Warming butts and beds

March 28, 2010

Antique copper coal bed warmer used my the family 100 years ago.


Along with the husky winds of Provence come the coldest days of winter.  The days when the sparse electric heaters and the one active fireplace in the house just don’t cut it.  And nights are the worst.  Our bedroom is in a solitary corner of the house nearest to the cave and with the unheated attic above and an unheated storage space below, the tiny electric heater under the window doesn’t always cut it.  On a windy day, it feels as if the temperature drops 10 degrees each time I walk in to my bedroom.   

At night, I lay between chilly sheets under five blankets tucked up to my nose wearing the warmest comfortable clothes I own and thick socks and wait for my body heat to permeate the bed.  My icy nose is the only thing protruding from the protection of the blankets.  I even try to wrap my hair around my face to keep it warm.  I haven’t yet succumbed to wearing a hat to bed although…  

A hundred years ago (or maybe more recently, like Raphael’s childhood, for all I know), the entire house was heated by wood burning fireplaces.  And many still are.  The only difference with our house is that we use electric heaters in the primary rooms.  Four of the six bedrooms in this house have fireplaces but none of them are used today.  In the past, the fire in the bedroom was not usually maintained during the day.  It was started as night fell.  To warm the sheets before bed, a copper bed warmer was filled with hot coals, wrapped in a towel and then slid between the sheets.   

We upgraded this practice last winter with a plastic water bottle.  We fill the bottle with the hottest water we can get from the sink then slip it between the sheets before getting in.  For me, this serves as a foot warmer if Raphael stays up late reading.  The only problem is that it doesn’t heat the entire bed so I have to move it around from top to bottom, side to side.  And it cools quickly.  But it does take away the icy feel of the sheets.  And it’s not as dangerous as a pan of hot coals rubbing against blankets.  

Another tradition held over from the past is the practice of border, or tucking the blankets tightly around the person.  It’s something many people still do for young children as an action of love.  In the past it was a practical way of keeping the sleeping person warm by enclosing the body heat in a small space.   

Raphael is my personal bed warmer.  When he climbs in a little after me, I wrap my still icy feet around his to warm them up and soon his body heat, (He’s never as cold as I am.  Perhaps a result of growing up without central heating.) infuses me with warmth.   In addition to my nose, my hands, feet and oddly my butt are my coldest parts.  There’s nothing like cuddling to warm the body.



  1. long time no see uh!!!
    I have missed your stories and the way you describe your life in Provence. It’s kind of being part of the family, sort of… And they are also ways not to forget some of my English language that badly needs some additional training from time to time
    All the best


  2. I was feeling quite warm till I read your piece. I could feel the heat draning away as I read. Took me back to my childhood when we only had one open coal fire in the house with no other heating at all, plenty of hot water from the back boiler though.

    • Actually this piece was supposed to be published in February when it was still that cold. I don’t know what happened. Goes to show I still have things to learn about blogging.

  3. You need cozy flannel sheets in delicious colors that will warm you psychologically as well. That’s how New Englanders survive winter!

    • Clair,
      Excellent idea! I’ll have to look for some before next winter.

      • LLBean and Lands End in the states have wonderful colors. LLB has a perfect lightweight down blanket, quilted with satin binding – not as heavy as traditional down but with the right degree of warmth. Happy cuddling!

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