Now that winter’s here

The Isle of Wight is, I believe, the closest that the UK gets to the Mediterranean. You can argue about whether it is most proximal (I suppose we must give that to the Channel Isles), but this southern tip of the Island in particular usually enjoys fine, warm, and sunny weather, sometimes even in February.

Only a light dusting of snow for now: looking west towards St Catherine's Down, Isle of Wight, 3 Feb 2015.
Only a light dusting of snow for now: looking west towards St Catherine’s Down, Isle of Wight, 3 Feb 2015.

But this morning we awoke to snow. Not a lot, insufficient to make jokes about the Isle of White, but enough to remind me in the darkness of Peter Doig’s evocative painting Pond Life (1993) – see Poul Webb’s blog.

Yesterday when we walked the Downs the ground was still frozen hard, one albeit temporary solution to the muddy path problem. This morning as we made our way up, the snow blew around us in flurries, but by that time rising temperatures had thawed the couple of centimetres which had been on the ground at dawn.

I had intended posting a short requiem here to mark the death of the hat. But in the last few days they have been resurrected from wardrobes and lofts: not the Boaters, Bowlers and Homburgs of the past, but anything thick or furry which can keep the scalp a tad warmer.

Instead I spent a little while ‘tuning’ our central heating system, in an effort to keep us warm through this cold spell without its noise becoming too obtrusive. If you have ever lived, worked, or been educated in buildings with old boilers and cast-iron radiators, you will be familiar with the gamut of sounds that they can make. A friend who is a master plumber and heating engineer gives me tips, and our own heating engineer likewise, but this is not engineering, it is more alchemy.

Last winter our (modern, natural-gas-fired) boiler would light normally, but kept shutting off. Our heating alchemist tried changing various modules to no avail. Finally he checked the gas pressure and found it to be far below expectation. Once the gas company had replaced an ageing pressure reducer at the gas meter, all was well again.

This winter it has taken to imitating low-flying aircraft, or heavy drilling work. The radiators have remained hot enough to keep our cat just short of baking (which could explain her episodic madness), but I have sometimes seen our neighbours rush outside in case the plane was about to strike their chimney. I didn’t have the effrontery to admit that the noise was in fact our heating system.

Friends consider whether to invest in Nest ‘learning’ thermostats, or boast about how their new heat pump has saved so much money. When the summer comes, I will drain, clean, and give loving care to our rattly and moaning old pipes. For the next week or two, while my fingers remain crossed, I will just have to console myself that even the Mediterranean gets cold in winter.