Tuesday 26 February 2013

A Damp and a Freeze

A Squash and a Squeeze by the wonderful writer/ artist duo of Julia Donaldson and Azel Scheffler, was, much to my delight, my youngest daughter’s favourite book a lifetime ago. Only young, I think the fable of its message passed her by, she simply loved the sing-song rhyme, joining in with, ‘Wise old man won’t you help me please, my house is a squash and a squeeze,’ with gusto. However, I’ve been referring to the brilliant simplicity of this tale ever since.

Move over Aesop.

A tired old lady seeks the help of the local vicar when her house on the farm just feels too small. It’s a fair gripe, the house is poky. Instead of instructing the Hand Of God, however, the vicar commands the lady to fill her house, one by one, with her animals. How on earth will that help? the woman cries but, nonetheless, trusts in the vicar’s wisdom.

Once she’s filled her house with every one of her animals then summarily removed them all, the house no longer feels a Squash and a Squeeze but positively roomy. Clever vicar.

A few weeks ago, my boiler broke. I returned after a night out to find the floor around it flooded but, once ascertained that this was indeed boiling water and not oil and I would thus not need to evacuate the sleeping household, I simply switched off the boiler and hoped that my Carlsberg of a boiler engineer would be able to fix it quickly and cheaply the next day.

Oh dear.

The new one - not so different from the old.
The boiler had died. Over the next three weeks the floor had to be replaced as the leak had caused it to rot and my washing machine was threatening to slip through into the foundations below. Meanwhile, I had to amass quotes with constant sharp-intaking of breath. Phew! Oil (gas hasn't made it to our village yet) boilers are expensive.

During the wait for the new boiler, I:
- learnt that there is an optimum temperature under which clothes, particularly children’s school skirts, will not dry
- rekindled my love for our wood burning stove, the kettle and the oil-filled radiator.
- fell in love with the immersion heater
- realised that the immersion heater does not heat more than enough water for half a shower and was reminded that being stranded with a head-full of shampoo and the deluge of cold water to wash it away, is tantamount to torture
- realised that tumble driers still shrink clothes however desperate the washer woman’s plight.
- used over a pound of sugar in the oil engineer’s tea. Honestly – three spoons in every cup and skinny as a pole with, as far as I could tell, great teeth.
- learnt that even fingerless gloves are not conducive to typing
- adored the winter quilt

Now, I don’t believe that a boiler breaking down when you are fortunate enough to have a rainy day fund to tap into (do you see what I did there?), is anywhere near a crisis. Yes, our health is the most important pre-requisite to happiness and four walls also help a lot. But I have to say, when the temperature plummeted and my fingers became so cold I had to plunge them into a bowl of water direct from the boiled kettle (I know, I know), my eldest daughter was going to bed in pyjamas, gloves and slippers and my youngest announced that she hadn’t had a shower for four days because she kept missing the one-shower-a-night slot, the passage from old boiler to new did become a little trying.

The Carlsberg engineer fitted the new boiler in only two of the allotted three days. The house warmed up like a Ready Brek advert and, once my family were showered and cleansed and packed off to warm beds, I had a bath; a full, steaming, bubbly bath. Never has hot water felt so luxurious nor bubbles so soft. How much do I now appreciate constant hot water and warm toes? The instant gratification of pink skin again, was almost worth the time without.

This was my Squash and a Squeeze moment. Or should I say, my Damp and a Freeze?

Have you had a Squash and a Squeeze moment recently? Please share!


  1. Sounds awful. I'm bad enough in the cold weather. I spend quite a lot of my days at home - when I try not to have the heat on if I'm alone - wearing a lovely woolly hat!!

    A Squash and a Squeeze was one of my favourite books to read to my kids when they were young. Monkey Puzzle was my all time favourite!

    1. Ah yes, Monkey Puzzle was also lovely. It just seems like yesterday, sigh...

      It's horrible being cold when you work. Have you invested in a pair of USB heated slippers yet? Seriously, they changed my life!

  2. I travel, so can find myself in some odd situations that need a sense of humour to get through. During my last trip to Laos I had a rat in my room - I persuaded myself that, after the tiger I was far too close to in Nepal, I could definitely cope with a rat!

    And - having to use bottled water to clean my teeth, and put toilet paper in the bin and not down the loo cos the sewage system won't cope with it - more things I don't miss when I get home.

    1. Jo, persuading yourself that you can cope with a rat because you've been close to a tiger is a fine example of a Squash and a Squeeze moment, not to mention being HUGELY impressive. I'm not in the slightest bit afraid of spiders, can tolerate mice under duress but have a massive phobia of rats. They just look so, well, evil and the mere thought of them makes me want to reach for the antiseptic. They do say there's one within ten feet of every house, don't they? Hmmm. Would you mind taking on mine for me??

  3. ooooo - the "not having a shower" experience is awful...you have my sympathy.
    Ours was a similar story when the water pipes from the well froze during winter 2010 in -17C. It was Christmas Eve and we awoke to no water and no gas (ours is a little Calor cylinder out beside the back doorstep) meaning NO CUP OF TEA !!!!
    Had to climb into the attic and unearth the electric kettle that was banished due to the speed at which it made the electricity meter go round...
    Scraped together enough water for a cuppa, then the dash into town (with the rest of the village, also in a similar predicament) to buy bottled water along with the Christmas veg. No showers, just baby wipes or a strip-wash (again, the neighbours being in a similar situation meant we all smelled the same) and the excitement of the twice daily trips to the nearby river with ropes and buckets to collect water for the ponies and hens and the twice-daily loo flush was better than Christmas !!

    Gave us an excuse to get stuck into the wine though.

    And the sheer delight a week later when the kitchen tap started trickling again was cause for huge celebration (and hairwashing)

    (Room on the Broom was our favourite)

    1. Oh my, Hazel, that's just horrendous. And the starting it all with no cup of tea, well, I could barely read on from that point! But yes, I can imagine that a trickle from a kitchen tap was like a puddle in a desert in that situation.

      Everyone absolutely adored Room on the Broom, too. I think that was an equal fave with Squash and a Squeeze - no surprise to learn that Julia Donaldson was Children's Laureate.

      Thanks for reading!

  4. had the odd cold shower in Greece many years ago - does that count? Ever thought about changing jobs.....

  5. Yes, cold shower ANYWHERE in my book counts! And what job did you have in mind, children's story teller? I'd love that but not sure there's massive line of paid employment in it, alas! Thanks for reading :)!


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