Homage to the Conray Heater
Recently, a group of women friends were chatting at my place. We had gathered because we are part of a Philosophy Group that has been meeting together for over twenty years. This conversation was after the more philosophical and over cups of tea and home-made cream-filled choux pastry. All of us are what would be classed as middle-class. We are all in our mid to late 60’s and we all grew up in New Zealand. We got onto the topic of warm houses, underfloor heating, heat pumps etc.
Although all of us are now middle-class, some of us grew up working class. Talking about heating our homes back in the 50’s and 60’s we all recalled leaping into cold beds, hot water bottles, chilblains and some of us recalled coats being laid across the bed on extra cold nights. Our experiences were mostly very similar. Nobody had a home that was fully insulated or evenly heated. Most of us knew about chilblains, frosty lawns and frozen puddles.
My childhood home was heated by a coal range in the kitchen and on Sunday evenings in the front room, in winter, we lit the open fire. School mornings, we kids would race into the kitchen (Mum or Dad would have been up much earlier to light and stoke the fire to warm the room up). We would dress in front of the stove. I once dropped my pyjamas and lent back to scorch my backside on the oven door (skin left on the circular metal thermostat). Others recalled being scorched by two-bar heaters.
What we all recalled was the advent of the Conray heater. It arrived I suspect in every home in New Zealand as the new high-tech heating miracle. It was stylish in wood veneer, it had three settings from low to medium to high. People sat on them, dried clothes on them, and in general they were worshipped. The Conray heater sat in pride of place in our front room in front of the now discarded and hardly used brick fireplace. You could move the Conray closer to you or leave it in the centre of the room to radiate. It glowed in three shades of red.
In recent months we’ve been glamping in our garage with a Breville bench-top oven that is more efficient than any full-sized oven I’ve ever owned. I’ve been using two Induction plates purchased from The Warehouse that are also more efficient than any gas hob I’ve ever cooked on. My life in the garage (we are waiting for a house build), is modern, efficient and fun. I think of my Mum who needed to get up in a cold weatherboard home, with bare wooden floors, carry the coal bucket, chop the kindling, light the fire, and cook us a hot breakfast… oh yes, she did, most mornings.
I had whipped the cream for the profiterole supper in my 41-year-old Kenwood Chef cake mixer. Two days later, making more profiteroles (they are my signature dish), and whipping cream for friends coming for lunch, my Kenwood began to smoke. We rescued the cream and completed the whipping by hand. My mother who was a country pub cook before she married, always beat her cakes and cream by hand. She never owned a kitchen whiz, cake mixer, rolling pin, nor did she ever have an electric oven. It seems by dear old Kenwood Chef can have its burnt-out motor replaced! I am greatly relieved to hear this.
I can see her now, in the front room on the new mustard lounge suite, with the room newly carpeted, a ciggie in one hand, one foot tucked under her bum, possibly watching Coronation Street (we finally got a TV when I was 16) and the Conray is glowing in front of her, purring luxury. She will still need to light the fire, as our hot water supply depends on this.