Thursday, July 26, 2007

Farewell to the ‘Flickering fire.’

I have explained before that Iris lived in an older type house that had been her mother’s home for some years before she died in 1971. After her death, the tenancy was transferred to Iris who had been living there since 1960. When I ‘moved in’ for four days a week, we decorated all the rooms and replaced the old furniture bit by bit. I wrote about this some time ago. (“A much-needed refurbishment,” April 1st 2006)
Iris was a little reluctant to get rid of the old coal fire as she said it always looked warm and inviting. I didn’t push the point because it would have cost an arm and a leg to pull it all out and replace it with either a gas or electric fire. The decision, however, was made for us by the local council who had a refurbishment project under way for such older property as this. Iris was offered a choice of either a new maisonette or a complete modernisation of her present house; she chose the latter.
The upgrade consisted of double-glazing, central heating and a new bathroom suite. There was nothing to pay, apart from a rent increase, which was understandable and we both agreed that it would be nice to have a constant heat source instead of having to lay a fire after a day’s work. The whole conversion would be done over a period of seven days and interruption would be at a minimum. (It was said!)

When the workmen arrived a couple of weeks later, they started on the house next door. We saw that their kitchen was out of action, there was no hot water, no heating and a film of dust covered every surface! We decided that when our turn came, we would leave them the keys and take ourselves off for a few days even if it meant digging into our annual holiday time.
Work started on a Thursday, if I remember correctly and we managed to live with the upset for the first couple of days but by the weekend, we realised we’d be better off out of it! We farmed Smoky out to some cat-loving friends and we spent a week in
London where Iris originally wanted to go before the Paris trip last Easter. She was absolutely fascinated by the Underground system and her first sight of Big Ben lit her face up! We spent the best part of a day in the Tower of London and I took great delight in telling her some of the history about it.
I told her, of course that ‘Big Ben’ was the name of the bell and not the tower and I recounted the story of how Sir Benjamin Hall had raised the question in Parliament as to what name should be given to the huge thirteen and a half ton bell. Someone suggested “Big Ben” after Sir Benjamin and the name stuck! I think that this was an apocryphal story as the incident was never recorded on the official minutes. (Hansard) The bell first rang out on May 31st 1859.

Incidentally, after two months, the bell cracked and had to be ’stitched’ and a lighter hammer replaced the original one. The result of the crack can be heard even now, every time the bell is rung on the hour just as the initial sound is fading.
We spent a couple of days in the
East End of the city with some friends of mine and Iris was highly amused at some of the characters she met.

We returned home to find new windows, a new central heating system, a new bathroom suite complete with a separate shower cubicle and a pot-plant left by the workmen in return for our leaving tea, sugar and cans of soup for them while they had been working.
Iris remarked that the shower cubicle looked big enough for two so that evening, we just had to try it. While it was big enough for two (just!) with a bit of a squeeze, there wasn’t a lot of room left for anything else other than washing! The only sad thing about the conversion was that there could be no more poems about making love in front of the “Flickering fire.” Several of my verses have mentioned it and it really was a romantic setting. However, having a spot of nookie in front of a radiator didn’t have the same ring to it somehow!

No comments: