Sometimes a little story within the whole sprawling mess of news speaks to you. It’s a selfish thing, often. One that makes you feel something. For me, this week, it was heat. It was the quite specific central heating temperatures that the government has advised will keep people from dying this winter. 21C in the bedroom, they said, and 18C elsewhere. When I heard these figures on the radio, I shivered.

I fear discomfort like I fear empty streets after dark. I fear a broken TV. I fear a lumpy sofa, and the wasted evening it implies. I fear a day without half an hour alone. A weekend without a working fridge, or a cold night without heating. And this news, this small news, this was a reminder that discomfort can kill. A figure has even been put on it – a number beneath which sadness starts. Sadness, then pain, then lethargy, then worse.

Our next-door neighbour Rose, whose house was never centrally heated, wouldn’t turn her electric fire all the way up for fear of running out of money on the meter. One day she knocked round to invite us over – she wanted to show us what it looked like with the full three bars lit. We cooed, appreciatively. But it’s only now that I really understand the true fear of being old and cold, and alone. The thing of treating yourself to an extra bar, when it’s only you and the radio, and energy prices rising above inflation, and the nights now darker. How frightening it must feel to have to choose between buying your dinner and £5 on your gas card, and nobody to talk to about which one will keep you alive longer.

Comfort is so underrated. If only those who strive for excellence, for riches, fireworks and panache could see what bliss they could find on a sofa at half-past nine. Excitement passes in seconds, while the warm joy of an old episode of Friends lasts almost half an hour, not including ad breaks. I savour my central heating. Walking past lit windows when the clocks are going back I envy myself in ten minutes’ time, joining their bolognese army. The idea of having to monitor my consumption so tightly, so that the very degree of Celsius must be checked, is a terrifying thing.

But it’s good, that terror – that selfish terror that’s arrived with me through government warnings, because it wobbles my complacency. Numbers with sharp points have pierced my temples and let the world in. That vision of a life where comfort can be quantified, sunken numbers that threaten one’s survival, made me appreciate my own warmth, my own boot-sized Sports Direct mug of tea, my winter duvet and birthday Lindt balls. To not be able to be warm enough is to be in a state where very little is possible. To shiver inside with a coat on is to be unable to concentrate, unable to get out of bed, makes it hard to be decent, a pain to be nice. It hurts, even to contemplate, time spent lingering in Argos to avoid going home, doorways plugged with tea-towels, the constant dread of January. Seventeen degrees – that’s where things start to go wrong.

I will never again take for granted the feeling of sinking into my flat as if a hot bath. The threat of an empty purse, an empty toaster, an empty room, nothing – these are the things that I work full time to avoid, and that I nurture relationships to avoid, and save scrupulously to avoid. Comfort is my number one – the knowledge that you’ve met a deadline, and haven’t pissed any of your friends off, and that you’ve got a Poirotrecorded, and there’s peanut butter and someone loves you – that’s all of it for me. I’ll never again take for granted the breathtaking decadence of cereal at night, of my life of comfort, and the heating on loud.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s