Belfast Telegraph

Frances Burscough: How gas debt left my assets frozen

I spend the day dressed in about six layers, like a skierI knew it was time to take action when I realised I could see my own breath ... while I was sitting in my living room.

Not only that, but my glasses kept steaming up every time I exhaled. I had two options: stop exhaling, or top up the gas meter ... again. You may recall from this column a few weeks ago, that being ever the consummate domestic goddess, I had inadvertently thrown away my gas bills without paying them for a year, thinking they were junk mail (long story) and subsequently owed them a grand.

The solution from the gas firm was to install one of their pay-as-you-go meters, which can be topped up at most shop tills and automatically deducts a percentage of each payment towards the debt every time.

Well that sounded like an ideal solution — or at least more ideal than going to prison — until I used it for the first time and discovered what a real pain in the backside it truly was.

For a start, it only allows a maximum of £49 to go on it at any one time. Don’t ask me why. And most shopkeepers insist that this has to be in cash (possibly because the very fact you have a gas card in the first place means you must be marked down as a bad-debtor and thus dodgy). Then the fun really begins.

Step 1, turn off the appliances at the mains. Step 2, go outside in the freezing cold, wind and rain to the meter which then takes ten minutes to register the new payment. Step 3, re-set the gas boiler (in my case this is in the unheated, unlit garage with leaking roof) which takes another ten minutes. Finally, Step 4 is to switch the mains back on to allow the radiators to heat up.

If they’ve devised this intentionally to be as inconvenient as possible and teach you a lesson you won’t forget in a hurry, then it must surely be a great success. I wonder if the payments department got their idea for this particular punishment from Dante’s Inferno?

But c’mere, there’s more. If that weren’t bad enough, once they’ve deducted their cut of 40%, you’re only left with approximately £30 worth of gas

Do you have any idea how little you get for £30? No? Neither did I until this happened. Talk about a revelation. Now I know what all the fuss about energy prices is about.

I will hereby attempt to calculate the actual cost in real terms. Now bear with me, because I’m no mathematician. In fact, I failed Maths|O-level to the tune of a U (U for “unclassified” and “U stupid idiot”).

Circumstances are as follows: I have only the four radiators switched on (the absolutely essential ones in bedrooms and living room); these are set to come on for two hours at 6.30am then again in the evenings from 6 until 10pm or thereabouts.

That works out at six hours per day. The temperature is set to medium — warm enough to dry socks on, but nothing extravagant. The rest of the time it’s Ice Station Zebra and I spend the day dressed in about six layers, like a skier, including the bobble hat, but without the goggles. Or the skis.

In the above conditions, £30 lasts little more than three days before I have to top up again. Now here’s where the mental (very mental) arithmetic comes in.

Tonight, children, for your homework I want you to work out the following equation.

If it cost Frances £30 to heat four radiators for three days at the rate of six hours per day, how much does:

a) One hour’s worth of heating the entire house cost her?

b) One radiator cost per i) hour ii) day and iii) week?

c) Frances regret not paying the damn thing in the first place?

Answers please to the above email address. The winner gets to come to mine for an après ski chill-out and a cup of iced coffee. (Bring thermals and Kendal Mint Cake.)

This week I'll...

mostly be in England, visiting my dear old dad, Fantastic Frank, for a few days. And once again, warnings of gale force winds will hasten the ferry across the tempestuous Irish Sea. Batten down the hatches matey, there’s a storm a-coming!


Kim is never left behind by the paparazzi rear

Who remembers the Kenny Everett Show, in particular the sketch where he mimicked Rod Stewart, with skinny leggings that inflated around the backside so he lifted off the ground like a helium balloon? I had completely forgotten all about that until the other day, when I saw a picture of Kim Kardashian sporting a pair of super tight pedal-pushers.

Apparently, her derriere is so shapely that she has to get all her keks tailor-made to accommodate the unusual size 8 waist/size14 hip ratio. Now if that were me, I’d make sure I always wore long jackets to create some balance. In fact, I think we all would. But not Kim. She was strutting about as usual, proudly presenting her buxom behind to the|ever-present paparazzi at every opportunity and every possible angle.

Clearly the phrase “Does my bum look big in this?” isn’t in the Kardashian voKabulary.

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