Alex James: Winter means a heating headache

Rural Notebook
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The Independent Online

It always feels warmer in Soho than it does walking over the fields to the railway station but I was quite surprised to discover recently that our local town, Chipping Norton, has been declared the coldest town in England.

Heating bills at the grander addresses – the abbeys, priories and prebendal houses, not to mention the stately homes – can run to tens, even hundreds of thousands of pounds. And that's just for the swimming pools. Until very recently, logs, hot water bottles and woolly jumpers were the only thing that kept people warm out here in winter. I wonder how far we've really come with our reclaimed, polished cast-iron radiators and thermostatic valves, our space-age wet underfloor heating and its neat little switches, twin timers, dual cylinders and parallel boilers.

I don't think we've ever managed to get through a whole winter here without some kind of heating headache. Cars never go wrong any more but heating always breaks down. I'd already called the plumber about the underfloor heating and the Aga man, as both had conked out, when the entire system went down last night.

I thought that completely rebuilding the entire house would take care of those kinds of problems but that's the great con of grand designs: that sadly, there is no such thing as the perfect house where everything works. Having everything working is only something that can be approached, not actually achieved.

There is always one more thing that needs doing and there is no such thing as no problems, only new problems. The whole thing seems absurd to me now and I'm happiest, caveman-like, staring at a bonfire. Still the whole idea of a farm is that it's a house and a job rolled into one I suppose.

Step outside, ladies

Maybe we overrate the idea of being warm anyway. The kids didn't notice the heating wasn't working this morning. None of them even wanted to put their dressing gowns on, or their Ugg boots but I had to tell the ladies of the house, who were all suffering, that if they were really cold, to try going outside for a couple of minutes, then coming back in again. Suddenly feels much warmer inside.

The doors of perception

We've had a fair few cold snaps, but it was this week that winter really bit and everything stopped working. Even the external doors – things with just one moving part, seem to be struggling with seasonal adjustment disorders. Every single door needed some kind of attention today. Most of them were jamming shut. There was a real danger we'd be stuck inside until spring.

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