Ian McMillan: The heat is on for a meltdown at the WI meeting

So here I am at the door of the Top Chapel in Darfield, about to go in to entertain a big meeting of the WI with anecdotes and stories. It’s cold outside, and although I’ve walked from home I’ll still be happy to get into the Methodist warm. I step inside and my glasses steam up instantly, fogging my view of the ladies who’ve come to meet me.

I thought it would be warm inside the chapel but, between you and me, I didn’t think it would be this warm. I wipe my glasses with my sleeve, pushing the mist around the lens until it congeals. I say, “is it warm in here or is it just me?” and their pained looks and glowing faces tell me that it’s warm. In fact, let’s face it, it’s hot.

I stand by a radiator that’s pumping out enough heat to keep the whole of the Dearne Valley sub-tropical for decades. I feel sweat prickling at my temples and gathering at the top of my back. I remember when Tony Blair addressed the WI that time and the perspiration spread under his armpits like the stain from a dropped bottle of pop on a pale lounge carpet and I thought to myself “he wasn’t as warm as I am now!”

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I ask the ladies, who are now gathering in large numbers (What’s the collective noun for a group of WI members? You decide) if we can turn the heat down and they shake their heads. “We’ve tried,” they say, “we can’t find a switch anywhere”. I decide to try and find the elusive Switch of Coolness and wander around a few smaller rooms, looking in cupboards and turning lights on and off but that makes no difference.

After reports from various people and the handing out of some trophies, I’m on. I stand to speak and it’s as though I’m standing in a Sunday-morning kitchen preparing to get the joint out of the oven. One or two of the WI are starting to wilt like flowers. Cardigans are discarded, making them into discardigans. Brows are mopped discreetly with hankies.

There’s going to be a buffet after my talk and the paper plates are being seized and used as fans. You’ve got to hand it to the WI, they’re practical women and good in a heat-based crisis. They’re not only using paper plates as fans, they’re using purses, handbags and hymn books grabbed from shelves. One lady is fanning herself vigorously with what seems to be a bus ticket. The trouble is, the air is so warm that all this motion simply redistributes the heat.

Women who are sitting near radiators are leaning away from them like trees leaning away from the wind. Women who were fanning themselves with one paper plate are now fanning themselves with two so they look like they’re playing table tennis with themselves.

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Is it my imagination or are some members of the WI actually melting away? I’m sure there was somebody sitting on that seat there but now I can’t see her.

Mind you, my glasses are steaming up. I think I’d better stop talking. I think we’d better get onto the buffet, before we all spontaneously combust.