Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Catherine Drea


As I See It: Catherine Drea’s fortnightly column as published in the Waterford News & Star


BEING in lockdown constantly reminds me of the small things that make life more pleasant. The things that we took for granted. For some I know it’s the problem of closed hairdressers and nail bars. We all have our red lines. My own frustration has been the breakdown of our central heating system and the loss of the rural internet. Between that and the endless waiting for things to improve, the new normal has its challenges.

I’m well aware that these are first world problems but the heating didn’t come on since last spring and was only fixed the other day. For the nerds amongst you, the system was installed 18 years ago and is a ground based heat pump. At that time it was a very new green technology and has stood the test of time. The house is usually warm and cosy and our heating bills are low. But the elusive pump diagnosis and replacement took weeks. It was a struggle to find the right expert to fix it, it took ages to diagnose, send away for parts and of course the waiting for the great day when it would be turned on again.


‘Your uniform had to be removed and hung up. It was dry cleaned once a year so it had to be kept in pristine condition the rest of the time.’


Now the weather was pretty good over the last few weeks, with plenty of sunshine. But the three pairs of socks, two jumpers and hot water bottles, brought me back to when no house in Ireland had proper insulation or central heating at all. In my youth, only one room had an open fire and the rest of the house was a fridge. I remember on winter school mornings running downstairs to huddle over a storage heater in the kitchen. There would be a scrum to find space on the heater for our uniforms just moments before we put them on.

Wherever we were we always wanted to sit on heaters; to hug them, lie on them, eat on them! At school we chatted with our hands on the radiators, our bare legs goose pimpled with the cold. “Fawn knee socks only to be worn in winter. White ankle socks permitted only in summer.” My two knees were often red and burning from being exposed to all weathers on the walk to and from school.

As soon as we got home from school we changed into thick tights or corduroy trousers with layers of jumpers. Your uniform had to be removed and hung up. It was dry cleaned once a year so it had to be kept in pristine condition the rest of the time. Mine was designed to “grow into” so had 6 inches of a hem at the bottom. Once a year hemlines would be inspected for decency and altered accordingly.

Luckily as I grew up the number of storage heaters in the house gradually increased but the bedrooms remained icy and we were never really warm enough to get up to any mischief in.

From time to time big gangs of kids slept top to tail in beds of all sizes. It could get so rowdy that I remember either being kicked out of the bed or falling out of it regularly. If things got too silly my Father would come to the bottom of the stairs and bang on the wall. Or sometimes he would suddenly open the door and turn on the light. We would dive for cover giggling. How he kept a straight face I don’t know….

But at least we were warm!

Bad enough being cold during lockdown, but no internet on top of it was another blow. Our habits have changed so much that emailing, googling and zooming are now an integral part of the day. I was amazed at how much I missed googling questions about who someone (e.g. Gabriel Byrne) was married to or how to make soup more exciting. Most of all there was no Netflix and I was just coming up to the final episode of the Queen’s Gambit.

Two days ago the heating was restored and now I’m too warm trying to make up for weeks of misery! The internet was restored when the mast in Dunhill was finally repaired. I had to report it every day for a week but in fairness by the time we were back online I had finished my first huge novel by Marian Keyes and another by Margaret Atwood.

Being at home in the pandemic requires space, heat and the internet. There’s no going back now to handwriting letters or commuting to work. Everyone will have to have a home office even if it’s just a corner somewhere. And two people living in the same house will have to have two corners.

Even with a vaccine and the imminent end to lockdown, our ideal home will never be the same again.

Catherine Drea blogs at Foxglovelane.com

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By Catherine Drea
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