There was ice on the inside of my windows over the weekend. “Hello Jack Frost,” I said, just like my dad used to when I was little. The fractal patterns looked like a painting of a lost world and for a moment, I just stood and stared at their beauty. Then I went into survival mode: hot-water bottle, tea, porridge. The thermometer told me it was 7C. I clambered back into bed and flicked the electric blanket to max. Should I put the heating on? This is the one question I have been asking myself since the weather turned brutal. Generally the answer is a painful no.
I have battled a fair deal in my 60-something years, but these are some of the hardest times, demanding all of my fortitude. Because this isn’t living, it is enduring. I always got by, but now, due to low pay, soaring prices and my age, I teeter closer and closer to poverty. I worry about being able to keep earning enough to pay my bills. I worry how I’ll get through the next five years to state pension age. I worry, and then what? I worry.
“Heat your room to 18C,” says the health advice. But what if you don’t have the money? There have been moments over the past few days when I have been so cold I can’t get warm, fingers fridge-chilly and stiff, body weary. I read about what the cold does to your body, increasing the risk of stroke and heart attack. The government knows this. Illness brought on from people being unable to keep themselves or their families warm is inhuman. Putin didn’t start austerity, the Tories did.
The government needs to understand the fear people are feeling. Live it like we have to. If I put the heating on, my direct debit goes up. If I cook more hot food, it goes up. I’m now paranoid about how many times I boil the kettle for hot drinks. Fear affects all of you: mind, body, spirit. It becomes your shadow.
I used to read my son Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where his grandparents never got out of bed, and realise this is my life now. I am freelance, so I work from my bed – it’s a claustrophobic world. My woollen mattress topper, purchased in a charity shop for £10, helps keep me warm and is the best find ever. I try not to think about who probably died on it.
At the weekend, a friend invited me to watch the football at her house. They have a wood burner and central heating and I was toasty for a few hours – keeping my fingers crossed for extra time. These moments of companionship are precious and uplifting. After the match, I walked back home and saw almost every chimney in the village sending up smoke signals.
When I got home and put my key in the door, it was almost as cold inside as it was outside. My rented home is poorly insulated – I put the heating on for two hours last week to dry some washing and the temperature rose from 7C to 8.5C. The bathroom is the coldest room, and often I don’t shower because I can’t face it in these temperatures. I brush my teeth with a hot-water bottle pressed to my chest. I worry about the possibility of winter power cuts with no electric blanket or kettle, though. I have bought another flask to store hot water for tea and for a hot-water bottle if the worst happens.
It’s no surprise Christmas isn’t really on my radar. I got a card from an old friend today with a note, which said: “We continue to enjoy our retirement.” It was like a physical blow. A sliding door of choices has landed me here: cold. Old. Afraid of what the future holds. Jeremy Hunt says it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Worse for who, though?
Marin lives in the south-west of England and is in her 60s. Her name has been changed
The Trussell Trust is an anti-poverty charity that campaigns to end the need for food banks. Show your support at: trusselltrust.org/guardian
Do you have an opinion on the issues raised in this article? If you would like to submit a response of up to 300 words by email to be considered for publication in our letters section, please click here.