May 19th, 2006

International Kittens of Mystery

Logs, Language, Fires and Flues Part Eight (The Chicken and the Radiator)

With fate's usual impeccable timing the logs arrived as soon as I'd removed all possibility of using them in the lounge fire. But we did have the kitchen range ... and its fourteen radiators.

Not that we had much confidence in that system, we'd had an old range before and that had had problems keeping six radiators lukewarm. This one looked of a similar ilk.

But we were nothing if not game. We had logs, we had paper, we had kindling. And soon we had a fire. We had no instructions with the range but there was a lever at the front with a large picture of a chicken on one side and a radiator on the other. Even my non-mechanically minded brain could work that one out so I pushed the lever to the radiator position.

Next we had to set the radiator pumps. There was a cupboard in the adjoining outhouse which gave access to the back of the range. It looked like the London Underground map in there. There were pipes everywhere, connecting, interconnecting, appearing, disappearing.

But at least I could identify two pumps. I switched one on. It whirred. I switched the other one on and pipes started juddering in sympathy. I switched it off. Over the coming days we experimented with every combination of the two pumps at various speed settings until we found one that moved water through the system without an accompanying drum roll on the pipes.

But 3,000 square feet of house with nine-foot high ceilings was not going to be greatly affected by fourteen lukewarm radiators. Even with all the upstairs ones turned off we couldn't raise the temperature significantly in those left.

We tried everything we could to boost the range. We riddled the firebox every few minutes, we had all the air vents set to maximum, we opened the doors of the range, we tried bellows. But still we couldn't raise the temperature of the water in the boiler above 35°C. And by the time the pumps moved the water to the radiators - via what appeared to be close on ten miles of pipes - that temperature dropped to the low twenties.

If we both clustered around the lounge radiator we could keep our hands warm - but little else.

So we gave up on the radiators and moved our lounge into the kitchen. If we couldn't use the range to heat the radiators we could at least use it to heat the kitchen.

Couldn't we?

I turned the range to chicken and we huddled around the oven in the evenings, sat back in our chairs with our feet resting on the hob. It wasn't what you could call hot but it wasn't cold either. With the oven doors open you could almost call it pleasant.

But a kitchen is not a lounge. Even with a settee and a couple of chairs pulled through it wasn't the same. I'd had the lounge cabled for television, I'd set up the speakers for the stereo, all our tapes and records were there.

After a few nights of warmth in the kitchen listening to BBC Radio Four go in and out of phase we moved back to the lounge. We had to get that fire going.

(next instalment: Charbon, pourquoi?)