When I went out on an errand this morning just after 9 am, the sun was shining but it was very cold. I liked the glow of the early sunshine on this quietly elegant pub (now a restaurant), The Prince Albert, in Kings Cross Road.
Anyway, as I was saying, it was cold, but I forced myself to go for a walk before going back. “Forced” is probably the right word, because all my instincts were to run home, turn on the heating and make a mug of coffee.
I fell to thinking about this. These days I hate the cold. It makes me feel miserable and anxious. If I get really cold, it takes me quite a while to warm up again, even in bed. Yet I am sure there was a time when the cold didn’t bother me so much.
When I was a student in Sheffield, I lodged in a succession of houses, the first of which had an outside toilet and no bathroom. Once a week I would take the bus to the house of the landlady’s sister and have a bath there. It was a proper indoor bathroom but there was no heating, even in the dead of winter.
Nor did I have heating in any of my bedrooms. In winter, I would put all my spare garments on the bed for additional warmth, topping it all off with my duffel coat. The memory that remains clearest in my mind is of having flu and being confined to bed for several days in an unheated bedroom which, for better effect, was right over the ginnel*.
Though I wore a coat and scarf in winter, the cold never seemed to bother me, yet I’m sure it could get as cold then as it does now for I remember some remarkably snowy winters.
Whence the change? Could it be an effect of age? Surely not! It must just be that in recent times the cold has taken on a nastier edge. Perhaps the greenhouse effect in involved, somehow, as it seems to be to blame for everything else.
Having run my errand, gone for my short walk and and taken two photos (I rather liked the effect of the sun back-lighting the tree, as if to presage warmer times ahead), I returned gratefully home, turned on the heating and made coffee.
Whenever I think about the colder weather, Oetzi, the Ice Man comes to mind. A detail that struck home as I read his story was that he carried a pouch in which there would have been an ember wrapped in leaves, used for lighting a fire when he camped for the night. Fire and its warmth and light is so inextricably entwined in the human story that we often forget its crucial importance to us and to our civilization.
Instead of covering an ember with kindling and blowing on it, I press a switch; instead of flames to see by, I have electric light; but the principle is the same: heat and light thrust back the cold and the darkness to create a magical realm where we are, for the moment, comfortable and safe. Here, not only the body thrives but the mind also, and dreams dreamed in the firelight often flower into great achievements.
As the Villager reminds us, soon it will be the shortest day and longest night of the year, and thereafter the darkness will begin to retreat again. In the meantime we set up coloured lamps to open up the darkness with caves of light and chase away the demons of the night.
Despite the timid return of the light, the cold will continue for a time yet, but eventually, spring will come again, and life will begin to flower once more under the renewed caress of the sun.
Personally, I can’t wait!
*ginnel: In older parts of Sheffield, nobody used the front door. Everyone went through the ginnel to the yard and the back door that led straight into the kitchen where people spent most of the time. The ginnel was a passage between each pair of terraced houses, covered by the upper stories of the houses meeting above it. If your bedroom was over the ginnel, it was likely to be affected by the cold coming up through the floor.