Of Central Heating and Baby Bear’s Porridge

On the train from Hebden this morning the weather seemed to get colder as I moved west with snow on the fields between Todmorden and Rochdale. Back in Blaenau it was misty and drizzling rain, so cold I couldn’t believe I’d forgotten to wear two sets of thermal leggings under my skirt – that’s what living in a centrally heated house for a well will do for a person. At home, outside the boys bedrooms, the house seemed even colder than it was outside and the fire in the living room in the evening took a couple of hours to warm the room while we watched a film together – the director’s cut of Betty Blue.

It’s a film that starts with temperature – 37o in the morning and is framed by a pan boiling over – and it started a train of thought about how cold and heat both affects and reflects us, how temperature and weather are such a powerful metaphor – the inspired uses of pathetic fallacy such as Emily Bronte’s storm in Wuthering Heights into which Heathcliffe disappears after hearing only the first half of what Cathy says about him (the half in which she says it would demean her to marry him) or the opening of Ann Tyler’s Accidental Tourist with a rainfall so heavily it drives Sarah and Macon off the road just as their marriage is also leaving the road.

Temperature is also a great metaphor for balance – we all want the porridge not too hot, not too cold, but just right, which brought me back to my centrally heated week. I left home with five prose poems, two other short sections and lots of loose ends. I came back today with fifteen prose poems in the opening segment of the sequence, tightening on the previously written sections and seven sections now in all, plus copious notes and ideas. After a shaky start thinking nothing would happen the writing flowed. Much of it will need a great deal of revision, but it is a skeleton to build on and the week felt productive.

The week was spent tucked away in a lovely little apartment that had been newly renovated, took no looking after and was always comfortably warm with its new central heating and endless hot water. It was just right.

Now I have to keep it up. My house is cold – it can be warmed, but two wood-burning stoves are demanding and the hot water is dodgy and the place constantly has quirks that need attention. I need to slot writing in to maintaining this ornery and beloved house, which currently needs a plumber to stop a leaking toilet and make a tap turn off again once its been turned on and two builders estimates for a wall that the post-woman accidently damaged with her van on a frosty morning. I need to slot writing into a work schedule of around 100 emails a day and editing and organising launches and … Can I do it? I have in the past, so perhaps I can – watch this space.


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2 responses to “Of Central Heating and Baby Bear’s Porridge

  1. YOU can do it!
    I love, love, love Anne Tyler, most especially The Accidental Tourist. It’s one of the few books of which I love the film equally. William Hurt has me weak at the knees, and Geena Davis is tragi-hilarious.
    When people dither between my two books, I often say, pick this one if you fancy a blizzard, this one if you fancy a heat wave.

  2. Stella

    Yeah – of course you can do it all Jan!

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