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Back to the 1970s and Butterwell Farm as the media predicts thousands of deaths from cold this winter

Tom Winnifrith
Friday 2 September 2022

I am not denying that the fuel crisis will hit a lot of folks hard this winter. If our entire political and media class had not driven this nation down the path prescribed by the uneducated doom goblin Greta Thunberg and had we not prolonged the bloodshed in Ukraine we would not be in this mess. But that is for another day. The GroupThink will – on both counts – be shown to be in the wrong just as they were on masks and lockdown. But will thousands die in unheated homes as we are told by the media and the Labour Party each day? I remember my childhood in the 1970s.

That was a time when all the “experts” were not predicting global warming but a new ice age and there were a few cold winters back them. Things were exacerbated by the miner’s strike, the three day week and the soaring cost of oil thanks to OPEC. Until 1977 we lived in an old farmhouse with a thatched roof, Butterwell Farm in Byfield Northamptonshire, about which I have written many times.

I do remember the cold. Waking up to see frosted windows was okay although it was not a great incentive to leave your warm bed and put your clothes on, either for a day at school or to help gather in winter food from the large gardens or to go crack the ice on the water trough of the chickens and give them some food. At least there was a warm bowl of breakfast porridge to look forward to.

In the evenings to save money, or because there was no actual power, we would move from the kitchen where an oil fired aga offered some heat through a cold hallway and playroom to my father’s study where a large fire, with wood he had collected and chopped, would provide heat and some light. But not enough heat, so we’d all be wearing a dressing gown over our pyjamas and maybe a jumper too. If there was no actual light we would burn candles and we would all be reading for there was no TV.

And then to bed. There was no heating in the bedrooms, the one I had, the one my younger sisters shared or my parents room. But my mother would lay extra blankets or an eiderdown quilt, for in those day we did not have duvets, on each of the beds. But it was still cold when you clambered into bed and she would say “pretend you are bicycling” and we’d move our legs as if we were, faster and faster and that warmed the bed up. And we survived. There were no childhood illnesses as a result of this cold, the sort of cold my parents had known in the real years of austerity and rationing in the war and afterwards.

Of course, the Mrs and I plan for this winter in Wales. We have been profligate in the past in the way we consume power here at the Welsh hovel so perhaps we can see what lies ahead as a wake up call. If we continue to waste gas and electric power we can kiss goodbye to another £400 a month as of October. But why should we?

In the main living room, there is a wood fired stove and I have chopped three years worth of wood already. Jaya is soon to move in to share a bed with Joshua and their room is directly above the kitchen where an aga keeps us warm. The Mrs and I can put an extra couple of blankets on the bed and maybe even share a bit of bodily warmth as we enter our tenth year of marriage. In short, we do not need gas fired central heating nor do we need to use more than a few lights. I am even thinking of buying some solar garden lights which will power up in the winter sun and then illuminate the house at night.

One way or another we will manage. It will be far less challenging than it was at Butterwell fifty years ago.  We have all, as a country, become flabby, profligate and soft in the years of cheap fuel and easy money. We can all adjust.

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About Tom Winnifrith
Tom Winnifrith is the editor of When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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