Rebecca Tyrrel: Days Like Those

Dear Professor Lovelock, will global warming save us from the need to buy a new boiler?
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The Independent Online

I am finding it quite hard to take this information in, but Matthew has told me that he is desperate to contact Professor James Lovelock. He says that if necessary he is prepared to doorstep him at his Devon home because he has a pressing question to ask, concerning climate change.

Normally, when it comes to the future of the planet, Matthew is like an ostrich; a bird that seems to thrive in desperately hot and arid, post-meltdown conditions. The reason he buries his head so firmly in the sand is because he believes that since we are powerless to do anything about the future of the planet there is no point in wasting valuable internet poker-playing time worrying about it.

But now, all of a sudden, he has started to take an obsessive interest in the environment and while I normally ignore Matthew's obsessions, this one is so unlikely I am intrigued. So I ask him why exactly he wants to contact the unsuspecting professor.

"I want to ask him," says Matthew, "if there is any chance of global warming hitting full stride in time to save us having to replace the boiler?

Our boiler, which stands in a cupboard at the back of the kitchen, is a very old boiler indeed. If household appliances qualified, it would have received its Queen's telegram long ago. To hear plumbers discuss it - and we've now heard from more than half a dozen on the matter - it might have been installed by the Romans.

Probably because of its great age, our boiler is also useless. This is the coldest winter in memory, and the house is a deep freeze. The only area of warmth is the vivarium housing Louis's leopard gekkos, and if I could fit I would be in it with them now.

No one in their right mind could dispute that the boiler needs replacing. Unfortunately this excludes Matthew, who says it would be folly to rush into anything until we find a plumber we can trust - a quest that makes the search for the Holy Grail look like my morning hunt for the car keys.

Gerry, the eighth plumber interviewed for the job of replacing the boiler, left the house an hour ago. Like Steve, Stan, Iqbal, Gary, Garry and the rest, he quoted about £2,000 for the job, and he seemed like a perfectly honest, reliable chap to me. Sadly, he failed Matthew's rigorous plumber test on three grounds. First, he was warmly recommended to us by only two people, not the requisite four. Second, he accepted the offer of a beer (for some reason, Matthew demands total abstinence from a plumber). And third, he refused access to his office computer so Matthew could randomly select several customers and ring them for references.

What a gas

Matthew has just returned from the Turkish baths, where he spent the morning strolling from hot sauna to even hotter steam room. He is therefore in a good position to wonder why I am making such a ridiculous fuss about the cold and that I was "over-egging the Baked Alaska" by greeting him at the front door covered from head to toe in Bacofoil, carrying a hot water bottle.

To prove his point, he has opened all of the windows in the house, and is sitting in the kitchen in shorts and shirt sleeves, fanning himself with his Sudoku book and clinking the ice cubes in his Bloody Mary. The man from the gas board, who has arrived to give a quote, thinks he is mad and gives me pitying looks while he tells me that he estimates it will cost around £5,000 to not only renew the boiler but put in proper air vents, seal other things, service all the radiators in the house, drain the system and so on.

The result will be a 30 per cent reduction in our gas bills and the house will, if we so desire, be as warm as a gekko's vivarium. An added extra is that a gas board operative will come once a year to check that everything is in good working order.

Matthew sees him out, saying that, for £5,000, the chairman should turn up once a week to clean the house, and that he should give us one of his kidneys as a hostage for when it all goes wrong.

Clothing war

The situation has worsened, with predictions of the worst drought in decades. "What possible point can there be in having a lovely new boiler to boil the water," is Matthew's response, "when there won't be any water to boil?" He says that by the time the drought is over and the standpipe removed, global warming will have turned Shepherds Bush either into the Atacama desert or a second Atlantis.

Also making things worse is Matthew's need to inversely compete on the clothing front. For every garment I add (I am wearing two jumpers, a pashmina, cashmere gloves, fur-lined boots, a hat and a coat at the minute), Matthew removes one. He is now lying on the sofa in the sitting room, windows wide open, pretending to read, in nothing but a pair of shorts and a never-seen-before embarrassing cap sleeve T-shirt.

Charitable solution

Predictably, he woke this morning with a chesty cough that he is calling bronchiolitis. He says it will probably develop into pneumonia. The good news is that from his sickbed he has recalled Gerry, who has to come and fit a new boiler on the condition that he deals solely with me, and isn't asked to give a DNA sample or access to all his offshore bank accounts. All we need now is for Matthew's inflamed bronchioles to keep up the good work and prevent him from coming downstairs long enough for the job to be finished. In the meantime, I am taking the cap-sleeve T-shirt to a charity shop.