Stove and heating in general

Wednesday 25 February 2015

Wet and then very wet

Back at the rental units and I spent the morning trying to make the grouting look as if it had been done by someone who had graduated from nursery school.  There were fraught noises coming from downstairs.  I went down to find OH roundly cursing the parenthood of the skirting boards.  The basic problem was that the boards were straight and the wall was not. When the new floor had been put in, quite a lot of the old plaster had dropped out and OH had slapped in quite a lot of plaster, in his customary rustic style.  He had spent the morning trying to fill the holes between the wall and the boards with decorators caulk.  The caulk tube fits into a spring ratchet operated handle and it had stuck.  Instructing me to hold onto one end of it and not to move, OH grasped the other end and pulled.  I cannoned into him with some force.  He said I was feeble and if I wanted to be a builders mate, I needed to man up.  I assured him I had no desire to be a builders mate.  

I was sent off to sand down the floor in the bathroom.  The door top is so close to the ceiling that the door cannot be taken off for sanding.  The sander made no impression on the floor so I put some sandpaper under the door and rubbed it back and to, violently.  This also, is not apparently what a builders mate is supposed to do.

More swearing was coming from the bedroom and when OH emerged, hat over one eye, shouting ‘where is my saw’ and he was holding still holding it, I insisted we went home for lunch.

My thoughts turned to heating and I discovered the following, written six years ago:

When we lived in England, we had central heating.  Virtually everyone we knew had central heating.  This is not the case in France.  In old houses, such as ours, which is a typical mid 19th century farmhouse, the only heating point was the large open fireplace in the living room.  In winter, the heavy wooden shutters on the outside of the house were closed and, together with the thickness of the walls, trapped the heat inside the building and stopped you freezing to death (in theory).  A 20th century improvement was to enclose the fire in a metal and glass box in order to increase the efficiency of the heating.  This is called an insert and is found in most houses, old and new, today.  Our part of France has a lot of trees and coal is hard to come by, so people burn wood that is sourced locally.  The French word ‘cheminee’ has the meaning of ‘fireplace’ whilst the English word ‘chimney’ translates as ‘conduit’.  My neighbour Marcel told me that when the insertswere first introduced, they didn’t ‘draw’ properly and people were obliged to leave open the front door in order to get enough air into the room, create an updraft and get the fire burning well.
We bought our house in June when it was extremely hot and humid.  We happily ignored the fact that we had no heating to speak of.  We were too busy doing battle with the resident termites, bats and hornets.   We were living on a construction site and setting up a new business. 
So time rolled along and, in September, the free papers started advertising means of heating your house – inserts, wood-burning stoves, radiators and the like.  The days and nights were delightfully warm and compared to the East of England; we still felt we were in the midst of a very good summer.   Nevertheless, we popped along to a local shop and ordered a wood burning stove for the front room and a French version of an Aga for the kitchen.   Aga versions of an Aga cost around E6000 at the time.
October rolled along and was still mid 20’s during the daytime.  We went back to the shop to see where the stoves were.   Evidently the larger kitchen model was still on order.  The smaller wood burner had arrived and the glass was broken, so had been sent back.  October turned into November and the wood burner had another trip to and from the factory. 
Mid-November, it was if the outside heating had suddenly turned off and the temperatures dropped to below 10 degrees at nighttime.  The lady at the shop lent us a paraffin heater and we sat under duvets.  By the end of November, it was seriously cold and you could see your breath in the house day and night and finally, HURRAH, both the stoves arrived.
At last, we thought, the bees, which had replaced the hornets in the chimney, might be discouraged by the heat and smoke – and leave!   (They didn’t).  At last we could take off our woolly hats and actually be warm!  The wood-burner was duly installed in the front room and was admired by us and especially by the dog.  
The Godin (French Aga) was brought in by four burly French men and the plumber spent a day installing yards of copper piping and an outlet radiator.  It lent a ‘submarine’ type ambiance to the kitchen.  Then, the plumber added a few bits of wood and lit the fire.   The amount of heat that came out of the cast iron top was phenomenal.  The French electrician who was doing the rewiring of the house came down to admire it too.  We had hoped the cold might make him hurry up and complete his work quickly (it didn’t – he was there nine weeks). 
We cooked supper in the oven and boiled pans of water on the top and were very, very happy.  WF was especially happy because the outlet radiator was in his room.  After supper, we were sitting down watching telly when an ominous banging started upstairs in WF’s room.  It was coming from the outlet radiator.  The plumber came back again and said the stove was giving off too much heat for just one radiator and in fact we could run six radiators from such a large stove.  (Why didn’t he tell us that first?).  So, he spent the next week installing five more radiators. The banging radiator calmed down.  Only two of the new radiators worked.  The plumber came back again and said we needed to run the stove at full power to heat all the radiators.  This used up a lot of wood and meant dashing back into the kitchen every half hour to feed it. 
Quite often, in France you need to ask the right questions in order to get the information you need.  Quite often, you don’t realise what questions you need to ask until it is too late to ask them.
So, our normal modus operandi is to get up and throw on many clothes (though the woolly hats haven’t been necessary since 2004) – and run downstairs to see whether the fire has stayed in overnight.
I would be a failed arsonist, and so would RJ.  OH and WF are arsonists manqué.  With just one match and a bit of wood or paper, they can create a blazing fire seemingly without effort.  If they lay logs on the Godin at nighttime, it will happily crunch away on them and can be easily teased back into life the next morning.  I, on the other hand, sometimes find firelighters a challenge to light….  This is not at all a bad thing as it means I am banned from touching either stove…
2009 January has been the coldest since we have been here.  We all have double duvets on the beds.  Ice has been thick on the car windscreens so we have taken to parking them facing east so the morning sun can start working on melting it and we don’t have to mutilate yet another fish slice.  Of course, when we are in the car and bowling along, or in a shop, in never occurs to us to buy a scraper. Last week, the light of the morning sun was diffusing gently through the most exquisite and complex ice crystal patterns.  They were on the inside of the landing window.
‘Eee’ said OH.  ‘Reminds me of when I were a lad…’ 
I too, seem to have spent a lot of my life in freezing houses.  One house, in Ashton in Makerfield, belonged to the local Water Board and my father was in charge of the Reservoir, which was attached to the house and supplied the local water.  It was fiendishly cold for most of the year.  My American cousins used to visit.  They, sensibly, lived in California.  Their heating budget was taken up with keeping the heat out of their houses.  Years later, one of them commented to me.
‘I used to think it was normal for English houses to have damp on the walls’.
It may be true that central heating breeds germs but I can say from experience that living in cold damp houses isn’t too good for you either because what I was quite often ill in bed, under many counterpanes and blankets, and with the fire lit in my bedroom whilst I read Enid Blyton.


Back home, in front of the roaring fire (we are back in the present day now, btw) I battle with setting up a blog on WordPress.  It is not intuitive.  OH emerges from the kitchen, where he has been feeding his eBay obsession, and finds me muttering ‘what is the effing difference between a Page and a Post? OH is happy to supply the following information ;  a page is what you find in a book and a post is what you walk into when not paying attention.  Where would I be without his help?

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