Susie Rushton: Turn the heating off – and feel virtuous


Why do British people feel guilty about heating their houses? Our draughty homes are the most pointless of our national stereotypes. It's true that we live in a mostly cold, damp and blustery climate. And that our houses are likely to be constructed from old brick and have thin windows, flimsy curtains and a flap in the back door for the cat. Not for us the toasty, tightly insulated modern habitations of Sweden or Germany. We prefer to be constantly reminded of the bracing temperatures outside, even when we're indoors and our toes are turning blue.

Central heating, to our collective minds, is a devilish temptation that must be restricted to the times of 6.30am to 8, plus two hours in the evening, or else moral and financial rot sets in. Earlier this year a survey of British adults to find the "most important inventions of all time" put central heating at just number 13, behind the internet and the iPod (pneumonia? No, there isn't an app for that).

I suspect that many of us perversely enjoy our frigid houses. It makes us feel thrifty and stoic to walk into the living room and find a good, fresh snap in the air. Is there a British father in this land who hasn't, with some relish, suggested to his shivering children on a Saturday morning, to Go And Put A Jumper On Then?

The result of all this thermostatic restraint is to cause those of us who are made of less stern stuff – also known as warm-blooded mammals – to indulge in illicit heating sessions behind closed doors.

I have a good friend who spent many hours of his childhood locked in the bathroom of his family home, face turned directly into the hot-air heater in defrosted bliss. As an adult he now has a Pavlovian response to the hot air that blasts down at the entrance to high-street shops – I have to drag him over the threshold at Boots before he falls into a trance.

Until recently, I couldn't manage frosty mornings without a few scalding minutes of my fan-heater, the crack cocaine of heaters, a machine that whirrs with the sound of a thousand icebergs collapsing into the sea.

Then I moved house. The central heating system in my new flat comes with a remote control thermostat, which displays the ambient temperature (currently a balmy 21.5c – Dad, if you're reading this, I am already wearing a sweater, actually) and enables one to tweak by half-degrees at will. I haven't entirely got the hang of the timer yet, and for the past two nights I've woken up at 2am sweating like a malarial backpacker. The glorious heatwave will probably end soon, however: I haven't yet had the first gas bill.

For if Britishness or environmental guilt doesn't compel me to turn the heating down, the greed of gas suppliers will. The major domestic gas and electricity companies are shortly to be investigated by Ofgem for pushing their net profits margins up by 40 per cent over just eight weeks. I've found myself wondering whether British Gas sells festive gift vouchers. That'd beat a Christmas jumper.

Nielsen could teach his successors a thing or two

Whether you thought Leslie Nielsen was a master of comedy or whether, like me, you found his deadpan formulaic over time, we can agree that there are few of his stature in the current generation of movie stars. Where are the comic actors who make us – all of us – laugh out loud? Hollywood is currently enamoured of the "dramedy" genre, the type of film that makes you snigger a depressed little snort of sympathy. Of the more conventional comics, Sacha Baron-Cohen is divisive, Will Ferrell and Jack Black talented but inconsistent.

Seeing the film Due Date this weekend, in which Robert Downey Jr and Zach Galifianakis go in the footsteps of Steve Martin and John Candy (it has the same plot as Planes, Trains and Automobiles), I wondered whether the desire among directors to appear clever and ironic and arch has killed off belly laughs. Downey Jr is a superior actor to Martin. But he's too cool to be funny. Galifianakis, of The Hangover, makes a valiant effort as the loveable fool the other man can't escape as he struggles to travel across America. But the late John Candy's lopsided smile alone is funnier than either performance.

What are the mad men de nos jours thinking?

"You mean a woman can open it?" says the strapline, the word "woman" underlined. The housewife in the picture forms her lips into an amazed O, her manicured fingertips toying with the cap of a bottle of Del Monte passata. The ad probably dates from 1950 – the blogs that reproduce historic "sexist advertising" don't always give the year of publication – but certainly long before feminism. How quaint, how silly!

Yet in recent months there has been a creep back towards brazen sexism in advertising. Think of the ad for the Spanish beer Estrella that has a young guy enjoying a threesome with two women on holiday in Ibiza; those large Ryanair press and poster ads that sell cut-price flights with a busty, bikini-clad girl in heavy make-up and false eyelashes, grinding her behind in front of the surf ("Buy the Girls of Ryanair calendar onboard"); notice how expensive celebrity cameos have been replaced by comically dim-witted housewives, not so far away from Mrs Del Monte circa 1950, and, in an update on that archetype in a new M&Ms ad, the lazy female partner of a man who is a domestic god.

These ads remind me of those you see in France, where semi-pornographic depictions of women flog everything from cheese to tights. What on earth are the creative staff of our ad agencies – which are full of females, presumably – thinking? Back in the 1950s there may have been some (ungenerous and unfair) logic to sexist ads; men held all the spending power then. Last time I looked, women did buy rounds of beer, flights to Lanzarote, and packets of M&Ms, sometimes all at once. Time to stop watching Mad Men, people of adland.