Ah, that old rubric. Humans just can’t help themselves sometimes. We do dumb things. Two examples:
I finally turned the heat on the other day. What, you ask, England gets cold? Sure. It’s now in that London Fog sort of temperature and temperament where the mornings are wet and foggy, the days cloudy and damp, and nights are downright chilly. In short, autumnal. So, the heat goes on. Except that it doesn’t. I don’t hear the rattle of 1950’s pipes leading into and out of our ancient radiators, fat with thirty coats of white paint with each new tenant since the house was built in the post-war expansion of concrete and breeze block. I don’t feel the skinny metal bars heat up or smell the slightly burning stench as the room warms. I don’t subconsciously listen for the hiss of water traveling throughout the house, keeping me awake in the early morning hours when the system kicks on.
Being a true American do-it-yourselfer, I go investigating. This can’t be that hard. I cycle the controls from Timed to On to Off. I turn the water heater on. I reset the boiler. I even check the immersion heater upstairs in the airing cupboard just to be sure that still works when flipped on. (It does.) I bound from room to room, feeling every radiator, checking each is cranked up to max. All signs point to all systems go. I’m getting annoyed now: the boiler is less than a year old and we had no problems in the past. Something has gone haywire over the summer and I can’t figure it out. I take desperate measures. I call our landlord.
I know this will not be a pleasant interaction. Our landlord is a contractor hired by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to look after military housing. It’s nowhere near the level of quality I was used to in the American military. I had no idea American customer service existed; I just thought it was customer service. How wrong I turned out to be. After two years of living in England dealing with epic levels of red tape, bureaucracy, incompetence, ineptitude, and inconsiderate bastards, I know how the game is supposed to be played. I sigh and dial the help desk number.
After an extraordinary amount of time to explain my situation, set up a date, and confirm a reference number, I hang up having successfully wrangled an appointment for a heating engineer to come look at our system in four day’s time. (Having no one under the age of two in our household apparently means there’s no rush. I should have considered Cadbury, our chocolate lab, in the equation as he’s technically still two years old.) My husband is night-flying, so I bundle up in various layers, throw on my pink-and-gray cat slippers that also somehow look like sheep, and huff around the house for the rest of the day. Of all the things to go wrong when it gets cold… And it doesn’t help that our house leaks like a sieve. I debate starting a fire and finally kowtow to the urge when the sun goes down. In the fireplace, sillies.
I retreat to my bed two hours later with fleece pants, a long-sleeved shirt, and fuzzy socks on, yet think I might still be cold. I wonder whether I should use the guest bed duvet in addition to the one currently trying to keep me warm. I invite the cats in to snuggle with me, which they’re more than happy to assist with. Finally, my husband comes home. I vented to him via WhatsApp earlier, so he knows the situation. I hear him moving quietly around downstairs, putting his dirty laundry in the washer, locking the back door, pouring himself a glass of water. As he slowly pads up the carpeted stairs, I hear something.
It’s faint at first and I’m sure I’m making it up. A hissing noise. A slithering. My husband opens the bedroom door and gently closes it.
“The heating engineer’s coming on Tuesday,” I say. “I don’t know what’s wrong.” Even in the dark, I see him turn and smile at me.
“Oh, darling,” he says, “it’s not broken. I just turned up the thermostat.”
That would explain things.
We’re halfway into an eight-hour car journey from Somerset to Scotland when my husband goes quiet. I look at him, patiently driving north in the morning mist, and wait. He’s forgotten something. I’ve forgotten something. Something has been forgotten.
His shirt. I squirm sideways to look into the back seat where his suit is hanging up. “No shirt.”
“We’ll have enough time when we get there to buy a shirt.” The tension in the car lowers by half. Problem solved.
“Shit,” he says again.
“Did you turn off the iron?” Tension skyrockets.
“The iron? In the guest bedroom?” I almost never iron. I can, but I’d rather not. “No.”
He stares at the road in front of him for a while.
“Was the door shut?” he asks.
I think about this. Was the door shut? “I’m pretty sure.”
“Pretty sure?” he repeats.
“Well, yeah. I had no need to go in there so if you closed it, it should be closed.”
He sighs in frustration at my circular reasoning.
“Besides,” I continue, “I’m pretty sure my cats wouldn’t touch an iron, especially a hot one.”
Another pause. He mouths “pretty sure” to himself.
“Did you leave the spare key in our hidey spot?”
“No. I figured we wouldn’t need to since we’ll be back tomorrow.”
My husband nearly rolls his eyes. “I’m so stupid,” he says.
“Hey, it’s alright. Everything will be fine. Maybe the iron’s even one of those with a thermal cutoff, or turns off after a certain period,” I say.
“Well, if our neighbor texts to say our house is on fire, at least we’ll know why.”
Thirty hours later, we arrive back home to a house that doesn’t look burned or even singed. My husband walks into the house as quickly as he can without looking like he’s worried. I follow him in after letting our dog into the yard.
“And?” I ask.
“Yeah, I left the iron on like a dumbass,” he says. “But it was completely fine. Hot, but fine.”
As I learned a long time ago, trust, but verify. Or, always leave a spare key for the neighbors.