Spectator: Life in the freezer

Lucy Baring’s life in the freezer.

The potatoes are chitting and broad beans and sweet peas are poking up their noses in the unheated greenhouse. I’m making ambitious plans for planting in the garden and Zam’s out with the chainsaw again. The countryside is beyond its baldest and the hardy hydrangeas are covered in buds. It’s less than a month before the clocks change and spring is in the air. But it isn’t.

The car themometer may say it’s a cheery 5˚ outside, but, inside, it’s still icy. The tulips I bought two weeks ago are sitting pertly in the vase, having barely aged, their life-cycle suspended in the sitting-room temperature as effectively as the meat in the freezer. At half-term, the children take to spending the day in bed.

Outside, the house is beginning to look like a Swiss chalet. The pile of wood that was once a gigantic cypress tree is gradually diminishing as Zam splits each enormous chunk into logs, which are carefully stacked around every available wall. But these are too wet to burn and the dry logs we inherited with the house have dwindled to nothing.

When the hot water ran out last weekend, at the moment the Aga packed in, we stared at each other and checked the oil level, again. I’m obsessed with the oil level because our old house ran on gas and I’ve been smugly bemused when people run out of fuel.

We had the tank filled just the other day. And although the level now looked low, it didn’t look that low, so we called the Aga people. My delight at seeing the same man who serviced our Aga in the old house, and then the rented house, cannot be overestimated and we take up where we left off conversationally in all our encounters over 15 years. His insider knowledge of the kitchens of Middle England provides information any househunter ought to pay for.

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It transpires that, although we have plenty of oil, the tank which is a temporary one (on account of the old one being pushed over by the roots of the cypress tree) is sitting too high and thus the oil can’t flow to the Aga. Or, at this moment, to the boiler. We need to keep it filled to the brink, but the oilmen are busy and can’t come for at least a week.

There are piles of wood dotted around the garden and Zam becomes as obsessed with their burning capabilities as I am with oil levels, holding different bits aloft as he weighs them. They may have been lying in the grass for years, but, still, some feel light and burnable, if we give them a couple of weeks under shelter. ‘That,’ he declares, ‘is seasoned’ and he disappears with the wheelbarrow. In the meantime, I head out to buy some of those weirdly regular lumps sold in bags at the garage.

Increasingly, it’s like living in the 1970s. We have a single landline for which people queue and which, when it rings, has an uncertain, shy-sounding teenager at the other end asking for one of the children they’re not used to this, having to go through another person. We huddle round the fire. We wonder how to warm soup. All we need is a power cut and The Two Ronnies.

I stare out of the window, watching my breath cloud, looking at the snowdrops under rain. The next day, the skies are blue. There’s more birdsong. It’s nearly the fishing season. But this is the most fickle of moments. Don’t take the vest off until after Easter.

A message comes through from Will asking us if we’d like to FaceTime, which we would. He’s lying in a hammock, wearing dark glasses in the dark. It transpires that these, which have prescription lenses, are now his only ones on account of losing his normal pair in the sea last weekend. He asks us to send his prescription. We tell him to go to a Brazilian optician. He’s a little concerned at taking an eye test in Portuguese.

Apart from this, he’s having a great time and then he sighs as he says: ‘I can’t remember what it’s like to be cold.’ I very nearly press the ‘off’ button.