When I woke yesterday and sat up in bed, I had to stop for a moment and think where I was. It just felt like England. Something… something… I couldn’t put my finger on it, but something was giving me the most intense feeling of being home… What was it?
I got out of bed and padded downstairs, barefoot and in only my PJ top and knickers, to check that the gas stove hadn’t been left on — the smell of a gas cooker always takes me straight back to my grandmother’s house in Yorkshire — but, no, the knobs were all set firmly to “OFF”.
Perhaps it was a new soap? Something M had opened that morning that smelt as quintessentially British as English Leather…? I checked, but no new soap.
And then I suddenly sussed it. Our house in Britain didn’t have central heat, just the two gas fires downstairs, meaning it was entirely unheated whenever we went out and each night while we slept. This prospect had struck fear in my heart when I first moved into the house, but when I demanded the landlord put in gas radiators, he refused and suggested instead that I “try it for one winter” and see how I got on. With no bargaining chip to call on, I gulped hard and gave it a go — and found that, except for a few bone-chilling weeks in February when I was forced to spend the night on the couch in front of the fire — it was surprisingly bearable. The fires were actually quite amazing in the way they could heat the house from cold-soaked to toasty in a matter of minutes, and I came to love the way they gave the house a warm focal point — albeit dressed in some serious 1950’s ugliness.
But though the heat would radiate quickly from the living and dining rooms into the kitchen and then up the stairs to the bathroom and back bedroom, it never really managed to travel all the way into the front bedroom — my room. All year round, that room stayed cool at best and downright freezing in winter. It helped enormously when I married a man who himself puts out 20,000 BTUs/hour, and I could sleep so much more comfortably smooshed up against him. But even he was no match for the dead of winter, when the wind howled through the cracks in the old sash window frames and blew the curtains about, and ice would form on the glass. Those nights, we’d strip off as fast as we possibly could, breathing heavily — visibly — as the cold shocked our naked bodies like a hard slap, and then we’d pull on PJs, cardigans, bedsocks, and — yes — nightcaps with blinding speed before diving under two duvets and tensing ourselves against the icy-cold sheets until they finally, slowly, began to warm around us. Those nights, we fell asleep watching frosty white columns rise up with each breath, and trying to keep our noses covered with the duvet. Those were the nights when I wondered why I ever bloody agreed to “just give it a go”.
But most of the year was not like that. Most of the year, the bedroom was just slightly chilly — a little unpleasant, but not unbearable. And it was hardly worth noticing — it lasted only a few moments, only as long as it took to get from the safe haven of the duvet to the back of the door and to grab a dressing gown, and then hop downstairs and turn on that lovely fire. Tick tick tick whoosh. Arms outstretched, goosebumps receding, fingers and toes warm in no time.
The day before yesterday had been beautifully sunny and warm, and I had opened every window in the house to enjoy the fresh spring air. When the furnace misunderstood my intentions and burst into life, I had turned the thermostat as low as it would go — and then forgot to reset it when we closed the windows and went to bed. The house had cooled all night, until it finally settled to a more… a more natural temperature. And so, as I stood there in the hallway outside the bathroom yesterday morning, and looked down at my goosebump-covered legs, I realised why this particular morning felt so strangely familiar.
I’d woken up chilly. And it felt oddly nice. Don’t get me wrong, I love having central heat and I wouldn’t want to go back to freezing nights without it. But for that moment, waking up to that fresh chill… it just felt like home to me.