Saturday, August 22, 2015

The battle of the thermostat

Our visitor from Germany completed the 500-piece jigsaw puzzle last night and I resented her for it.  

She’s a wizard with jigsaws.  The rest of us are slow.

I’ve tried to make her welcome.  She is welcome but the difficulties of having another person stay for several months trickles down into unspoken and trivial resentments, such as who gets to finish the jigsaw. 

It’s a tough jigsaw, a lion’s head – the Lion King – floating in the sky above a thin line of African wilderness with one tree on the horizon and some lion cubs and mother lion on a hill, against a golden sinking sun and topped off by a purple star filled night sky at the top. 

There are too many pieces that lack intricate detail.  Therefore to complete this jigsaw you rely on shape. 

People approach jigsaws in different ways.  Some go for the internal details and build up a patchwork within, while others create the frame.  

I’m a frame person, which surprises me because it suggests I aim to get structure into place before I tackle the internal detail, when I have long considered myself a small detail person who can’t be too fussed about the bigger picture.

Ever since my mother died I’ve felt the cold.  As if I've taken her place.  She who taught me empathy in her identifications with me when as a small girl I ran around in a t-shirt and shorts in the middle of winter and she pleaded with me to dress more warmly.
‘It makes me cold to look at you’. 

And now I feel cold, even as I battle with our guest over the temperature of this house.  Even as I prefer to maintain a temperature level that’s neither too hot, nor too cold, I have this urge to tell her, when she complains yet again about the cold, 
‘Put on a jumper.’

Heating in Australian houses is not as effective as heating in European houses, she tells us. 

Our houses even with proper central heating do not adjust well to the vagaries of the weather. 

I prefer the thermostat to sit around 18 degrees Celsius.  That’s the most energy efficient temperature, the gasman who maintains our central heating unit told me. 

And yet, some unknown person turns it up as high as 23 degrees and I begin to swelter. 

I turn it down, and because it’s not my husband who turned it up and my daughter upstairs essentially leaves the thermostat alone, I can only assume …

I suspect I do not say anything about this, in part because I am reluctant to be seen as mean. 

That mean old coot, I hear you say.  She’s tight on the temperature.  She doesn’t want to waste fuel. 

It’s true, and although others who are concerned about excess energy consumption might back me, I still feel mean. 

I reckon part of the problem has to do with control.  As long as I’m the one who dictates the temperature, it feels okay for me, even if it’s low. 

I can always put it up higher if I decide it’s too cold. 

To be the other person, the one who is a guest and has no say in the temperature other than to remark on its being cold and to hope for the best, there’s a helplessness about it, and maybe a sense that things feel colder than they are.

Many years ago, one winter when my husband worked for the commonwealth government as a public servant, there was a disruption to the heating and cooling system. 

Staff protested, but there was little they could do, other than to wear warm jumpers and singlets under their suits. 

To make a point, my husband wore his dressing gown over his suit.  It was one of those Japanese/smoking jacket styled dressing gowns in green silk with a black trim.  My husband looked like an emperor. 

It’s an idea.  Keep your coat on or your dressing gown. 

Nothing irks me more than folks who like to heat their houses to tropical temperatures in winter so they can run around in their t-shirts as if it’s summer. 

But that’s what they do in Europe, I’m told.  They wear layers and build them up to go outside and then peel them off for the great indoors. 

It all depends on the location of the thermostat.  

Ours is located centrally in the warmest corner of the house.  It cuts off when it gets to temperature and leaves the living area that’s south facing and filled with windows, freezing. 

It’s too big a space to try to heat unless you kick the thermostat up to 25 degrees, which I refuse to do and so our house is much like the houses of my childhood, where the lounge room in the centre of the house with its oil heater burning brightly was warm, while the rest of the house was like ice. 

Maybe we need an upgrade of our heating system, to one that’s more energy efficient, or else we might puddle along as we do now, running from room to room, depending on the temperature we want for comfort.

At worst, we can crawl under the blankets in our bedrooms while our house takes shape as a temperature jigsaw puzzle.  

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