The fashion pages are full of inspiring tips on what to wear when hosting parties. It’s an annual quandary: the little black dress? Tuxedo with comedy tie and challenging but picturesque socks? Is that strapless gown too much?
I solved my festive dress dilemma some time back. Like many renters, I will greet my guests wearing a cocoon of fleece, under a blanket, with two pairs of socks, fingerless gloves and a scarf. It just so now!
The last time I set off for the arctic waste known as my kitchen, I advised my companions that: ‘I might be gone for some time.’ Rented homes are cold - well, I say cold, when I actually mean freezing: wintry, damp and draughty. They don’t call those chocolate biscuits penguins for nothing, you know.
One friend spent last winter huddled in an alcove, wrapped in his duvet in order to keep working. Other DIY attempts at insulation focus on windows: plasticine, aluminium foil, plastic sealant, expanding foam and blankets nailed to hang behind curtains etc. One theory advocates clingfilm on window-panes tightened with heat from hairdryers, which might end badly.
The problem is that landlords have no incentive to make homes in the frozen north well-insulated, or even adequately heated: they don’t pay the bills, so why would they care? I’ve lived in flats where I could see daylight between the window-frame and wall, where water seeped in through the rotting wood leaving a sad grey pool on the floor (the landlord knew – he had once lived there.)
There are ancient storage heaters which keep the place toasty, but pump money up into the atmosphere, or no heating at all, so we wander around like Michelin people wearing layers of jumpers, thermals and tights (guys too.) I am even tempted to buy a balaclava helmet, but want to retain my one remaining shred of dignity.
Something is very wrong when homes are only warm when the heating is pumping; insulation should retain the heat, and I shouldn’t start to shiver the moment the heating switches off. I don’t even have thick curtains – all landlords now put in cold thin blinds, not generous heat conserving textiles. I’m not sure why – fashion I suppose.
Friends from Scandinavia venture over to the UK and deride our hapless weather survival strategies: ‘Call that snow? We have that in the summer in Finland.’ But then, they do have economical communal heating from green sources, thick insulation and triple glazing. Ooh – and a blazing log fire.
Landlords must be legally obliged to maintain insulation. They must provide heating tenants can afford to use, especially from geo-thermal boreholes, wind-power turbines where applicable and by effective insulation, as they won’t act out of kindness or to save the planet. Legislation is required, because as I sit here wearing gloves, wrapped in a fleece burkha, my nose is still cold. Also – I have to be rolled along the floor into the kitchen to make a cup of tea. It’s no way to live.