Yesterday I was in the middle of cooking dinner, and actually making an effort since we had some friends coming over to visit. Our flatmate asked what time they were coming over to eat and decided she had time to jump in the shower. So I was chopping up some veg for a strawberry salad and singing along to Edith Piaf when I heard our flatmate yelling, “Liz!” from the bathroom.
“Uh-oh,” I thought, and went over to the bathroom door so I could holler back, “What’s up?”
“Liz, has the boiler gone out? The hot water’s gone!”
I looked back over to the kitchen and sure enough, the boiler’s little red light was lit. And I knew what that meant. “Yeah, sorry hon! Hang on….”
I grumbled, “Not again,” to myself as I went into the bedroom, hunted up the flashlight, opened the storage closet in the hall and dug through the vacuum parts to the gas meter. Sure enough, the flashlight revealed we had £0.00 credit on our gas card. We’d forgotten to top up in time.
Some of our bills we pay every month via direct debit, like “normal” (though we have to pay the water bill in an annual lump sum—ouch!) But our electricity and gas each came with a meter that shows how much credit we have left and a key card to insert that we add cash to whenever it runs out. There’s a network of little corner stores with “Paypoints” where we can add up to £40 to the key card at a time. Usually we try to run out and top up once a month, but sometimes it slips our mind, and this winter we’ve occasionally burned through gas much faster than we expected. This isn’t the first time someone’s been surprised by a blast of cold water in the middle of a shower.
I love our flat, but our economist friend reliably informs us that we’re paying higher rates for gas because we have to top up like this, and so are most of our neighbours in this building. This situation is often the case in lower-income areas, where people who may already be struggling with higher rates also have to remember to top up in time so their essential services stay lit.
Luckily, the key card comes with £5 emergency credit you can use for this exact situation and automatically deducts the amount you used after you top up. So I applied the emergency credit, followed the instructions to “PRESS BUTTON ‘A’ IF APPLIANCES OFF TO RESTART,” and went to relight the boiler. When I could hear it going again I went back to yell through the door to our poor flatmate, “Okay, should be all clear! Hot water should be on in a minute!”
“Thanks!” she yelled back.
I returned to cooking dinner and finished up my salad. But twenty minutes later when I opened the oven door to check on the fish fillets I’d put in earlier, I thought they looked….remarkably raw. And then I realized, oh right. The gas card’s connected to the gas line, the gas line’s connected to the….oven. Which I forgot to relight.
Luckily our friends were a bit late for dinner, so the fish got cooked through in time (and tasted delicious with a honey-basalmic-mustard-oregano glaze, thank you very much). But in my head I was calculating, “Okay, so Peter’s going to come home from his martial arts class and want a hot shower, AND I still need to put in the brownies in the oven for a half an hour for dessert… but the £5 credit definitely ought to last us through the night, right!?” And it did, with some to spare, and we topped up today. But it’s remarkable how much of modern life you take for granted until one of your conveniences drops out from under you.