I made it to twenty to five today before I finally gave in and turned the heating on. The backs of my hands felt like ice and I was actually contemplating putting my gloves on, when I realised that, despite several layers of clothing, my teeth were chattering and I thought enough is enough. For maybe a full five minutes I was rather proud of myself for having held out for so long, and then as my fingers defrosted around a mug of coffee it dawned on me how desperately sad the whole situation is.
This is the UK, in the 21st century for heavens sake, no one, and I really mean no one, old or young, rich or poor, employed or not, should ever be in a position where they can't afford to put their heating on in winter. It is a sad state of affairs indeed.
I caught the headline on one of the newspapers earlier when I nipped out to buy milk, about soaring heating costs. I couldn't afford to buy the paper and in all honesty I haven't had the heart to look it up on line yet, but from what I could see it's only going to get worse. As the cold snap bites energy prices are going up. Again.
I've been cold today out of choice. Well, not choice exactly, I would rather have been warm, obviously, but I could have put my heating on if I'd wanted to. I decided not to in order to increase the chances of the credit on my gas meter lasting the week. A little bit each day is better than a few days of being warm only to have to go without completely for a couple of days. What worries me is how many people are there out there today who couldn't put their heating on at all? How many elderly folk are scared to put their fire on for fear of a large bill? How many are shivering because their meters have already run out?
Don't think it happens? Trust me it does.
The problem with having a pre-payment meter and being on a very low income is that you tend to budget for what you expect it to be and most of the time that's probably fine, but every so often we get a week like this one, when the temperature plummets or the snow falls and all your careful budgeting flies out the window. Last week my two year old grandson and his mother spent two days without heating before a neighbour found out and came to their rescue. They had kept warm by spending the days snuggled up under blankets with hot water bottles. Only a few nights ago our own meter ran out and we spent an evening bitterly cold. My brother and his kids are staying with friends this weekend so they can all share the cost of the heating, feeding one meter instead of two. The kids all think it's great of course, sleep overs and snowball fights are the things memories are made of, but for my brother and his single mum friend it's an effort hiding the strain even through the fun times.
We do what we need to get by. For me that means early nights and late mornings, staying in bed until I can bare the feelings of laziness no more. I'm not being lazy of course, this morning I probably got more work done in bed than I would have done if I'd been up and about, I checked emails, wrote letters, darned socks, replaced a zip and several buttons on things that have been sitting in my sewing basket for months, but I felt lazy staying abed until mid morning just to keep warm. Once I was up I kept as busy as I could, I swept and mopped and scrubbed, I went for a brisk walk to the local shop, but sooner or later you have to slow down, do things that require less energy, and that is when the chill settles into your bones.
If you've ever been cold, and I mean really cold, for a long period of time you'll know it effects everything you try to do. You move slower, think slower, you make mistakes. Even conversation becomes difficult after a while. You withdraw into yourself as if by pulling in you can somehow keep warmer. A day without heating in winter can do this, even to a fit and healthy person, two days certainly does. I know because I've done it, beyond that I don't know, thankfully I've never been there and I hope I never will but my heart goes out to those who are cold, truly cold, tonight.