Last week my husband Joe crossed a dangerous marital line. I was hidden away in the utility room, loading the washing machine, when he put in a rare appearance to make a ‘helpful’ suggestion: ‘Don’t you think you could try hand-washing from now on?’
We share household chores 50-50 but the laundry is my domain. Always has been since we married and had four — now grown-up — children. My reply was simply that he should roll up his shirt sleeves and crack on.
As well as wanting his boxers hand-washed, Joe recommended I peg out wet clothes, towels and bedding on the washing line, and step away from the tumble dryer.
Writer Anna May Mangan and her husband Joe who, after 35 years, are at war after installing a smart meter in their house, recording how much energy they are using
When I informed him it’s November, drizzling outside and we don’t actually have a washing line anyway, he declared: ‘I’ll go and get you one’ in an excited voice that implied I was in for a big treat.
Why is he suddenly so keen to plunge us back into the Dark Ages? Well, that’ll be the dreaded new smart meter that has taken up residence in our formerly happy home.
The ‘smart interface’ — the sat nav-style tell-all screen that reveals how many kilowatts (i.e., pennies) you’re using at any given moment — has sent Joe power crazy. Forget thermostat wars, now it’s smart meter mortal combat.
Anyone whose home doesn’t boast one of these electronic snitches — the Government intends all 26 million UK homes to have them fitted by 2020 — may well think I’m exaggerating. But in two weeks, with its hourly, daily and weekly recording of energy use, it has pushed my happy marriage of 35 years to the brink.
Take last night, when Joe stormed into the bathroom and confiscated my rechargeable sonic face cleanser like it was some sort of contraband.
Suddenly, my husband has declared this the most profligate, downright wasteful device ever and suggested I should use a nice, old-fashioned rough flannel instead
Honestly, I’m no Tamara Ecclestone. This is a little hand-held device that I use to scrub my face clean every night. Small pleasures, I know, but I like the way it leaves me feeling all tingly and fresh.
Suddenly, my husband has declared this the most profligate, downright wasteful device ever and suggested I should use a nice, old-fashioned rough flannel instead.
I didn’t know how many units I was ‘wasting’ but the sad fact is that, since our smart meter was fitted, Joe knows exactly how many kilowatts of electricity it takes to charge my little bit of luxury.
I don’t mean to split hairs, but it works out at about 60p a year.
I was about to argue the point but he’d already gone — turning off the bathroom light as he left, and the hall light too.
So far, seven million households have switched meters and are enjoying the supposed benefits, including being more aware of how much power they are using and simpler billing.
But recent research by Energy Watch UK claims 20 per cent of householders who have made the switch to a smart meter aren’t happy. That percentage includes me.
How the costs mount up:
These are average costs, per year, per household according to the Energy Saving Trust.
÷ TV (plasma flatscreen) — £85.54
÷ Fridge-freezer — £55.51
÷ Cooker (with an electric hob) — £41.21
÷ Desktop computer — £21.58
÷ House alarm — £8.71
÷ Microwave — £7.28
÷ Iron — £4.03
÷ Coffee machine — £4.13
÷ Hair dryer — £2.60
÷ Doorbell — £6.76
÷ Internet router — £7.54
The problem is that while I can tune out from the facts and figures the meter is giving me, my husband cannot. Every night, just before bed, I get a sermon on the sofa from Joe. He tells me how much energy we have used, what it has cost and how he believes ‘we’ (read: me) can do better the next day to trim costs.
It doesn’t help that he is out of the house most of the day at work, using their precious electricity, so any energy consumption between the hours of 9am and 5pm is all down to me. And that has turned my man into a proper billing bore.
This astounds me, as he never gave our old paper bills for gas and electricity a second glance. He didn’t even give them a first glance, and happily left checking, paying and filing them to me.
Joe was also the least cash- conscious, most generous man I had ever met. He had never once grumbled about money and we have never argued about it. He rarely does any banking and when he did last try to call customer services, he failed his own security check.
A month ago, before he transformed into a smart meter Scrooge, he bought me a beautiful, and valuable, vintage white gold ring. Just because. He never waits for special occasions to be kind and generous. He just always is. Was. Because then the smart meter arrived and Joe became a power preacher.
He’ll pounce on the meter the minute he gets home and throughout the evening will patrol every room in the house with the display device in his hand, noting when and why usage is high. He is determined to change our domestic arrangements to make savings.
Talk about closing the stable door after the horses (in our case four of them, a son and three daughters) have bolted. Joe and I are empty nesters. Back in the day, when all four of our children were draining the National Grid daily with phones, computers, hair straighteners, Xboxes and TVs often left on 24 hours a day — that’s when he should have been on the wattage warpath.
Now it is just the two of us, and our bills are relatively modest and steady at around £800 a year
Now it is just the two of us, and our bills are relatively modest and steady at around £800 a year.
And Joe isn’t the only husband in the grip of smart meter madness. One friend was furious that her husband had removed the lightbulb from the loo in her house to discourage ‘loitering’ and save money.
Another confessed she hides her electric toothbrush in a spare handbag in her wardrobe because her partner has deemed it too costly to run rechargeables from the house. For a quiet life, she is pretending to use a 99p manual toothbrush.
It even kills romance, too. Whereas before, Joe would walk in and come straight over for a welcome kiss and catch up, now it is the smart meter that transfixes him.
And he completely misses the irony of the fact that it must be plugged in — and so consumes energy itself to tell tales on our household.
It even kills romance, too. Whereas before, Joe would walk in and come straight over for a welcome kiss and catch up, now it is the smart meter that transfixes him
We used to have a daily catch-up call at lunchtimes. I loved that even after 42 years together, Joe, a university lecturer, still called me every day for a chat. And I looked forward to swapping news with him.
He still calls, but not for sweet nothings. What he wants to talk about is what is showing on the monitor’s display. He is especially keen to hear the running total in pounds and pence.
Thanks to the smart meter I am now Joe’s energy enemy. I work from home and therefore have unsupervised access to the plug sockets all day. I swear he is at work fretting about me getting up to no good with three-pin plugs.
When I wake up my first stop is always the kettle for a cup of strong tea. Two days ago, the kettle was gone and in its spot on the worktop Joe had placed a Thermos flask full of previously boiled water.
. Yesterday I was whizzing up some delicious leek and potato soup and a worried Joe raced to my side to show how the smart meter screen was spinning (stock image)
He’d left a note explaining the number of energy units each week we could save by using the kettle just once a day for hot drinks.
It’s 2.5p per boil. Over five years it might be enough to buy a packet of (not chocolate) digestives. And the tea I made from the Thermos water was lukewarm and filmy.
I might work with him on energy cost-cutting if the amounts saved amounted to a spa break or a night on the town. But according to Joe’s calculations, if we are really careful we could save enough for a couple of takeaway fish and chip suppers each year. I’m a vegetarian.
What husband Joe says:
There’s no denying the meter has made me energy aware in a way bills never did. It pricked my environmental conscience because the 24-hour-a-day element of the meter is hard to ignore.
I feel it’s like a beat-the-clock game — can we spend less today than yesterday? And I’m disappointed it’s only me who has risen to the challenge.
Now I realise my wife is bathing, washing clothes and making soup selfishly when she could be saving cash — and the planet.
As for all this fuss, she’s just being a drama queen. Deep down she knows I’m right and will come round eventually.
In the meantime I’ve just ordered a job lot of candles so we turn off more lights more often.
Romance and kilowatt-cutting, what more does a woman want?
Our kitchen is the biggest smart meter battlefield. Yesterday I was whizzing up some delicious leek and potato soup and a worried Joe raced to my side to show how the smart meter screen was spinning. Unaware that I was committing an energy atrocity, I was sorely tempted to whack the meter out of his hand with a leek skin.
Instead, I kept my cool and asked him what he would like me to do about it. ‘From now on we won’t use the blender, we’ll just chop vegetables finely and have chunky soup,’ Joe decreed. He knows I don’t like chunky soup — and that fact made his smart meter energy crusade feel personal.
Don’t cackle, but I was hurt. Really. And soupgate didn’t end there. Joe had an idea to make chilled soups all year round. ‘You want me to eat chilled, chunky soup to save a tiny amount of money?’ I asked him, hoping he would laugh at how ridiculous this had become. But he didn’t.
He reached past me, flicked off the kitchen worktop lighting and suggested I try making my chilled chunky soups in natural daylight to save more energy.
The children think their dad is suffering from some form of middle-aged mania. They can’t believe their funny, relaxed father has become such an energy extremist — and they pity me for having to live with it. Our energy company was very persistent about us changing the meter. We had numerous letters and emails bigging up the benefits of having a smart meter installed.
Now I plan to bombard them with calls and emails to see if I can return to our previous meter.
I want to luxuriate in all our mod cons without my husband making me feel as if a hot bubble bath will bankrupt us.