I remember when my Mum and Dad got the heating installed in our home in Ireland many years ago when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. It was a big, oil fuelled monstrosity that took pride of place in the dining room and the general idea was that it would heat up the whole house, a task at which it failed miserably, especially due to the draughty windows and doors, in those days long before double glazing. My bedroom was immediately above it and was probably the warmest room in the house apart from the dining room, and even then I managed to acquire chill-blains on my fingers in the winter and had to have an electric heater in there sometimes. The one good thing for us children was the excitement of the huge oil tanker that pulled up outside our home every few months and the massive big pipe that wiggled its way up through the driveway and the garden to the storage tank behind the house.
A few years ago my brothers built my Mum a lovely, warm, cosy new home on what used to be my Dad’s vegetable patch, and one of them then renovated and moved his family into the family home. My Mum, at first, thought there would be no room in her new home for her beloved piano, so my brother stored it in his workshop. But she fretted and worried that it would be damaged by being in such a cold environment, so my sister did some research on the care of pianos and found, to her surprise and my Mum’s immense relief, that pianos thrive in cold environments. ‘That explains a lot’, said my sister, ‘ the home we grew up in was built for pianos and not for people’.
As a consequence I’ve always hated the cold. When my first born arrived, the nurse who visited our home after the birth advised me that two heaters on in the tiny bedroom was just a little excessive… I think I was trying to recreate the heat of the womb . When we bought our first, and only, home in England, it had underfloor heating… downstairs, which was wonderful… downstairs. But it was freezing upstairs. We installed a radiator upstairs but as it was right under a skylight and at the top of the stairs which lead directly to the front door it was useless. The heating came on at night when the electricity was cheapest, and it did keep downstairs nice and warm all the following day. I used to make sure that the carpet in the living room was always clean at night before we went to bed, because then I would lay all the wet washing across the floor, and the next morning it would all be dry and ready to put away. Of course it would set me into an absolute panic if the doorbell went and there was any threat of early morning visitors, and I remember someone who caught sight of my unorthodox laundry drying system, once asking if we had wardrobes in our home. We finally installed proper central heating and enjoyed a wonderful warm winter… and then promptly sold up and moved to Algeria.
So when we finally found and moved into our home in Algeria, having already spent one winter here, I was so determined that, if we had nothing else in the home, we would have central heating. We knew nobody who had any as everyone had a smaller, gas version of the one we had years ago in Ireland. As I found out since then some of the older apartments built by the French do have central heating with the old style radiators that work really well even now. But most people have the one gas fired heater that is usually installed in the hall, right inside the front door, which, as a consequence, is the warmest place in the home. When my husband started his search for a boiler that included a timer, he was actually laughed at by some plumbing suppliers. ‘What do you need a timer for? Can’t you just turn it on yourself?’ He started to wonder if there was such a thing to be had in Algeria, and I told him that, if he didn’t find one, he was designated to be the one to get up in the early hours, long before the Fajir early morning prayer, and turn on the heating to warm the house before everyone else got up. Eventually, Alhamdulilah, he did find one, and then had the fun of trying to find a plumber to install it. Finally he did find one that was willing to install it despite never having done so before, and who told him afterwards, that working for him was an education. (He should try living with him.... it's more like a blooming university degree!)
It was particularly cold that first winter in our new home, with hailstones and snow (one of the strangest sights I saw that winter was a picture my daughter took of a palm tree near the university in Bab Ezzouar covered in snow), and I told my husband’s family that I should sue him for breach of promise as he had always marketed Algeria as being lovely and warm. They responded that they never had such a cold winter until I had come so they were blaming me for bringing the cold with me. So we had our own home, empty as it was (our voices echoed so much that if you tried to talk to someone in one room from an adjacent one, you couldn’t understand what they were saying), but it was warm Alhamdulilah.