I really don’t like our green metal letterbox at the top of our lane. It’s not that I’m offended by its ugliness (because I sited it cleverly among the undergrowth), but I find the tension of opening it almost too much to bear.
These days, people don’t write letters; they send you an e-mail or post something on your Facebook wall. Not like it was when I were a lad. Nay, when I were working in Lord Harrowby’s stately home as an assistant archivist and later, when I were a young student in an Exeter Hall of Residence, the daily post was a matter of keen anticipation. There might be a letter from a (grand)parent, a sibling or a school friend (even, dare I suggest, a girlfriend).
But there are never any nice letters in our green metal letterbox. The only letters that we get are the heart-wrenching variety from charitable concerns, asking for funds, or the unintelligible official type from some arm of the insatiable Trésor Public, usually attached to a demand for payment. Otherwise, it’s publicités from supermarkets or gardening emporia and – just occasionally, if I’ve been a very good boy and I’m very lucky – a CD to review or simply to listen to.
Consequently, I tend not to go to our green metal letterbox for days at a stretch. C.f. the telephone. I let the messages pile up until the system overloads for fear that there might be a message demanding action. However, there comes a time when action must trump inaction.
Such a moment came at the beginning of these idyllic Easter holidays. We decided to take the dog out for a walk en famille at the end of the day. I brought along the key to the letterbox, as I strongly suspected the silent but powerful presence of an electricity bill – lying there on the Ho Chi Minh ant-trail that meanders into the box, over the contents and out again.
|Heat pump, heat pump, measur-ing the energy...|
And not just any old electricity bill, but The Bill. The big one, the bomb. Winter’s reckoning. This was our first winter not only with the new Mitsubishi heat pump, but also with an electric element grafted onto the side of the solar immersion heater to provide us with hot water. The awful gas boiler that had made the last few winters a personal misery was history.
We had a quick sweepstake on the way up the drive. I thought €300 would be a realistic figure. I would take that; it would still represent a saving on the three quarters of a tank load of propane that we customarily consumed. The Good Wife of La Poujade Basse, being an eternal optimist, thought €200. The Daughter, being a complete innocent in the adult world of utility bills, reckoned on a mere €100 (snort, guffaw).
Being the man – the hunter and bill-gatherer – I took it upon myself to open the envelope. ‘And the winner of this year’s prize of the Official Jury is…’ The tension was unbearable. I saw a figure ‘2’. 200, good. I could go for that. Then I noticed that there was a minus sign beside the digits. It was -€200! God damn it, EDF owed us money. So it was true what they claimed about their heat pump. This was the company that doesn’t lie. It really does use little more electricity than a fridge.
Not only had we cut our winter fuel bill by about 70%, but it was also reliable heat and hot water. By my calculations, we had kept ourselves warm this winter and provided enough hot water to clean the family for about €250. We hopped and skipped our way to the communal bins and back. Even Alf barked to see such collective joy.
It sounds a bit pathetic now that I re-read it. A lot of fuss and nonsense over an electricity bill. But in a world where the news seems unrelentingly bad, that minus figure represented a little victory: a triumph over adversity and the crushing power of the utilities companies in particular and unfeeling capitalism in general.
Needless to say it made our evening. We opened a bottle of wine and drank to the health of Mitsubishi. It helped to make our Easter. I felt so reckless and gay that I ate an entire Lindt dark chocolate bunny while watching Brokeback Mountain. I confess, however, that it hasn’t really helped to eradicate my phobia about our green metal letterbox. I went there today for the first time in a week and found… a review disc. And it’s a cracker! Things are looking up.