Brian Viner: 'We listen to the weather forecast to get an idea of conditions in the corridor'

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The Independent Online

It's all very well living in a big old house in the country, high enough to see for 60 miles on a clear day, but wintry weather can be a challenge. We sometimes had to cope with blizzards and snow drifts before we moved to Herefordshire, but not on the journey from the bedroom to the bathroom. And I exaggerate only slightly. There have been several mornings in the past fortnight when Jane and I have woken up to find frozen condensation about half an inch thick on the inside of our bedroom window, although it at least acts as a kind of double-glazing, keeping the wind out. The last time gales brought the power cables down, and we were without electricity for 24 hours, a force eight from the general direction of the chest of drawers kept extinguishing the candle on my bedside table. It's not everyone who listens to the weather forecast to get some idea of conditions not so much out of doors as out of bed.

The problem is that our bedroom faces west, which is where the weather comes from hereabouts. And in fairness, once we've been at the window with one of those car-windscreen scrapers, we have a spectacular view towards the Black Mountains, which at the moment are anything but black, and look like a range of alps.

Moreover, it's almost worth enduring sub-zero temperatures in the bedroom for the indescribable bliss of climbing under the duvet at night. For years we considered an electric blanket to be a companion to the Zimmer frame and the Stannah stairlift, unthinkable for a healthy couple in early-ish middle-age. That view lasted for four Herefordshire winters. Now we not only have two electric blankets, one for each side of the bed, but, if the seat was warm, like a Volvo's, I might even be prepared to consider a stairlift.

It wouldn't be going overboard to say that the electric blanket has changed our lives, making the nightly ritual of going to bed a pleasure rather than a journey even Shackleton might have postponed, offered the alternative of another half-hour in front of a roaring open fire. As for the degree of pleasure the blanket affords, only fellow countryside-dwellers will understand. Were a pair of townies to stand outside our bedroom door every night at about 11pm, they would conclude from the simultaneous cries of ecstasy within that we must be working our way through the Kama Sutra. But anyone who lives in rural parts would give knowing nods and say "ay up, those two must have a leccy blanket".

Once under the duvet, though – and I think this is enough of a confessional column to share this information – Jane and I find pleasure in different ways. After a short while she turns her blanket off altogether, while I leave mine turned up to mark nine, hot enough to fry a chipolata, although fortunately I tend to sleep on my back. When I'm ready for sleep I then turn the dial down somewhere between one and two, a lovely light simmer, which is an excellent tactic in case I need to go for a nocturnal pee, because however painful it is to leave the cocoon, I know even in my bleary somnolence that there is a tangible reward at the end of the return stumble.

The only problem in those frankly rapturous minutes between climbing into bed and turning off the bedside light is that I can't bring myself to read, because that means exposing bare arms to the Arctic chill. Jane is doughtier, and indulges me by reading aloud passages of her book, which is currently Good Things In England, by Florence White.

It's a marvellous book, in fact I was going to make it the theme of this week's Home and Away until the weather intervened. Florence White was Britain's first freelance cookery writer, and Good Things in England is a collection, published in 1932, of recipes dating back to the 15th century. So since I've already shared much of what goes on in the marital bed, I might as well reveal our pillow talk, which is of Staffordshire Frumenty (1882), Mrs Glasse's Salmagundy (1747), Dr Kitchiner's Bubble and Squeak (1823), and, courtesy of Miss Barrowman's recipe of 1931, the gruesome-sounding Scottish Fish Custard. Last night Jane also read out to me an old recipe from Suffolk which involves roasting your chitterlings. Under the duvet on my side of the bed, I was half-way there.

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