There is an inbuilt snobbery about central heating here in the West Country. Switch it on and you are instantly revealed as an urbanite, a pretender, a nouveau country dweller. A bit like gardening in Ilse Crawford wellies or shopping in town with a trug. Wintering without heating has acquired cult status in these parts. Never mind that there is snow on the ground or your kids have been sent home from school with flu. Never mind that your aged parents risk hypothermia when they come to stay at Christmas. The underlying message is simple. Heating is for wimps; these days it’s all about freezing your balls off. A clan is gathering down here, slowly but surely spawning new members each year. I call them the Competitive Underheaters (CUs). They turn up swathed in sheepskin, exuding the same fearless, best of British demeanour as Bear Grylls or Bruce Parry. They host parties straight out of Narnia, all frosted breath and guests swaddled in white rabbit fur. They make love in balaclavas and send their children to bed with hot bricks wrapped in flannel. I find myself conducting secret surveys at dinner parties. ‘Got your heating on yet?’ I might hiss at my neighbour when surrounding conversations seem to be in full flow. A positive response and I feel I’ve found a new friend. Someone who flagrantly disregards their health, their wrinkles and their bank balance. A bit like discovering a fellow smoker at a drinks party. When we lived in London we seemed to compete about how warm and cosy our houses were. Having your heating on during the day was considered a mark of wealth and financial security. Down here it marks you out as a misfit. No question, it’s more expensive running an oil-fired heating system and there is the constant fear that the oil might run out. Of course there is the struggle to conserve energy too. But the CUs are getting a whole other kick out of this no central heating business. It gives them an inner serenity and an outward superiority that is hard to find elsewhere. A sense of triumph and elitism that makes those butt-freezing mornings more than worthwhile. I think we might be missing something. I write this, in four jumpers, with a lump of ice slowly forming around my nose, hoping for enlightenment.