Thursday, November 03, 2016


Up all night wearing coat plus scarf plus two and half sweaters plus tights plus warm trousers but still cold, too cold to get into bed because if I fell asleep I might not wake up early enough to phone boiler repair people.

My flat is currently excruciating because the boiler stopped working and it's all because a plumber I called about two weeks ago to fix a minor flaw (not a heat-cancelling flaw) did Something to the boiler. Something he explained at great length but with little clarity, involving a piece of rubber tubing and a bucket. When he was finished and paid he said he'd come back as soon as he returned from holiday because the boiler needed a new tap kit and he'd bring this. The pressure gauge went down to zero and stayed there but the heating still worked. This boiler has worked well for several years but yesterday it packed up - nice timing! Cold weather coincided. I've left progressively urgent messages on said plumber's phone, at first cheerful, then apologetic, then terse, then angry, then tearful etc. No response of any kind from him. Of course. 

So I've been sitting in the kitchen leaning against my electric oven, waiting for a new boiler repair person to arrive. But that won't be for another couple of hours, so I've been thinking, as one does.

I'm incredibly, impossibly, unfairly privileged. My suffering consists of a malfunctioning boiler on a rather cold day. I'm not homeless, I'm not sleeping on cardboard in the street, or abandoned, lost in a burnt-out jungle in Calais or elsewhere. Compared to millions of people nearby or far away on this planet I'm wallowing in luxury, unimaginably fortunate. So fortunate that it's shameful. Yet I'm dependent on the comforts I take for granted. Even temporarily deprived of them I'm ready to rage at the failure of people and technology to provide me with the instant and efficient services I demand, pay for and can't live without.

I know my shame is theoretical, merely a blog post to while away this cold time while I wait for warmth to be restored.

But still, I'm thinking.


Nasreen Iqbal said...

It's hard to remember just how fortunate we are, especially when some relatively minor discomfort arises!

Thank you for the reminder.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Welcome and thank you too Nasreen, for being here.

B.W. said...

No offense, but I think I've heard the word "privilege" enough for about 20 lifetimes at this point. I don't know about over there, but it's become a bit of a buzzword in the U.S.

Obviously, some people don't have to deal with the hardships that some others have to deal with. Obviously, some people have problems that they have to cope with that others don't. A person would have to be blind not to see that.

However, I think that there's a strange inversion that goes on by constantly putting this in terms of "privilege." It seems that instead of putting the focus on alleviating or eliminating these hardships, it puts the focus on burdening everyone else with some kind of nebulous guilt. It creates a situation where if you have one single solitary person somewhere in the world that's chained to the wall against their well, then the deal isn't that that person has a "chained to the wall problem"; the deal is that the rest of us are experiencing "unchained from the wall privilege" and should hang our heads accordingly.

I suppose the purpose is to evoke more empathy for the person chained to the wall, but I don't think it's very effective in that regard. Semantics aside, people either are or aren't going to feel empathy for that person chained to the wall. And for those that don't, having the rest of us wag our fingers at them about their supposed "privilege" isn't going to really do anything but antagonize them and stir up resentment, when all the while this energy could be better spent in trying to unchain the person from the wall.

Catalyst said...

I was reading about the police discovering a woman in South Carolina chained like a dog in a storage container. She had been missing since August and a registered sex offender was arrested. The woman's boyfriend is still missing. Yes you, and all of us, are lucky.

B.W. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Vincent said...

I think I may know what the problem is, as I do my own boiler repairs up to a point and touch wood we may get through the cold snap unscathed.

If your pressure has gone down to zero it may be that the boiler refuses to pump water through the heating pipes.

It sounds as though you have a drip which gradually lowers the pressure. In order to correct it you merely have to turn on a certain tap for a few seconds till the pressure comes back up—enough to show a reading on the gauge and then the boiler will work again.

The rubber tube and bucket may (or may not) provide a clue to the location of that tap, which may be the thing which needs replacing.

If my diagnosis is right, you may not need the fully-fledged plumber, with all the tools and know-how, to tide you over in the meantime, but some nerd near you to follow up this suggestion, which I'm 80% sure would work.

The tap would be near to the boiler on a water pipe connected to the main. It might not look like a tap, but more like a thing you turn on and off with a flat screwdriver.

Tom said...

I believe there is something flawed about comparing our lives with those of others. It feels like a form of psychological projection of our feelings about our circumstances onto other people. Isn't that a little unreal?

I do note that you say, "I know my shame [really?] is theoretical." I conclude therefore that perhaps my comment is unnecessary. On the other hand, your post is a reminder that we are not alone, that we all suffer these unwanted and needless interactions with some other people.

I hope that by the time you receive this comment, your heating problems will be solved.

Leah Hewittsmith said...

another fascinating topic: shame and pre-village. Your art is hope those fingers get toasty again, : ))

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

BW, Bruce and Tom: since the three of you mentioned a similar point, I hope you don't mind my replying to it collectively. Thank you for your comments.

All I was saying is that feeling miserably cold in my flat because of a malfunctioning boiler brought to mind sharply the huge difference between my temporary discomfort and what it must be like for those who are feeling the cold and misery in circumstances when there is no hope of relief. I wasn't preaching guilt, only expressing awareness of my own, yes: privilege. It's only by chance, after all, an accident of fate, that I'm in a warm (now, boiler-repaired) home rather than sleeping in the street or in a refugee camp. What's wrong with suddenly being strongly aware of this? I did admit that any shame I may have felt was theoretical. I know that I'm not going to give up all my creature comforts and spend the rest of my life trying to help the cold and hungry and disposessed. I know that my empathy is limited. But awareness isn't a waste of time. In some cases, it has changed people's lives.

But Bruce, I don't see how the news item you mention is relevant. Of course terrible things happen to other people which are not happening to us. And vice versa. That's not really what I was talking about.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Vincent, thanks for your technical diagnosis. It is partly correct but I won't go into the details of my boiler malfunction as that would be too boring. I knew about those two taps, turning them on etc. but the first plumber (he who now is in hiding!) messed up. The engineer who came yesterday has fixed everything and warmth is now restored. I'm sure you could have resolved the issue too but you're too far away!

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Leah, thanks for your continuing interest.

Lucy said...

I just spent about an hour writing a long and worthy comment about suffering, powerlessness, agency, god knows what, and lost the lot in a google 'bad request' after trying to preview it. I can't believe this can still happen! Now it's my turn to fume and fulminate with an embittered sense of frustrated entitlement and misplaced privilege that technology has so let me down!

You'll have to take my word for how very clever and perceptive and illuminating my comment was, I'm not going to try to re-write it, but I'm very glad you're warm again!

Lucy said...

Serves me write for not writing it out in notepad first. There, I'm taking responsibility now...

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Lucy, aaaargh....I know the horrible experience of one's long, brilliant comment disappearing down the black hole of google. I really would love to have read yours and if you can bear to repeat it - or a condensed version - that would be lovely. I have no idea why it happens or what a 'bad request' is but I suppose one should make a copy of one's worthy comments before trusting them to outrageous fortune.