TOM UTLEY: Soon I'll be sneaking upstairs to turn the heating on

TOM UTLEY: Soon I’ll be sneaking upstairs to turn the heating on… and my wife will march up to turn it off and insist I put on an extra jumper

Have you turned on the heating yet? If these were normal times, I would have done so about a fortnight ago, when I felt the first nip of autumn in the air.

But this year, with gas prices heading for the stratosphere, I’ve been holding out manfully, resisting the temptation to sneak upstairs and slide the switch to the ‘on’ position when my wife isn’t looking.

Mrs U, I should explain, is a hardy Scot who doesn’t seem to feel the cold nearly as sensitively as her wimpish English husband. She’s also much more careful with the bawbees — except, I should add, when it comes to summoning builders and decorators to knock down walls, lay new carpets, install kitchen units, repave the patio and generally give the whole property a makeover, whether it needs it or not.

She’s always careful, for example, to look out for special offers in Sainsbury’s, whereas I couldn’t begin to tell you the going rate for a pack of butter or a tin of chopped tomatoes. When it’s my turn to do the shopping, I just plonk the stuff on her list into the trolley without a glance at the price tag.

(Even I have noticed, however, that the bill at the checkout becomes more frightening every week.)

This year, with gas prices heading for the stratosphere, I’ve been holding out manfully, resisting the temptation to sneak upstairs and slide the switch to the ‘on’ position when my wife isn’t looking

Endurable

She’s also careful to switch off Alexa at the wall, telling me that it costs a fortune to keep our smart speaker on standby — though I bet it sets us back no more than a few pence a month.

Yet this week she thought nothing of recruiting the most expensive seamstress in the area to make new curtains for our bedroom, at a sum I don’t dare think about.

This is despite the fact that the last ones we bought, no more than ten years ago, do the job quite adequately, whether or not they happen to go with her new colour scheme for the room.

Where the heating is concerned, however, I accept that she has a very good point. This year, in particular, we really should make a special effort to delay switching it on for as long as the temperature remains endurable.

I tell myself that this is not only a sensible economy measure, but a relatively painless way of demonstrating solidarity with Ukraine after the Russian invasion.

After all, if we in the West can suppress our demand for gas — and thereby lower the worldwide wholesale price — we may marginally reduce Putin’s power to inflict economic suffering on countries that have recklessly allowed themselves to become over-dependent on Russia.

Yet already I feel myself weakening, as the mercury begins to drop. Indeed, I fear it will not be long before my wife and I renew the battle of wills that has become an annual feature of our lives for at least the past decade, since I began to feel more susceptible to the cold. I will sneak upstairs to slide that switch. Then as soon as she notices that the radiators are warming up, she’ll nip up and turn them off again, telling me to stop squandering cash and advising me to put on an extra jumper if I’m feeling chilly.

Meanwhile, as likely as not, she will be scouring the internet for ideas to develop her latest, wildly expensive home-improvement scheme.

Mind you, I wasn’t always such a wimp about the cold. Like so many of my generation, born in the early 1950s, I was brought up in draughty homes without central heating, in which we could see our breath when we woke on a winter morning. But I never felt hard done by on that account.

Indeed, one of my fondest memories of childhood is the reek of the paraffin stove we used to rely on for warmth in winter, along with extra blankets, sweaters and hot water bottles.

My mother used to say, by the way, that she would never dream of having central heating, because it would do terrible damage to the furniture. But even as a child, I knew that the real reason my parents didn’t have it installed was that they couldn’t possibly afford it.

She’s also careful to switch off Alexa at the wall, telling me that it costs a fortune to keep our smart speaker on standby — though I bet it sets us back no more than a few pence a month

Luxuries

It was not until my mother eventually moved into an almshouse, long after my father died, that she experienced central heating in her own home for the first time in her life. She admitted it was utter bliss.

But I’m not going to bore you all, and infuriate the young, by whining about how tough life was in the austerity years after World War II, when luxuries that so many have come to take for granted —such as washing machines, foreign travel and, yes, central heating — were strictly for the well-off.

Least of all will I protest, as so many have done, that those of us who had to pay 15 per cent on our mortgages had more to complain about than today’s homebuyers, who are threatened with only 5 per cent or 6 per cent.

I may be rotten at maths, but even I realise that 15 per cent of £147,000, which was what I paid in 1988 for our four-bedroom house in South London, is a damn sight less than 5 per cent of the £1 million that same house would have cost me, had I bought it last week.

No, I fully accept the truth behind the often-stated claim that we British baby boomers are in many ways the luckiest generation in history. We’ve never been conscripted to fight a war, we had access to ‘free’ university education (at least for the fortunate few who got in), same-day appointments with GPs and dentists, and the choice of a wide variety of careers with long-term prospects.

Not only did we enjoy all those advantages, but today we’re offered triple-lock pensions, free travel and senior citizen discounts at a host of cinemas, theatres and exhibitions.

Crash

I’m at least moderately confident that the present crisis will pass, just as soon as the financial world recovers from its panic attack and calmly considers what is actually being proposed

Best of all, just at the moment when a fit of panic in the City threatens to turn the economy belly-up, most of the home-owners among us find ourselves with our mortgages paid off, sitting on assets that will still be worth many times what we paid for them, even if the worst predictions of a crash in the housing market come true.

Meanwhile, as prices of everything soar, far too many of the young find themselves faced with the choice between heating and eating or paying the rent. As for any hopes of home-ownership they may once have harboured, these are receding further every day.

Indeed, it doesn’t surprise me in the least that after 12 years of neglect by Conservative-led administrations, young people in their droves are looking to other parties for a glimmer of hope.

Don’t misunderstand me. I remain a dyed-in-the-wool Tory myself and I’m firmly convinced that Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng have the right approach in going flat-out for economic growth (though, God knows, both could do with a crash course in how to sell their policies to the public and the City).

I’m at least moderately confident that the present crisis will pass, just as soon as the financial world recovers from its panic attack and calmly considers what is actually being proposed.

But in the past, the Tories could always rely on the ageing process to instil a bit of wisdom in the heads of the young and turn Left-wing student agitators into pillars of the local Conservative association.

I’m not at all sure they can depend on that any longer.

So, yes, I readily admit that many baby boomers like me have it pretty good, with nothing much more to worry about than our children’s finances and the faint risk of incurring our other halves’ displeasure by turning on the central heating too soon.

But the young are the future. Unless the Conservatives turn their minds quickly to offering them hope, I fear their own future may be lost.

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