Keeping warm and cooling down in Malmesbury and Uppsala

After a struggle with my conscience, I have invested in a source of direct heating as my flat is so cold at night that it interferes with my sleep. It’s probably environmentally logical to turn the central heating down then as many people like to sleep in a cool bedroom. But for a 75-year-old with somewhat wonky circulation, it’s not a great solution.

I get up at the crack of dawn, or at least 07.30 (perhaps the chasm of dawn…) to collect my acquisition from the local postal point, relieved to find that it’s a neat rather small package and not the elephantine encumbrance of my worst fears. I can get it back on my shopping trolley and don’t have to risk playing Russian roulette with Covid on the bus.

Having extracted it from its casing, I immediately take to it when I discover that the manufacturing company has its UK headquarters in Malmesbury in north Wiltshire. A fine little town around the historic Malmesbury Abbey, where, according to Wikipedia, there is a Daniel’s well named after a monk called Daniel of Winchester, who “is said to have submerged himself in cold water every day for decades to quell fiery passions”. The article also refers to the historian William of Malmesbury (1095-1143), who described how another monk, Eilmer, flew a primitive hang glider from a tower for 180 metres before landing and breaking both legs. It’s not clear from Wiki what his motivations were but presumably not to quell the passions.

After this diversion, I get to grips with the accompanying 70-page Book of Babel, telling me in a slew of languages all the horrible things that can happen to me if I mistreat my heater. It’s not too bad – after a deep breath, I feel calm enough to discover a few words of English tucked away in the manual and even manage to clip the apparatus on to its stand without either breaking it or having this problem dominating my life for a couple of weeks.

I will test run it tonight. It is sufficiently sophisticated that it has a timer (if I can get my head around this in the accompanying Book of Babel), the plan being to run it for an hour or two until I’m properly asleep and then let it shut down.

Gunnar Leche and Trollope

08.30 on a Sunday morning and, to my surprise, it’s getting light as I try to get to our local Post Office/Shop before Corona does. My cautious purge of my wallet, taking only my ID and one credit card, is a step too far as nothing sinister emerges from the shadows on my kilometre walk.

The post office is almost empty and yesterday’s aerosol virus will now be reclining on the floor like Chatterton although, unlike Chatterton, shrouded in colourful paper offering discounts on broccoli.

My packet contains a book on Gunnar Leche, Uppsala’s city architect from 1920 to 1954. Collecting it is against my principles for self-isolation according to which any contact with the outside world should be strictly necessary. But it’s too frustrating if every consoling project of the mind is blocked until after covid so I allow myself an exemption on grounds of mental hygiene, masked and with disinfected hands nowhere near my face (and avoiding using plosives when talking with dogs).

Gunnar Leche was responsible for a large number of buildings in Uppsala, especially in (what are now) the inner suburbs of Fålhagen, Kvarngärdet and Luthagen. His production extends from the last days of the National Romantic period through the classicism of the 1920s to functionalist architecture, although, according to Carl-Erik Bergold (‘Gunnar Leche – en stadens och folkets arkitekt’ in Uppsalas arkitekter och arkitekturens Uppsala, 2002), ‘Leche blev aldrig renlårig’ (literally “never became orthodox” in the sense I take it of clearly and exclusively adopting a particular architectural style).

It was perhaps this lack of orthodoxy that led to the criticisms made of two of his later projects Tuna Backe and Sala Backe. He is, however, now appreciated in architectural writings on Uppsala. I would like to know more about this but this will have to wait until covid has abated and I can spend time at the local history and newspaper library.

My explorations of my new home environment have been subdued with the onset of winter.  I find it most rewarding if I can read and explore in the real world at the same time, one without the other not feeling satisfactory. Probably the best use of time is to identify what interests me and what access I need to pursue these interests, to avoid becoming a jumble of unsorted poorly sourced anecdotes.

Otherwise, as far as the life of the mind is concerned, I have now read the six novels of the Barchester Chronicles. I’m pleased to have done so although my planned relaxation reading before sleeping has at times spread beyond its allotted slot and taken up time during the day. After six novels, I am weary of the woman meets man, spark of liking, the course of true love never runs smooth, problems eventually overcome, marriage and the happy ever after. Trollope, however, is much more than this, a greater writer than just a purveyor of romantic tales. I’m wondering whether Trollope wasn’t also tired of the commercial requirements for a happy romantic ending as he rebels in the Last Chronicle of Barset and Lily Dale remains single. Trollope rose another notch in my respect for avoiding a tired, stereotyped ending although I was already impressed by the range of well-drawn characters struggling with many life situations unrelated to romance. The swirl of ideologies also fascinates me, mid-nineteenth century conservatism and liberalism (whig) against the background of the fractured British ruling class, which still casts a long shadow over the UK. I don’t think I would have enjoyed going on a long train journey with Trollope, however (probably not with Hardy either in fact, although I would have found it easier to talk to Hardy, preferring chatting about the Dorset dialect to small talk about hunting).

Trollope was an unplanned diversion but I don’t regret it and I have become more adept at using my Kindle (for five of the six novels)!