Published on March 20th, 2016 | by Flipside0
The Big Freeze: Part I
Here be the story of an Edinburgh student flat that went almost an entire month without heating. Dark and harrowing, it shows human kind simultaneously at its most vulnerable yet resilient. The names have been changed, but everything else is cold, hard fact – emphasis on ‘cold’.
Day 1: Sunday.
Hungover and inexplicably freezing I am clinging to my duvet cover. Where is all the warm? Why am I not sweating?
I crawl out of bed and touch the radiator. Stone cold.
My flatmate Shmyl’s room is warm because he is above the pub. He emerges into an arctic hallway and takes a shower which is, at best, lukewarm. He piles out of the bathroom shivering and mumbles something about the boiler.
The boiler is fucked. The boiler man arrives and tells us this in slightly more words.
There is no hot water.
Or hot radiators. Or hot anything.
The only topic of conversation in the flat is coldness. It is so cold, somehow much colder than the outside world.
Layer count: 3
Dishes pile up because you can’t clean anything without hot water, and the dishwasher agrees.
Warmth has become a sort of currency. Shmara tries to steal other people’s warmth by surreptitiously hugging them. Shmaisie turns the oven on and hangs out right next to it. I boil the kettle and add to colder water and soak my hands in that glorious nectar because I have terrible circulation.
Even in the worst conditions, the human instinct of survival has always found ways of coping.
Any residual warmth that was ever there is now gone. The acrid stench of last night’s cooking mingled with stale cigarettes lingers in the kitchen because opening the window is out the question.
We are finding innovative places to shower: campus, gym, friend’s flats or not at all. I haven’t showered in days and feel all the better for it.
Kidding. I want to die.
Before bed, the four of us literally huddle together for warmth.
Layer Count: 5
Another, more cocksure boiler man arrives. All of us have stayed in to make sure someone was there to let him in.
He examines our ancient, decrepit boiler and says he can fix it.
He is wrong.
An hour later the boiler is more fucked than he or anyone else realises. He doesn’t have the right parts. But says he will come back with them tomorrow.
Layer count: none of us can move we’re wearing so many layers. Pooing is difficult.
We begin to wonder if maybe our human rights are being violated. We do some basic research. They are.
It has been almost a week, and Shmyle has the bright idea of getting a space heater. The respite is blissful. Noisy, recycled, orgasmically warm air bathes us as we sit, huddled together in its jetsream.
Then come the arguments about who gets the heater for the evening. Battle lines are drawn. Relationships break down. We descend to a feral state and begin communicating only through violence and guttural, choking, retching noises.
Shmara makes a dash for the heater, but Shmaisie tackles her out the way. As they wrestle, Shmyle dives for the heater and escapes to his room. I kick down his door and we have a showdown for the heater. He wins, but agrees I can sleep on his floor.
Shmaisie and Shmara spend the night in the wild.
We eat breakfast from chopping boards because there are no clean dishes. It is a sad occasion, but with the heater in the kitchen and everyone relatively toasty, relationships heal. For now.
Shmaisie produces a spare hot water bottle that she had kept pretty quiet until now. We share it round, as the warmth currency re-stabilises. Shmara briefly threatens a Brexit on account of not being given enough warmth, but is talked out of it knowing how it could affect the markets. As the person who paid for the heater, and therefore the one who regulates the market, Shmyle is smug about this.
We watch Finding Nemo together in a cosy, warm, space-heated living room, covered in multiple blankets.
We each retire to a cold bed, safe in the knowledge the boiler man is coming tomorrow. He has the parts and will fix everything.
All is right with the world
And it turns out the boiler is actually dangerously broken, not just regular broken. Fortunately, in the process of discovering this he covers the kitchen floor with a layer of soot and dust, making it warmer but no longer possible to wear socks.
The good news is we are no longer just freezing. We are now also hopeless.
Layer Count: All of my clothes at once. I am literally Princess Layer.
A third boiler man arrives. Boiler man? Boiler Superman. Das Boiler Ubermensch.
He fixes the boiler.
No hassle. No fuss. No bullshit. Just us and a working boiler.
Hot water gushes forth from every tap. We run it for half an hour just because we can. We drink it straight from the tap and burn our mouths. Because we can.
The radiators take a while to heat up, but we have meaning in our lives, happiness in our bones and a new found sense of purpose.
The radiators still haven’t heated up. Funny that.
Dejected howls emanate from every bedroom as we again to begin to regress to our natural, animal states. Shmara and Shmyle have a fistfight over who can shower first. Shmara triumphs and showers for 45 minutes, chittering like a raccoon throughout. Shmyle returns to his room licking his wounds, but crucially still in possession of the space heater.
Shmaisie and I consider turning the oven to about sauna temperature and sticking our heads in there to warm up, then remember that’s probably not the best idea. We settle for hot water bottles.
We realise it’s actually an electric oven, and climb inside for a few minutes. It is warm.
We all spend the day out of the house. We are used to the cold but can’t bear the idea of willingly returning to it.
We gradually trickle home, returning to our timeless, icy realm.
Shmara warms her hands on the hob, and singes her hair in doing so. She doesn’t mind. Not only is she warm, but the kitchen is filled with that delightfully fragrant burnt hair smell.
The cold has become too much for Shmyle and myself. We leave for London and the promise of dwellings warm.
On the train, Shmaisie sends us a picture of the three mini-heaters our landlord Shmonald has sent us. Eleven days too late.
We journey safe in the knowledge that there is warmth ahead.