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The Diary
Anne Ku

22 October 2000 Sunday


Now that it is noticeably colder, my mind wanders to those who are conscious of their heating bills. They say that the warmer your house is, the richer you are. So the rich get toasted.

When I was a student, I kept the thermostat at 18 degrees Celsius. Some of my housemates begged to differ. Others secretly used electric heaters in their rooms. Old English houses are never uniformly warm like American houses. The bathroom is usually draughty and uncomfortable in the mornings. Splitting up the gas and electricity bills was a major, contestable chore. Do we split by number of people, size of room, actual occupancy period? The windows were not draught-proof. Double-glazing was out of the question - as the landlord saw no benefit.

Fuel poverty is defined as spending at least 10% of your income on heating your home. As a student with negative income, I definitely felt it. Typical room temperature in this country is set at 21 C for the main living space and 18 C elsewhere. The fuel-poor shrink their living space by turning off the heating in rooms they don't normally use. Unfortunately many of these people are the elderly, the disabled, low-income, or single parents with young kids. Come a cold spell, many die. Of the 23 million households in the United Kingdom, up to 6 million are in fuel poverty. Shocking!

A four-storey five bedroom house on top of a French (& later Italian) restaurant - shared by international students. When I first moved in, it was a mess. Smokers had stamped their cigarette butts on the carpets. The refrigerators smelled of old cheese. The kitchen cabinets reeked of moldy bread. No body cared. The landlord charged each tenant by size and location of the individual bedroom. There was no incentive to organise, clean, or share the common areas like the kitchen, bathroom and toilets, living room, and hall way. When it got cold, people randomly changed the thermostat until it broke. I woke up to the smell of cigarettes every morning - until I could not distinguish the smell of smoke from that of freshly brewed coffee.