The Big Chill

I suspect that I have been living in Britain too long.

The children with English accents. The British passport. The friends, house and business. All clues. But the real clincher came this week.

Because, you see, I’m cold. Really cold. Really very cold.

And I’m worried about it.

The newspaper headlines have been screaming ‘The Big Freeze’ at me all week, which is something that you need to pay attention to in this country. It’s serious. Very serious. Because the British don’t do extreme weather very well. Two hot days in the same summer and everyone is worried about drought, so a whole week of cold weather is really more than anyone can cope with. Me included. Obviously.

According to all accounts,  the transportation system is crippled, freezing rain is a worrying phenomenum and Arctic blasts are pounding the country. There are blizzards on the motorways, deadly black ice is lurking on every surface, and Amber Alerts are being sounded all over the place. 

And everyone is responding. Mainly by complaining about how cold it is. And by putting on more and more layers.

One woman came into work yesterday wearing boots. Not stylish boots, mind you. More the kind of boots you normally see in National Geographic, on the feet of local Inuits or visiting explorers. Boots that she wore all day, inside the building, without anyone asking her why. I suppose she didn’t look that odd when it came right down to it since almost everyone else was wearing ski clothes.

And we are all following the weather reports, attentively. Apparently it was -5 degrees in Wattisham yesterday. I have no idea where Wattisham is, but it’s almost certainly somewhere in Britain and that makes it close enough for me to be concerned about what the temperature was. These sub-zero temperatures are due to last for the next few weeks, at least, with snow today, or perhaps tomorrow, on higher elevations, wherever they are.

It’s a nightmare. A cold, bleak nightmare.

My husband doesn’t share my feelings – or lack of feelings, especially in the fingers and toes – which is very strange because he has lived here even longer than I have. He insists that it’s actually rather nice to be outside when the air is fresh and the Common is empty. I suppose the fact that he’s carrying around his own personal insulation might have something to do with it. Or that he likes being different. Or that he is still laughing at last night’s news bulletin.

The BBC, sparing no expense, sent a reporter up north to York to report on the freakishly cold weather conditions. The brave man interviewed people who had fallen down, and others who had almost fallen down, and still others who thought that they might fall down if things didn’t warm up soon. He talked about changing weather patterns and the coming Apocalypse and the end of life as we know it. He didn’t, of course, use those words but there was no mistaking his meaning.

And then the camera panned out to show the picture of a woman digging her car out from under the snow. It would have been more dramatic, I suppose if she hadn’t been using a broom. Or if the shots of Yorkshire under snow didn’t include all that grass. Still, it was -5 degrees in Wattisham. That’s cold.

Only, it’s not really. After all, we’re talking centigrade here. Which makes it 23 degrees in real money. In February.

When I was growing up in New York, 23 degrees in February was downright balmy. People would be talking about the warm spell, and wondering how much longer it could last. Pictures of fed-up looking polar bears in Central Park Zoo would appear on the front pages of newspapers under the headline ‘Whadda ya mean it’s still winter’. Children would be complaining about having to go to school when they should be having snow days off.

A few inches of snow would be a flurry. No one would notice it. Airports certainly wouldn’t close. Trains wouldn’t stop running. Reporters would not be sent to watch women with brooms.

Cold in New York was standing in snow up to your waist, waiting for a bus and thinking ‘One of two things is going to happen here. Either the bus will come or my eyeballs will pop out of my head and shatter when they hit the sidewalk’. That’s cold.

And no one really thought anything about it. It’s cold. It’s snowing. It’s February. What do you expect?

And that’s the problem, because here in London we don’t expect this. Every time it snows we are caught completely by surprise. Every single time. No one owns a shovel, or snow tires, or chains. Of course the houses are heated, but not like they are in New York, where you can go inside and actually get warm. They are certainly not heated well enough to keep out really cold weather, weather that wants to get in through all the nooks and crannies of a building not designed with below-zero temperatures in mind. Definitely not heated enough to enable you to sit on the sofa and watch television without wearing a few sweaters and at least one scarf. Under a blanket.

Which pretty much describes what I am wearing as I type this. Well, that and the dog on my feet. He’s been ready to move on for quite some time now, but I’ve talked him into staying. It’s only fair. My really thick socks were, after all, last seen right before his last trip out to the garden.

But, he’s going to get his wish now because I have to go. It’s time for another cup of hot chocolate and another log on the fire. I seriously don’t know how much longer I can last. For one thing, we are fast running out of firewood. Once that goes, I may have to start on the furniture. There are a few pieces I am willing to part with. Luckily, all of them are Tom’s. Happily, he probably won’t notice for a while, being outside, as he is, in the fresh air.

That will teach him for not being more British.

Not Leo Tolstoy (aka Eileen Riley)

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12 Responses to The Big Chill

  1. Cousin Margie says:

    Good one!!!

  2. Mim says:

    It’s a different kind of cold here didn’t you know? ….and similar comparisons can be made between showers here and in America.

  3. Bob Arms says:

    Very, very funny. You are a great writer Eileen!

  4. Brad Crep says:

    Kudos to Tom. I went out in slightly above zero temp to put the recycling with bedroom slippers on. Beautiful out if not for the grey clouds. Ya know… I have some extra hand warmers I could send? Stay warm, hardwood burns the longest and hotest. =)

  5. Being an Englishwoman living in New England, I understand perfectly where you’re coming from. Only it’s quite balmy here…about 48 degrees F today in CT. So sorry you’re having all our weather.

  6. You’ve been here long enough to invest in a thermal vest, and get some ugg boots, they are a dream!! Feels positively warm today!!

  7. Margie says:

    We moved from bitterly cold western Canada to England – in January of 2000 – and I have never been so cold in my whole life as that first month in your country. It was almost a relief to move back to Canada. Almost. The English gardens more than made up for the damp cold!

    • Eileen Riley says:

      You’ve put your finger on it, It’s the damp. And the fact that you can’t ever get warm. My mother grew up in northern Minnesota, in a place where it’s rare if it isn’t snowing at Easter, and she used to sit in the laundry room, next to the dryer and complain non-stop. The children, whose school uniform involved shorts in winter, thought she was joking. I knew better. And would have joined her if we had had a bigger laundry room.

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