It's about -5 this evening, and we are caught in the grip of an icy spell. I don't remember there being such a long period of cold weather for many years. We haven't had much snow here - it all tends to fall on the Peak District and leaves us untouched - but it is cold and frosty all day. I have had the greenhouse heater going non-stop to keep everything frost free, and the heating in the house hasn't been off since before Christmas. This is an old house, with solid walls, and once the heating is off, the cold presses in through the brickwork and takes the temperature down fairly rapidly. It then takes about 8 - 10 hours to get it warm again. When I am at home (like this evening) I light a fire, not so much because it's needed, as to warm the soul against the dark winter just outside the windows. This morning I bought some logs at Findern garden centre as I like the smell of wood smoke, and the coal shed is nearly empty anyway.
Earlier this evening, there was an almost Dickensian moment. Someone knocked on the back door (no-one except salespeople ever use the front door, and as it is stuck at the moment, that is a good thing). It was my neighbour, on his way in from work.
"Do you have any coal we can borrow," he asked, "All the suppliers have run out."
I gave him what was left in my bucket, but it was small stuff that falls through the grate. He trudged off up the frozen stones of the yard and I went back to my glass of wine and blazing fire. Just like me, the neighbours have central heating as well, and I thought they probably just wanted to light a fire for the same reason. But their house has even more outside walls than mine, and it is colder because of the huge conservatory on the side. And then I started to think about the children, huddling in front of a meagre fire, and took pity.
I went out into the freezing darkness and dug through the coal dust to find as many large bits of coal as I could, and carried them up in a trug. Inside the house, it was decidedly chilly, and the kids were in bed with hot water bottles. I gave them enough to get a decent fire going, and returned home feeling all warm inside at having helped out in this extreme weather.