’t even know were hard, but simply accepted as the way things were. I remember slipping and sliding, trying to walk to school, and I remember it feeling as cold inside as it was out, even while there was snow on the ground. Mostly, though, I recall with a nostalgic smile my grandfather drawing a jagged shape in the ice on his bedroom window, and telling me, “Look, Jack Frost is here.”
The way so many are struggling now doesn’t feel so nostalgic. Only painful and pitiful that the world has moved backwards.