In the Bad Old Days, our water was heated in a tank under the sink and our front room was warmed, if need be, by a gas fire. We found this arrangement perfectly satisfactory until the Evil Gas Engineer came and interfered.
The immersion heater produced piping hot water – so hot that you couldn’t put your hands in it even wearing thick rubber gloves – and you only needed to switch it on for an hour beforehand to have plenty of water for a bath.
In winter, we would from time to time turn on the gas fire to heat the front room. We never needed to have it on for more than about 30 minutes at a time as that was sufficient to raise the temperature several degrees. Moreover, although the gas fire had 4 elements, we never used more than 2. I loved that gas fire and so did Freya: she would spread herself out in front of it as though sunbathing.
There were problems, of course, with this simple arrangement. Two, to be precise. Simply expressed, these were 1. no heating in the bathroom and 2. no heating in the bedroom. We solved the latter by moving the bed into the front room. The former was not so easy to solve. All we could do was to grit our teeth.
Then came the day for the annual gas inspection. Enter the Evil Gas Engineer. He carefully checked our installations, filled in the forms and…
“I am going to disconnect your gas fire,” said he. “Gas fires are not allowed in the bedroom.”
I stood mute while my world, warmed and made habitable by the gas fire, collapsed around me.
As if by coincidence, along came United House, the company that in partnership with Islington Council manages their homes. “We are going to refurbish your flat,” they said. “And we are going to install gas central heating and water heating.”
We didn’t want their gas central heating and water heating. We wanted our gas fire back. No chance. We could have dirt, noise, disruption, frustration, inconvenience and hassle, but we couldn’t have any choice. Central heating was installed.
There are advantages to central heating: instead of living in one room in winter, we can live in two. The bedroom is a bedroom again and the bathroom is no longer a place of arctic terror. On the other hand, the water heating is, frankly, not up to snuff.
Whereas we once had lashings of near-boiling water, we now have an uncertain supply of tepid water. Annoyingly, you turn the tap on to fill the sink and it is hot but a moment later, it is running cold so you empty the sink and start again. To get hot water at all, you have to run the taps for a long time: I hate to think how much water is being wasted, gurgling uselessly down into the drains, all over the country, wherever gas boilers are installed. You hardly need to wonder why we suddenly have a water shortage: half the domestic water supply is going down the plughole unused.
This morning, an extra dab of spice was added to the situation. I was filling the kitchen sink to do the washing-up. The water started hot than ran cold. I sighed. I emptied the sink and ran the tap again. The water was cold. After several minutes it was still cold.
I went and took a look at the boiler. Of the four lights, A, B, C and D, the first three were flashing in unison. Uh-oh. I had no idea what this meant but I didn’t like it. The emergency instructions said nothing about lights but there was a telephone number and an invitation to call it in case of trouble. I called it.
The phlegmatic voice at the other end took down my details and said engineers would visit me. “Then you think there really is a problem with the boiler?” I asked. “Yep” was his laconic answer.
So I settled down to wait. After a while, being a curious soul, I went to look at the boiler again. The lights were no longer flashing. I ran a tap. Hot water came out. Oh dear, here was a pretty dilemma: what should I do now?
I called the laconic man on the help line and explained that the lights were no longer flashing and I had hot water. “I’ve cancelled the call-out,” he said.
“So you think it’s OK to use the boiler?”
After a little prompting, he did add “Keep an eye on it and if there are any problems call us.”
I don’t know whether to be relieved that the system is working again or worried lest this is just a temporary reprieve.
In the meantime, I suppose I had better go and do the washing-up.