My friend, Mike Sowden, wrote this marvellous piece in his blog, Fevered Mutterings, last week. A few years back I might have agreed, but, sitting here, blanket wrapped around my shoulders, sneakers and thick socks on my feet, reading it, I can’t help but take issue with him!
I’m sorry. I love your writing. I don’t think I have ever disagreed with anything you’ve written before. But … you see, I hate to shiver.
In 40 years of North-of-England weather, and 30 years of sub-tropical living, I have never felt as teeth-chatteringly chilly as I have over the last five weeks or so.
The Canary Islands tourist board boast that winter temperatures rarely fall below 21 degrees; and, it’s quite possible that the people you describe at the beginning of your post, the stereotypes, sipping their beers by the hotel pools, may scratch their heads if they ever read this. Those pools are designed to make the most of the sun, protect those roasting bodies from the wind, and lull them into not wanting to leave. Their visitors go home without even realizing that there has been a blizzard in the volcanic caldera atop the island of Tenerife; that the wind chill factor along the east coast (where I am living) has dropped the temperature significantly, even though the sun has shone most days; or that dozens of people had to be rescued from the heights of Tenerife and Gran Canaria, after foolishly defying warnings not to go there.
“Ah but …. you don’t live in the mountains!” I hear you mutter. True. If I did, I would have central heating, or a fragrant log fire …. or something to keep out the cold! You see, if you live in a cold climate, in a “modern” country, you really only need to be cold when you want to be. I’ve walked in the UK in snow, and in downpours with rain running down my neck, and, yes …. it was a challenge, and it was fun. I didn’t mind that I looked like Michelin woman as I sloshed through the mud.
Looking like Michelin woman as I shuffle around my apartment just isn’t on, though. You see, winters here on the coast didn’t used to be like this. Buildings don’t have central heating, and the cost of electrical heaters is astronomical, so we do the old-fashioned thing and bundle up. I remember this. Scurrying upstairs at bedtime, leaving the comfort of my grandparents’ fireside, because the open fire was the only heating when I was 5 years old, and going upstairs was Siberian.
For years I’ve made fun of Canarian friends when they moaned about the “cold”, the one English word they have learned from me is nesh. I’ll be honest. I am glad that I was brought up in the cold and damp of England’s northwest coast. I am glad that as a kid I “played out” in all weathers. I do think it made me resilient, tough even, in a sense.
It was just about freezing when I slept in a cave up in the mountains here one January night a few years back. Yes, I’d dug out the thermals, yes I’d stamped my feet, gloved my hands and bundled up in both a bivy bag and a sleeping bag, and still shivered ever so slightly all night. Yes, the slug of Jack Daniels in the hot chocolate was fun and welcome, and part of the adventure. Yes, I was seriously chuffed with myself afterwards.
It was the same in Nepal last year, sleeping in thermals and heavy sleeping bags with only plywood walls and corrugated tin overhead. I do suspect that had I been brought up in a warmer climate I might have found that more difficult, might not have had quite so much fun. Yes it was invigorating, challenging, satisfying, some of the best weeks of my life, in fact. Another adventure. Then, that’s how I like to remember these things, as adventures.
But ….. when I go about my day-to-day life, walking, shopping, bureaucracy fighting, cooking, eating, sleeping, tapping away at this laptop, I want to be comfortable. Given my druthers, I would far rather be sitting here now, comfortably, in a sarong, as I will be in August, than in the sort of clothes I am wearing, clothes I would probably choose to wear to go outdoors in a late October day in UK.
Granted, once I am outdoors it is quite delightful. I add a beanie and scarf to my ensemble, and I’m ready to brave the wind. It is, in fact, probably perfect walking weather, but for anyone who sits for any length of time at a computer, it’s ……. distracting. I just can’t type quickly enough to keep my fingers warm (and I learned to touch type back in the 60s), and the shivering means endless typos. In the end I can’t concentrate because I focus on how cold are my fingers, or the tip of my nose. Yeah …. I know this isn’t real COLD – I’m not in danger of frost bite, and the only ice is in my freezer, and I am certainly not a refugee genuinely shivering with only a tent to keep me from a biting wind. I’m a spoiled brat, spoiled by 30 years of warm winters, and without an adequate wardrobe for this winter.
As with everything in life, there “is a season.” I want to adventure when I choose to adventure, and when I choose to potter around quietly, I want to do so in comfort. I want to ring friends and say, “Let’s barbecue tomorrow!” and know that it doesn’t depend on the weather. I want not to be layering and un-layering clothes all day. I don’t want to have to consult the weather reports every time I want to go for a hike – I just want to set off and go. When I walk along the beach I want to sink my ugly toes into the sand, and not wear walking shoes.
I appreciate that I have been lucky in this life I’ve chosen. It’s been a conscious choice, frequently questioned on other grounds, but I gave up on the weather as being one of those grounds years back. I have become accustomed to the freedoms this climate affords me.
And so, Mike, I hope we can agree to disagree on this one. Excuse me now, I need to go find a thicker blanket to swaddle myself in.