"Baby, it's cold outside."--Song by Frank Loesser
Nobody likes a cold house. Correction: I do not like a cold house. Our thermostat is a liar: it says 68, but feels like 60. When the temperature drops below zero outside, I add an afghan to my excessively sweater-ish ensemble. I wrap it cocoon-meets-shawl-style, inspired by a photo of Kim Kardashian wearing a $200 fleece blanket. Mine is shabby, strictly for indoors
It is a dilemma: energy conservation vs. comfort. We still heed President Jimmy Carter's advice: Keep the thermostat at 68 and wear a sweater. He probably was the only president to be photographed in a cardigan sweater. After he was defeated by the Republican ex-movie star Ronald Reagan, Carter became a philanthropist, novelist, and nonfiction writer.
Some people like it cold. In English novels, many characters like it very cold. In Pamela Hansford Johnson's satire, Night and Silence Who Is Here?, the hero, Matthew, a Visiting Fellow at an American college, complains about American overheated rooms. And then there are the spinsters in 19th-century English novels who don't like the cold but don't light a fire unless they have visitors. (Perhaps I'm thinking of Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford, but this is a Victorian trope: Little Dorritt and Oliver Twist could not have been warm, either.) And sometimes in 20th-century English novels, impoverished characters live in cold rented rooms because they lack the coins to feed the heat meter. I'm trying to remember titles: Norman Collins's London Belongs to Me? George Orwell's Keep the Aphidistra Flying? Patrick Hamilton's Twenty thousand Streets under the Sky? One of Philip Larkin's novels? Do give me some titles if you think of any.
In a recent essay in The Spectator, "The Joy of Cold Houses," the writer Olivia Fane declares that she likes a cold house. She does not turn on the central heating unless the pipes are in danger of freezing. She writes,
"Both my husband and I grew up in large, freezing houses when winters were truly cold and we had to regularly chip the ice off bedroom windows in the morning. We would feel a sort of moral victory over the elements and a delight in whatever warmth we might find, perhaps crouching over a tiny fire or leaning up against an Aga. My youth was chilly and happy. So winter, thrust whatever you like at me — I will survive. "
And having read that essay, I am happy that I grew up in a warm house. It also makes me thankful for the 60-alias-68 thermostat.