Saturday, September 29, 2012

100TWC - Day 64: Frost

Around this time of year as a boy, or maybe just a week or two later, I used to expect that on really cold days I'd wake up to frost on my bedroom windows. On the inside. Double glazing and central heating were unknown concepts to me growing up. My bedroom windows (there were two, one on each outside wall, which made my room probably the coldest room in the house and certainly the coldest bedroom. Even the bathroom, which also had two exterior walls, only had one window) were single-glazed, with metal frames, and hence particularly susceptible to the cold.

Interestingly (it has just occurred to me) when we sold that house in April of this year, those single glazed metal framed windows -- the original ones with which the house was built in the 1940s -- were still in place, still intact. I've no doubt they will have been replaced now, but they lasted almost 70 years.

My parents only got around to investing in central heating after I moved out. And even then, because they "didn't like hot bedrooms", the system they installed was only partial. A radiator beside the boiler in the kitchen, which I always thought was completely redundant since the boiler, being a 1970s vintage, was not particularly well insulated. One at the bottom of the stairs to warm the hall. One at the top to service the landing. If you wanted any heat in a bedroom you had to leave the door open. And that was it. Three single, narrow radiators for an entire 3-bedroom semi-detached house. The "through" lounge/ dining room had a gas fire.

But such luxury was unknown to me as a child. The only source of heat in my room was a two-bar portable electric fire. It smelt, when on, in that way old metal electric fires have. Especially the first time it was used each year in the run-up to Christmas. Having been gathering dust for something approaching nine months, the first time you switched it on all that dust would burn off the element and stink the room out for days. It wasn't just dust, of course. There would be the odd dead fly in there too. And possibly a few strands of hair that had found their way through the grille. I hated that fire, ugly brown dumpy little monstrosity that it was, but it didn't stop me from turning it on every night an hour or so before I went to bed.

No such luxury in the mornings, of course. Time switches were another technology denied to us in the 1960s and early 70s. Hence the frost on the windows. I could see my breath most mornings too, in that room. It's a wonder I ever plucked up the courage to get out of bed, especially once my folks had gone all modern and replaced our traditional bedding with those new-fangled "continental quilts" (duvets, to modern readers). Toasty warm it was, under my "quilt", and hence by comparison, even colder in the bedroom.

On school mornings it was a mad dash to the bathroom, once my Dad had whistled his signal that he'd finished at the washbasin. The bathroom had one of those ceiling lights with a heater in it, and on really cold mornings Dad would have turned it on when he first got up. So the bathroom (again, by comparison) was warmer than the bedroom. Warmer even than the landing which, being in the middle of the house, never got as cold as the outer rooms.

On weekend mornings I didn't need to be quite so brave. I could laze around in bed until the sun was up, and melted the frost on the windows. At least then it didn't look as cold in my room.

When I got a bit older, I found myself wondering exactly how cold it got in that room. I'd acquired a thermometer from somewhere and I hung it on the wall. Being of an analytical bent (OK, OK, I was a spod. I admit it), it was not enough for me to just glance at the reading every morning and evening on my way out of, and into bed. I had to write the temperatures down. And then, having written them down, I had to graph them up. And so it was that, by the age of 15, I had a year's worth of bedroom temperature readings on a graph on my wall, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that the coldest it ever got in my room one winter's morning, was 44°F.

I saw my breath THAT morning, I can tell you!

The graph spiked a lot where the electric fire was on in the evening, and not in the morning, but the trend of temperatures was still visible, as were the maxima and minima. Attentive readers will have noticed that even this glaring evidence of incipient frostbite in my room was not enough to persuade my parents that central heating was necessary, until after I'd moved out. Whether or not this constitutes child abuse I will leave it up to the reader to decide.

The frost on the inside of my windows did make exceedingly pretty patterns though. Which was, naturally, some small compensation for the discomfort.

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