15st 6lb, 7.0 units. As a child during the severe winter of 1963, I can remember watching TV news reports of soldiers battling through gigantic snowdrifts to deliver essential supplies to families in isolated farmhouses and cottages; and wondering, even then, what sort of f***ing idiot went to live at the end of a dirt track halfway up a mountain in Wales or Scotland, and did not think it might be a reasonable idea to lay in a few supplies to tide them over in the event of inclement weather.
That epiphany 47 years ago (it might well even have been on the actual Feast of the Epiphany, too, for added resonance) has informed my personal philosophy ever since. “Just in time” deliveries be buggered. Generations of visiting females, up to and including the present Mrs H, have opened the cupboards in my house and staggered back in amazement at my huge stocks of tinned food, light bulbs, batteries, lavatory paper and just about everything else needed to sustain life in the event of a once-in-a-millennium blizzard or all-out nuclear exchange.
I do not run out of Stuff. Until the arrival of The Baby, it was the fact of my life in which I took the greatest pride. So imagine the feelings with which I picked up the distressed telephone message from Mrs H when I was in the office this afternoon, reporting that our central heating system had broken down and that a languid young man at our managing agent’s office had declined to send out an emergency repair crew on the grounds that “it sounds like you’ve just run out of fuel”.
Could it be so? Please God, no. I don’t do things like that. I had ordered 1,000 litres of “heating oil” as they grandly call it, shortly after we moved into the house in mid-August, and had topped it with another load of the same at the end of November, even though the weather had been mild for most of the time and we had been away for a month while I pretended to be having a heart attack in Northumberland. Added to which, the Bloke who had made the first delivery had assured Mrs H that it should last three or four months, which had been her standard response whenever I had suggested that maybe we should think about buying some more. So I let it go.
For some reason the modern, plastic oil tank is not equipped with any form of gauge, either indoors or out, and the only way to test the level of its contents is to unscrew the cap and peer inside, or dip it with a convenient stick. For the last week the fact that I would have had to plod through deep snow and then scrape more of it off the top of the tank to do so had been putting me off examining it. I tried to persuade Mrs H to do so now, so that we might get to the bottom of the problem, but she pleaded The Baby and the fact that it was actually snowing as reasons for not venturing outdoors.
Incidentally, this will no doubt come as a surprise to no one but myself, but I was rather astonished to discover that “heating oil” actually turns out to be kerosene or, as it was known in my youth, paraffin. A little tanker used to wend its way around the suburban streets of my childhood, topping up the jerry cans with which people fed the metal paraffin heaters favoured by families who were (a) poor and (b) had no sense of smell. Hence it developed what I suppose might be called an image problem, though I still find myself singing the words from the Esso Blue TV ad from time to time; the one that goes to the tune of “Smoke gets in your eyes”.
Anyway, given that we had no alternative forms of heating whatsoever, I drove into the nearest town and started to trawl around the DIY and electrical stores for some nice, cheap, simple convector heaters. But, having drawn a blank twice, I settled for some nasty, cheap, complicated, ceramic fan heaters and drove home with them, nearly killing myself on the final approach to the house as I lost control of the car on the sheet ice in the lane and sat back wondering in a detached sort of way whether it was going to smash into the large tree to my left or mount the bank to my right and overturn. Luckily it ran out of momentum before it did either, enabling me to plod out to the oil tank in the snow and confirm that it was indeed empty. Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn. After all these years I have finally become a foolish virgin. And a rather chilly one, as it goes.
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