A square, turquoise-coloured metal can with a filler cap on the top and a tap at the bottom of the front of it, the picture on Instagram recalled a world that would seem like something from Victorian times to the Year 7 students I teach.
Paraffin in 2020 comes in tankers to fill heating oil tanks. Type the word into a search engine and offers of next day delivery will appear. Paraffin fifty years ago came a gallon or two at a time. A can would be taken to the hardware shop, or would be filled by Mr Bryant, the hardware merchant who did a round of the village on a Monday evening.
In our house, the bathroom was heated by a paraffin heater, it bore the brand name of Aladdin, but it brought no genie who would cast a magic spell to warm the room. A small, upright, rectangular dark blue and white appliance, it had a grille of three bars at the top of the front side. Below the grille, a panel that formed the remainder of the front side could be lifted away to reveal the burner and the fuel reservoir that was filled from the paraffin can. The grille became burning hot, so hot that my sister once accidentally placed her hand against it and burned three lines across her flesh.
There was probably some regulation against there being paraffin heaters in bathrooms, but, if there was, no-one could ever have enforced it. Homes were much more dangerous places then than they are now.
As dangerous as it was, the paraffin heater did at least bring some warmth into the bathroom. My grandmother’s bathroom had a heater that was mounted on the wall just below the ceiling, its circular electric element was intended to radiate heat as an electric fire would at floor level. If you stood directly in line with the heater, there was some warmth, it did nothing, however, to warm the rest of the room. The Aladdin stove was magical in its effects when compared with the dismal efforts of the electric wall heater.
Aladdin heaters are like those Nineteenth Century domestic appliances which are now to be found only in museums or antique shops, superseded by technological improvements. How odd it will seem to future generations that in the times of the moon landings we were still pouring paraffin into a stove to try to keep ourselves warm.