Then there was the compulsory splash of cold water on the face which some might call invigorating but, in reality, was a brief torture. We always dressed quickly.
Who would want to linger, half clothed in such cold?
One great treat was, once dressed, to run downstairs and drape myself over the old, solid fuel Esse cooker, which did heat the kitchen nicely.
Many reading this will perhaps snort in disdain at the luxury of such things as a large solid fuel cooker.
But the rest of the house remained cold and it was how people lived then. I suppose that when compared to the tenements of Dublin at that time, it was indeed luxury. I wonder were old mud-walled cottages with a turf fire lighting 24 hours a day warmer. Perhaps they were.
Some years ago, I spent a few days visiting some friends who resided in a large and ancient stone house in Wexford.
On getting up in the morning, I had to jump up and down and run around the bedroom to try and get my circulation going.
During breakfast, my host remarked laughingly that the butter was actually softer in the refrigerator than when left on the kitchen table. Is this the kind of austere living that we hear so many complain about these days?
Are the people who are now in temporary accommodation and complaining about having to live in hotel rooms as cold as we were? Somehow, I think not.
In my childhood, we burnt coal in what were quite small fireplaces and in the evening my father would cover the coals with damp slack to keep the fire ticking over during the night. I cannot imagine why we didn't burn firewood, of which there was an ample supply on the farm, and construct larger hearths to accommodate logs.
Funnily enough, I don't recall anyone having wood-burning stoves then, although they were widely used at that time in Nordic countries. What a difference they would have made compared with huddling up to an almost useless small fire where the only warm part of you was the bit facing the flame.
Your back was bound to be chilled thanks to the prevailing temperature and the draughts from poorly insulated windows and doors.
There was no double glazing or proper insulation, nor had it been even thought of. I think that, in those days, any form of comfort like a warm house was considered almost sinful while austere living was presumed to be good for both our physical and spiritual health.
I was of course lucky in that we had running water, indoor toilets and hot baths, even if the bathroom itself was arctic.
What must it have been like to run to an outdoor loo on a January morning and then wash under a hand pump?
How times have changed.
Social accommodation is not so bad
If you are young and fit, there is no great hardship in a bit of cold and I would far prefer it to the overheated, headache-inducing atmosphere that seems to be normal nowadays in most office buildings and hotels.
On the other hand, we constantly hear people complaining about social accommodation in hotel rooms even though they have subsidised heating, modern cookers and TVs, access to showers, proper indoor loos and running hot water.
If a rat is seen in a school yard, it's a signal to close the place down, yet in my youth, every farmyard and, indeed, most schools in Ireland had a fluctuating population of rats.
Despite various attempts at eradication, we could even hear them at home at night in the attic and in the walls. In later years, I remember telling my children not to worry about the noise, it was just mice having fun running races against each other as they scampered across the loose plaster overhead.
Given half a chance, rats and mice will invade any building, especially an old one.
They are even in Leinster House.
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