Something in the air

Well, so far this year is turning out to be as absurd as the previous 54.

On January 1st I made the only New Year resolution I actually intend to keep – to finish and publish two books this year. I have not had a day off work since!

Today I intended to shop for materials for the leaf experiment after work because I was to finish at 6 pm. Plenty of relevant shops still open then. However, Boss had two applications for Stimpy’s job and needed me to stay so she could interview them. Okay, I thought, it’s worth it as long as one of them is employable because we could get back to normal working hours again. So I stayed, and neither of the buggers showed up for interview. Many people don’t want jobs, they just want to tell the benefits office they’ve applied for them.

Tomorrow I will shop for materials before work starts. I’m taking no chances this time.

On the plus side, all this work gets me out of the house. Which means I’m at a lower risk of cancer or heart disease, apparently.

In fact, like most smokers, I’m at a lower risk from ‘toxic air’ anyway. Smokers do tend to be big fans of ventilation, as you might expect. At this time of year we don’t open the windows wide but when it’s not actually blowing a gale, there are some windows open. All the vents in the window frames are always open. I’ve lived here for 15 years (the house is under 20 years old) and have had to replace a worn-out extractor fan.

None of it was necessary when we all had open fireplaces. The air flowing up the chimney drew in new air all the time. All those mould spores and volatile cleaning chemicals just flew up the chimney. So did tobacco smoke. Whoosh – gone. Sure, it was not so warm but you know, it wasn’t all that bad really. Frost on the inside of windows was a matter of curiosity, not terror. We wore thick clothes and had beds piled up with blankets and quilts.

Most of all, the air inside the house was almost as fresh as the air outside. Asthma was rare and so were most other modern breathing problems.

Then along came central heating and everyone loved it. Not hard to understand why. Setting the fire in the morning was a filthy chore and was always done in the freezing cold. There was no heat until the fire was lit. Before setting the fire there was the job of clearing the ashes of yesterday’s fire from the grate and apart from a few weeks in summer, this had to be done every single day. In the cold.

The idea of just setting a timer and having radiators warm the house half an hour before you had to get up… well, who could resist?

The only real mistake was getting rid of the chimney. Blocked ones could be brought back into use – won’t be cheap but it can be done.

Houses like mine were built with no chimney so it would be a huge expense to have one fitted now. Probably cheaper to move, but the Gubblement is determined to ‘btring old housing up to Green Standard by… silencing the fireplace and sealing every crack and draught.

So this problem highlighted by the Mail can only get worse.

Except for smokers. We’ll still be ventilating our homes.



24 thoughts on “Something in the air

  1. I well remember frost on the inside of the windows and coal fires. In fact five years ago I rented a Victorian town house and I set a fire most days using a mixture of paper, coal and the remains of an old ikea pine wardrobe. The fire was warm for sure but only for everything facing it.

    In the seventies we had a coal fire and then a gas fire. Then we bad electric storage heaters because it was cheap until, of course it became very expensive. Now it’s gas wall to wall as it were. I see Subrosa has heating issues also?

    Life is no longer grate!!!


    • I grew up with Economy Seven storage heaters. They would burn the skin off your hand if you touched them but would radiate zero heat to anything further than two inches away.


      • I also had storage heaters in a renovated church roof space. They also worked as normal heaters. Two problems. Firstly, by late afternoon the storage bit stopped giving out heat and secondly running them as heaters was expensive. No gas in Gods house, well it wasn’t a church any longer. All the windows were Velux with great seals but mega noisy with rain lashing down on them. The joys.


        • I never lived with storage heaters. My father found out that if you load them with heat overnight and the next day is warm, you can’t turn them off. Besides, he liked fire. Runs in the family.


  2. It’s strange so few people understand the importance of regular air changes in the house, but I long ago gave up caring about the stupidity of others. As for indoor toilets, central heating and instant hot water, I consider these to be an amazing leap forward for mankind. Like heck would I ever go back to the time before comfort. And as much as I love an open fire, if everyone had one the streets would reek of anthracite and half the weak lunged country would die within a year.


    • “And as much as I love an open fire, if everyone had one the streets would reek of anthracite and half the weak lunged country would die within a year.” And the down side is … ?


    • Well… everyone had a coal fire when I was little and there wasn’t a lot of smoke at street level. But then I didn’t live in a city. It would be more concentrated there.


  3. I own a late Victorian mid-terraced house, and am on all-gas central heating. This is a combi boiler, too. I didn’t particularly want a combi boiler, but the pipework of the previous system had been mucked about with by the previous owner, who thought that he was a bit of a whizz at DIY.

    Actually, a bit of a Baldrick would have been nearer the mark. When I bought the place, the central heating didn’t work, in strange and peculiar ways. A hundred quid cash in hand to a clued-up sparky and that was fixed in a morning, at the expense of thoroughly annoying said sparky. Not at me, but at the unholy mess the previous twerp had made. Most of the central heating system components failed over the next few days, in protest at being made to do actual work, until I paid two local experts to replace the mess with a combi.

    As originally fitted, the house had had a ventilation input vent in the back wall. Captain Plonker hadn’t liked the cold draft from that, and had plastered over it, thus breaking a slew of building regulations and making the house dank from lack of air input. I’ve re-opened it, and now keep it open permanently; combined with a couple of open chimneys and the bedroom window that I always keep open a crack, I reckon the place has pretty decent ventilation now.


    • A few years ago housing associations got very excited about combi boilers and installed them wholesale. All was well, until they started getting guys numbers of complaints from their tenants. The wee pipe that stuck out the outside wall and dripped water froze. They ended up giving people heaters until the sorted out the frozen pipes. It may still be an issue today!


      • The problem here lies with condensing boilers rather than combi’s. Not that the distinction matters since all new installs must be condesers now. But mostly it is the fault of the installer or specifier cutting corners. The condense waste pipe should be plumbed internally unless it’s not possible. If you have to run the pipe externally, you should increase the pipe diameter and lag it. Try telling that to the contractors who get the housing association jobs though.


  4. It’s just the two books you’re publishing this year, Legs? ‘Panoptica’ and … ? (Isn’t ‘Norman’s House’ finished bar tweaks?). I am really looking forward to buying both those books, but also ‘Channelling’ to find out what happens with Robert and Hal.


    • The resolution was ‘at least two books’. I set myself targets it’s possible to exceed 😉

      If ‘Norman’s House’ is finished I plan to try the publisher who put out ‘Samuel’s Girl’ and ‘Jessica’s Trap’ – but that will take time so probably won’t be out this year.

      ‘Panoptica’ and ‘Inside Outside’ are the two closest to finishing for self-publishing. I’m trying to not even think about the others until they’re done!


  5. The last place I had in UK was a 400 year old Cotswold stone house near Cirencester, with walls nearly three feet thick. It had central heating, but also had a huge (original) fireplace, which had the chimney blocked off when I bought it. One of the first things I did was to unblock the chimney (which pretty much immediately cured the damp problems) and put a big log basket in there. Although we didn’t really need it (those thick stone walls were great insulation), during the winter I would burn a log fire. It was great to sit round, glass of wine in hand. My ex and I both smoked, but the place never smelled of stale smoke when you walked in. More noticeable was the subtle sharp tang of burned oak from the fireplace.

    It was my favourite house of all the places I’ve lived in. In the living room (very low oak beams – you had to duck as you walked) the floor was ancient flagstones, worn smooth with use, but during the winter they were never cold underfoot, just cool. There were the remains of Roman walls to be found when digging in the back garden (1/2 an acre, mostly lawn but with a big greenhouse in the centre where I would grow tomatoes and dope), and a huge Yew tree that may well have been growing when the Romans were camping there two thousand years ago (it was right on Ermin Street, one of the main Roman roads which ran from Londinium to Glevum (Gloucester)).

    I was sorry to sell that place, but new pastures were calling. Fond memories of a super house.


  6. Oh dear I seem to be the only one to recall one of the great advances of the late 1950’s. (Well in my Grandmother’s property that was):

    The Aladdin Paraffin heater!

    Ours was a light green jobbie that my folks used to put in each of the two bedrooms for about an hour before bed. Mine first, then it was moved into theirs. Gran had a live-in kitchen with a massive edifice they called a grate. Did the heating and cooking and the hot water. Seemed to be made out of re-cycled Ironclads and kept warm for hours after the fire had packed up. Once in a while Gran and Mum spent hours scouring the dashed thing: called it “blackening” the grate. A job they seemed to loathe and could only perform in the warmer months, when Gran did a load of clanking that resulted in a magical transformation, to a cooker cum oven cum water heater.

    Anyhow the Aladdin was a source of endless fascination. That wee window let me look at the blue flame dancing away and if you had the patience of Job it could even boil a pot of water.

    Loved the perfume it exuded. Still do. And paraffin’s a great fumigator as well.


    • Most Japanese apartments still use paraffin heaters. I was living in one until 1999 and I agree the smell of burnt paraffin is very comforting.


    • We had one of those in the 60s. I was sent to the Co-op along the road from our house, with an empty gallon can. I got it filled and walked back home. I was still at primary school.

      The parafin heater was refilled by my Dad and then lit. It was in my sister and my bedroom. I used to watch the pattern the flames made through the holes in the top if the heater.

      It must have been. Dry dangerous, but we managed.


    • I have vague memories of the paraffin heater. I do have a couple of paraffin lamps and I also agree that the smell is wonderful. We haven’t had a power cut for a long time but I think I’ll get them out and fire them up anyway.


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