Tuesday, 4 January 2011
Are we spoilt these days?
The picture above, by Hendrick Avecamp, is a seventeenth century Dutch skating scene;
I love these paintings not least because they tell us so much about the times. Everyone is well wrapped-up and outside skating, and my guess is that it would be warmer outside than it was inside and that the only way to get warm would be to wrap up well, go out and get moving about. And I suppose that a spell of this kind of weather - and there seemed to be plenty of them in those days - would kill off the old and infirm who could do neither.
When did glass start to be fixed in windows? I suspect that it may have been later than this painting and if so, then I can't think of anything colder than a house with windows open to the outside.
Even in the nineteenth century, the century of my grandparents, the only heat source would have been an open fire and probably a peat or a wood one at that. The heat source at bedtime would have been a feather bed, masses of blankets, quilts, old coats, and a wrapped oven shelf put in at the last minute to warm it all up. No wonder they had so many children in those days - it wasn't just the lack of contraception - it was just another way of getting warmed up!
My late father-in-law used to reckon that wood was the best heat source - it warmed you when you chopped the tree down, again when you sawed the logs up, again when you put the logs on the fire and finally - if it was larch or poplar - a fourth time when you had to keep dashing round the room to stamp out the sparks which flew out of the fire
Now we are so lucky. Walking into Tesco this morning we were met by a blast of hot air. I dare not think of the cost of their heating bill but they must consider it cost-effective to blast hot air down in the doorway as a warm welcome on a cold morning.
When we go out we set our heating go come on so that everywhere is warm for our return.
At lunch time the farmer lit the stove and already the whole house is basking in the rosy glow from it. An hour ago the central heating came on to back it all up. We take it all forgranted, don't we.
We now have no need at all of broths and soups and suet puddings to give us warmth and energy (not that that necessarily stops us craving them). In fact doctors exhort us to eat more salads and fruit in the cold weather - it will make no difference to how warm or cold we might feel.
All I can vouch for is that at lunch time I went out to the dustbin. The wind was slicing knives through the yard and a fine rain was drifting through it. What sun there was was pale and watery. It was a horrible day and I have no intention of setting foot outside the door again today - I shall merely look at 'outside' through that very welcome sheet of glass
today's aros: black, leafless alders stand etched against the steel-grey sky.