Monday, February 01, 2010

Born in a barn

The Carbon Mother-in-law comes to stay. For ten days. The pavement is covered in ice and she arrives wearing a pair of stiletto shoes, tottering around like a celebrity skater. She walks in, greets the children and firmly shuts the door. The house is warm as we know she likes it that way. In fact it’s tropical, with the radiators blasting away all day and half of the night. It gives the new boiler a chance to show us what it’s made of. It’s bliss. No more shivering in the morning, reaching over the double duvet for polo neck sweaters. The carbon copies wander around in their pyjamas, having shed their usual layers of pyjamas, sweaters, double dressing gowns, socks and slippers. All that’s missing now is underfloor heating in the kitchen for maximum comfort when making breakfast. Hurrah for the Carbon Mother-in-law.

But the Carbon Mother-in-law is cold. She is also very irritated: by the doors. Not just one door, but all of them. Each rooms downstairs is interlinked with another, and each has two doors. The breakfast room even has three. The kids rush in and out every few seconds with their dolls or prams, footballs or games. “Shut the door,” their granny rants. “You’d think you were born in a barn,” she rails. At first the kids attempt to comply, but after a week they can’t be bothered, and they rush out leaving doors ajar. “I told you to shut the door,“ their granny booms. She turns to me and berates me on my lack of energy efficiency, “Why don’t you teach them to shut the door? They’re letting all the heat out every time they come into the room.” I remind her that there’s normally no need to shut the door because there’s only a small window in the year when her son permits central heating. But the Carbon Mother-in-law isn’t listening. She’s busy blaming the entire heat loss of the planet on our lack of door closing habits.

By the end of the first week, I can’t bear to hear her repeat the phrase any more, so I take it on myself to remind the kids. As soon as the door opens a crack, I tell the opener to close it immediately. I’m like a door obsessed parrot. I consider taping off rooms, and think about moving to a bungalow. Half way into the second week, I start to get paranoid about door handles: before touching one I stop to consider whether the effort of turning it is worth the reminder about closure. Meanwhile the house is way too hot, I feel like I’m living in Spain, and I’m tempted to start opening the windows to let fresh air in again.

We take the children and the Carbon Mother-in-law to Morecambe for a walk. The Carbon Copies have laser guns and are keen to play on the beach. But their granny is cold, so we make for the nearest café. The middle Carbon Copy goes to the toilet, and I wink at him as he pushes the door to with a very firm hand and clicks the lock. “See Granny, you’ve got them trained up,” I say. Five minutes later the wailing begins. While I check out the adjacent toilet to see how the lock works, other customers line up with table knives, coins and pens to try and jiggle the lock. The middle Carbon Copy can’t be comforted. When we finally get him out, with the help of the café owner and a kitchen implement, he glares at his Granny.

The Carbon Mother-in-law departs for London and I firmly shut the door. The house might have retained warmth better while she was here, but it wasn’t worth all the stress. I turn the switch down on the boiler. It’s back to arctic conditions for us. After all, the most energy efficient boiler is one that isn’t using energy. The eldest Carbon Copy walks through the living room, leaving both doors ajar. I can tell he’s enjoying the simple pleasure of hassle free door opening. We exchange smiles. “Do you live in a barn?” I ask. “I was born in one,” he replies.

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