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20 March 2024

Toast or a shower? My great energy dilemma

The general consensus among my friends is that I should tell EDF to stick their bill where the sun don’t shine…

By Nicholas Lezard

Last weekend was the memorial party for my friend P-J, whom I wrote about a few weeks ago. I felt a bit of a fraud because it seemed as though everyone else there knew him better than I did; but I was asked to read, and so gave them a slimmed-down version of the column. It was a bittersweet occasion, the bitterness for obvious reasons, but the sweetness because over the course of his life he had amassed and held on to a huge number of friends who all thought he was as lovely as I did. There were friends there I hadn’t seen in decades and it was a delight to be with them again and have a catch-up. I got the train back to Brighton full of wine and bonhomie but the next day was full of melancholy, a kind of comedown, and so was the day after that and the day after that. Today things seem to be a bit better.

But then the tiresome daily admin of life has to be addressed. The first shock was my new bill from EDF. They seem to have decided that £118 is the exact sum of money they want to take out of my account every month. This put me in a pensive mood because, as I have said before, the Hove-l is by no means the largest property in the world; it’s not exactly Balmoral – and, talking of Balmoral, I have wintered in Scotland in the MacHovel, where neither the central heating nor the wood-burning stove worked, and where windows had to be kept open because a century and a half of wallpaper was being stripped, and the fumes from the process would have either got me high in an unwelcome way or just given me cancer. In other words: I know how to keep from freezing to death without putting the heating on.

The mornings and afternoons are spent under the covers, and on the bitterest days I have it on for an hour in the evening. I am also too scared to use the oven any more, and I managed six weeks without a toaster, which also kept the electricity consumption down (I have a replacement: £12.99 from Robert Dyas. It is as rudimentary as they come, and if you want to make the toast pop up before the allotted time you have to switch it off at the wall; but it toasts, and that’s the main thing). I do not want to say how often I lave myself because you might think I pong terribly, but just let’s say that the shower is so rubbish that having one is a penance and an ordeal, and a bath is a rare luxury.

I asked around to see what other people’s utility bills were. One person said I should suck it up as she had to pay £370 a month, but then I pointed out she lived in a four-bedroom house with four occupants, all of whom shower a lot more often than I do, and also a lot of cooking goes on to feed them, and the last time I was there the oven was being used with the abandon of the truly wealthy. I am fairly confident I am not the only person reading this whose energy bills are a source of anxiety.

The general consensus among my friends is that I should tell EDF to stick it where the sun don’t shine and go off to another supplier; Octopus seems the preferred choice among the metropolitan elite. So by the time you read this I will, if I can face the paperwork, have told EDF to go and piss in their hats and save myself enough for an extra few bottles of wine a month. Or pay my council tax to the actual council rather than the bailiffs. That will make a nice change. I also saw the five volumes of the Grove Dictionary of Music in an early-20th-century edition for sale in Oxfam for £7.99; I might splurge on that. And maybe I will go absolutely nuts and order a takeaway from the Magic Wok on Preston Street. The mind reels with the possibilities opening up before me.

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Meanwhile, I take my pleasures where I can. In Brixton for the memorial, a woman queuing up at a roti van pointed out my shoelace was undone, and wouldn’t let me walk a pace further until I’d done it up. For some reason I found this delightful: real mothers never stop. The rest of the queue smiled too. Earlier today an extremely good-looking dog said hello to me as if I were the best thing since Kennomeat, and it is surprising how much that can lift one. (Tip to the dog’s owner: don’t say, “He’s been doing that all day today”; it spoils the magic a bit.) And I read about the Australian billionaire Clive Palmer, who has announced he’s going to build the Titanic II and added, “All you need to be happy, I’ve found in my life, is to have someone that loves you, somewhere to sleep at night and enough for a good meal. Beyond that, the rest is an illusion – it’s like playing golf.” I have no idea what he means by that mention of golf, but I don’t play it so I suppose that’s a good thing, and as for the others, well, two out of three isn’t so bad.

Maybe I could get the full three out of three if I have a bath to take away some of the surface grime. Or – and here’s an idea – he could give me some of his money. Yeah, go on, Clive: give us some of that money you say you’re fed up of counting.

[See also: Love’s true test is being cast adrift on a tiny raft in the Pacific]

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This article appears in the 20 Mar 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Easter Special 2024