Thursday, 2 December 2010

On Loving Winter

Those of you who know me well, and even those of you who know me just a little bit, will already be wondering which alien disease has entered my mind and altered my personality, since it’s pretty well-known throughout this universe that I am not a lover of winter. I like my days long, hot and sunny, I adore wearing t-shirts, shorts and sandals, I like letting outdoor air into the house and driving with windows down and the wind in my hair and I LOVE lying out in the sunshine with a good book and a cool beer!

However, these last two mornings I have discovered that there is SOMETHING I like about winter, so I set myself a little challenge (of which more in a moment). However, before I give you the results of this challenge, please permit me just a little rant – after all, my toes are cold, and I’m terribly bad-tempered when I have cold toes!

First off, there is the cold. I do not react well to cold. I have poor circulation, inherited from my mother, who also doesn’t like the cold, and my toes and fingers cool down very very quickly and take ages to warm up. Furthermore, my dry skin is extremely sensitive to chapping, and my legs quite simply start to fall to bits when it’s cold. So I have to bathe in oil and put lotion all over my legs several times a day, which means everything is greasy and never quite feels clean – the alternative is a horrid stinging pain.

Then there are the clothes – lots and lots of them, constraining movement, preventing air getting to my skin, which then sweats and stings even more. If I wear enough outdoors to keep warm then the minute I enter a shop I’m drenched with sweat and feel as though I might faint. It takes me ages to get dressed in the morning, trying to wash all the heavy clothes and get them dry again is a nightmare, and, when I’m all wrapped up I feel gigantic, clumsy and tense.

Along with the cold, it is also dark. I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, which means that the darkness causes depressive symptoms in me. This means that I have to spend money on lightboxes and sit still in front of them for up to 90 minutes a day just to get enough “sunlight” to feel OK. I’d love to go walking outside, but cannot always do so, partly because of the damage the cold does to my skin, and partly because of the awful weather.

So we come to snow! As those of a soppy romantic disposition think of winter wonderlands and say how pretty it all is, I dread it. Once we can no longer get the car out of the drive I am effectively housebound. One year I did manage to trudge the 2.5 miles into town to try to get some milk only to discover there was none available – after a 2.5 mile trudge home through 18 inches of snow I could barely walk for 2 days. I am simply not fit enough for that sort of exercise. I also miss my daily walks outdoors which are an essential part of staying fit and healthy for me, and as for my favourite exercise – swimming in the outdoor pool – it just isn’t possible because the pool is closed for winter.

The snow wouldn’t be so bad if we didn’t have to go to work. Because we are very junior workers with dayjobs we are paid by the time we spend at work, not by the work we actually do. This means that when we are in the office we get paid, when we are not, we don’t. So, in addition to spending shedloads of money on heating oil to keep the house warm, we are also in danger of losing it if we run out of annual leave days because of the snow. We cannot walk to work – I cannot walk 50 miles in a day on the flat in fine weather – doing it on hilly terrain in the snow is impossible. We’d love to live in town, but the rents are prohibitive.

Don’t get me wrong about the fluffy white stuff in general, I enjoy snow perfectly well when I’m in Finland and the place is equipped for snowy weather – cars have studded tyres, pavements are all gritted, trains run fine down to -35 celsius, and life continues without a problem. I don’t even particularly mind driving in the snow – I drove in Bulgaria in very deep snow without special tyres even and quite enjoyed the challenge. What I really hate is the disruption – having to miss out on enjoyable events I’ve been planning and looking forward to, being uncertain about getting to appointments, concerts and so on, and being stuck in a stuffy house for days on end. Where we live is hilly – no matter of care can prevent one sliding down an ungritted hill.

And, of course, there’s Christmas, with all its associated schmaltz and palaver about children and babies. For those of us unable to have children it’s one of the most painful times of year. I simply don’t understand the mania of Christmas and the parcels thing and why it suddenly becomes essential to visit relatives who you don’t see the rest of the year just as the roads are terrible and driving conditions are at their worst. Furthermore, my mother always tries to be desperately “organized” about Christmas and starts ringing me up around mid-August asking what I’m buying for whom and so on – it’s all meaningless to me – I’m a typical “go to the offy and get everyone a bottle of wine on Christmas Eve” sort of person!

Then there’s the simple practical business of airing the house - with 5 cats all using litter trays we often can’t keep up with their doings. We go out and return to more litter to scoop, more furballs (which would be left harmlessly outside) to clean off the furniture. Furthermore, it’s too cold to open windows, so the only way to make the house smell halfway decent is to use chemical air fresheners. And just to add to the morning dressing routine, there’s also the “mopping up condensation” thing to do by the windows, which I have to tape up because they are so draughty.


So, there’s the rant! As you will now have gathered, there’s plenty to grouch about and I could go on all day about it, but now, as promised earlier, here are the results of the challenge I set myself this morning.

It happened as I was tucking into my porridge! Yes, porridge, that warm, tasty oaty delight that I never seem to eat in summer, but enjoy in considerable quantities during the winter months. I decided that it was the ONE reason I DID like winter, and then wondered whether, just maybe, I could think of TEN things I liked about this most frozzling of seasons! I managed it, just, after a bit of head-scratching, so here they are!


Well, it was a bowl of porridge that inspired this whole blog post! I love the milky creaminess of it (yes, I’m a soft Englishwoman, so I have it with milk and golden syrup). I love the way the syrup blends with it, making that sweet goopiness that literally melts in the mouth. I love the warming effect it has, and the way that I feel happy and satisfied by it for most of the morning. Delicious.

Related to porridge, I also enjoy a hot drink in bed at nighttimes during the winter – hot milk with a generous slug of whisky is utterly delicious when snuggled up under the duvet on a cold evening. A spoonful of Horlicks added to the mix is also wonderful.


Although I can take or leave most of the Christmas junk that the shops tell us is essential for our “perfect” Christmas, I love it when the cut-price chocolate oranges and so on start appearing on the shelves. When the weather is freezing I abandon my attempts to get seriously healthy (as mentioned above, exercise is difficult enough that I don’t usually manage it anyway) and give in to the cravings – at the moment I’m enjoying a daily Pot Noodle, which is very warming!

I’m also quite keen on pandoros and pannetones and other seasonal delights. Saving the marzipan bit in the middle of the Stollen until last always gives me a slight tingle of pleasure, and the availability of dates, nuts and other tasty snacks is also enjoyed. Furthermore, the “chocolate advent calendar” is a regular fixture in my life – I was never allowed one as a kid, so indulge happily now, eating my daily chocolate whenever I like – even at breakfast time if I feel like it! It’s only a matter of time this year before I succumb to a large tub of chocolates and a whole load of cakes and things. Yummy!


The Wonderspouse and I have goose for Christmas. If we are on relative duty then we have it on the 26th or nearest available day. If, like this year, we are lucky enough to have the day itself at home, we have it that day. It comes from our wonderful local butcher, and “getting the goose” is a big deal in our household. The Wonderspouse also makes me fresh Eggs Benedict for Christmas breakfast, and I drink sherry, wine and whisky all day, which is very pleasurable.

Furthermore, there are other seasonal wonders around – giant pieces of Stilton, whole Salmons (we bought a fish kettle specially – nothing so wonderful as fresh cooked salmon), and, for me, sausagemeat and chestnut stuffing – the Wonderspouse doesn’t bother about it, but roasts chestnuts specially for me on Christmas morning! We never get each other parcels – I’d far rather he roasted chestnuts for me than bought me a pressie any day.

Linked to this is another meal that happens just before Christmas, with my friend Scharwenka. For around 15 years now we’ve been having pheasant dinner with trimmings and exchanged many (small and often silly) Christmas parcels a few days before Christmas. We also succumb to the silliness of the season for just a few hours and listen to Hely-Hutchinson’s Carol Symphony as well as some rather better music!


OK, so I admit it, there IS Christmas music that I like. The absolute top of all these pieces is Christmas Oratorio, which I first grew to love in my Upper Sixth form at school. My then boyfriend, a Welsh baritone, organist and impresario, got me into it. I listened to it on my (cassette) walkman on all the train journeys to my university interviews, and know it well. I’ve also sung in it with the Oxford Bach Choir, and played numerous excerpts in various Christmas concerts. I love it, and it will be coming to the desert island with me!

As I mentioned above, I also have occasional moments with other Christmas music. I watch the “Nine Lessons and Carols”, even though the Cambridge descants are not the ones I really know and love, and even though the religion is irrelevant to me these days, and I listen through my Christmas tapes a few times. The other “good” Christmas music I like is “L’adieu des bergers” from Berlioz’s “L’enfance du Christ”, Liszt’s “Weihnachtsbaum” and Schoenberg’s version of “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen” (Weinachtsmusik). I also enjoy a few of the carols I used to sing at school, although sometimes they do make me sad because I’m no longer part of that sort of life any more.


Yes, and I do like fairy lights. I like the lit up trees I see when I’m driving around in winter. I like seeing gaudy illuminations, Menorahs and Hannuka candles, and I quite like a German market serving tasty Wurst and hot Gluhwein in a town square.

I’m actually quite keen on lighting in general – lamps, bulbs and so on are rather jolly – I love watching my lava lamp and plasma lamp doing their thing and I like getting the house as light as possible. I’m also not averse to a bit of candle pyromania – I’m that naughty person who sticks things into candles and likes to sculpt the wax round the edge with a pencil while the candle is still burning and the wax is still soft and warm.


These are the one item of clothing that I don’t mind wearing during winter! I like hats – jolly hats, crazy hats, warm and snuggly hats! It helps that I’m not the slightest bit fussy about my hair do – it does what it does – so the “hat hair” thing doesn’t really apply to me. I like the feel of warm fleece around my ears (and, come to that, around my neck – I’m not unfond of scarves either).

I own quite a selection of winter hats and I love the way they keep me warm without undue encumbrance. I’m also quite partial to socks for a similar reason – I like them warm and stripey and comforting. I’ve also recently (yesterday) invested in a pair of fluffy footwarmers which can be warmed in the microwave – I think they’re going to become one of the wonders of winter, as my “hot cow” and “warm Bagpuss” already are.


I’m not really an outdoor gardener, and during summer the lawn grows like crazy. If I was rich enough to employ any sort of domestic help then the one person I would hire would be a gardener. Mowing the lawn is one of those chores that neither the Wonderspouse nor I excel at! Furthermore, just as we’ve psyched ourselves up to deal with the mower (which broke half way through the last mow of last summer), then it rains, and the whole enterprise has to be restarted.

We’re no good with vegetables either. People always say that veg you’ve grown yourself tastes more delicious – I can tell you that this is not true. We grew some, picked them, and ate a forkful each. They were truly revolting, so we chucked them in the bin and went to Sainsbury’s instead – in our world vegetable growing is best left to the professionals!

At least in winter the lawn doesn’t grow, the weeds stop their onslaught, and it’s too cold to deal with whatever horrors are going on in the garage – tidying it and dealing with the mess can wait until the spring.


One of the features of adversity is that, although it can cause problems, rifts and tensions, it can also mean that people cooperate more. Clearing the snow from a communal driveway can mean that we get to know our neighbours better. People help each other to achieve a common goal, and we often see a kind side to people who usually remain unknown and hidden in their houses.

Being outside clearing snow also brings us into contact with neighbours we wouldn’t otherwise see and gives us something to talk about with them. Furthermore, when the first person out in the morning returns from the bus stop or town or wherever, they bring back a report on road conditions, which helps with planning. One of our neighbours has kids at the local school and lets us know when it is closed, and we also support each other and back each other up when less-than-sympathetic employers insist that it is possible to travel when it isn’t.

On a larger scale, I enjoy the UK snow map on the interwebs, which is of real help, and gives good, real time information. It’s another example of people doing something that helps others, and is another of those little winter gems!


OK, I admit it, I love it when the news is about weather! I derive pleasure from seeing what is going on at airports (which I’m interested in anyway, snow or no snow), and I’m fascinated by the differences in snowfall in different parts of the country.

It’s not even that I’m just “rubbernecking” snow disasters, I’m actually genuinely interested in weather, and am also interested in temperatures, statistics, hottest, coldest, windiest, weather and so on. The News often spends so much time discussing politics, showbiz, celebrities, sport, money, health, education and so on – it’s not that I’m not interested in these things to SOME extent, but I’m not fascinated by them in the way that I am about the weather. When the news presents me with information about concerts, music, scientific achievements and so on I’m interested because these are interests of mine anyway – the same applies to the weather. I also enjoy seeing people helping their neighbours, as I’ve already described above.


I like it when a new year starts. I like sitting down in the last days of December with the Wonderspouse while we make goals and objectives for the year ahead. I’ve nearly always been able to spend New Year itself alone or at home with the Wonderspouse, and the one time in recent years I’ve spent it with family it was truly magical – Mum took us to Iceland, where we bathed in the Blue Lagoon and watched a spectacular Aurora Borealis show on New Year’s day!

For me, it’s a great time to review projects in progress and to come up with exciting ideas for the future. I also like getting new calendars – all clean and shiny, with lovely pictures to look at – and carefully writing in birthdays, holidays, things we have booked and so on. It’s a time to make a new start. We don’t do “resolutions” as such, but set ourselves targets for the coming months.

I love the idea of leaving behind the bad things that have happened in the old year, and greeting the new year with hope and optimism. This will be particularly true for me this year after a couple of very turbulent years – 2011 is scheduled to be the year I start a new career and have a significant birthday! Hopefully it’ll be a good one!

And, of course, with the coming of the new year, there is also hope that the winter will end, the ice and snow will thaw, the trees will grow nice new green shiny leaves, and eventually, if I’m very lucky, it’ll get warm enough to sit in the garden with a book and a cold beer!


So, I managed it! And here’s my challenge for something for you lovely readers to do if you’re stranded by the snow and bored out of your minds – if you’re a winter hater like me, why not think of, say, 5 things you love about winter, and if you’re a winter lover, why not try to think of 5 things you hate about it! I’ve found it an interesting exercise. I’ll eagerly await comments to see what others love & hate about this chilly season!

Now I’m off to microwave my special socks in an attempt to thaw my toes!


  1. Superb post! I am completely with you on the snow rant, and agree wholeheartedly with: Porridge, chocolate, goose (we're having goose this year too), fairy lights, hats (have you tried an Eisbar hat? Best winter hats on the market IMHO, not cheap but very toasty; I have several) and Neighbourliness, especially after a complete stranger dug my car out when I got stuck this morning. If there's room in your microwave, could I pop my socks in there for a warm too please? :)

  2. Not at all sure I can come up with five, but one thing I like about winter is the quiet. Walking the dogs during a heavy snow storm... it's quiet. A very different sonic world.

    A most excellent post for this American. We just 'celebrated' Thanksgiving which, like so many holidays, is a commercialised excuse to spend money on gluttony. It's very good to be reminded to be thankful for actual things in my actual life. Thank you!

  3. Those are nearly all the things I like about winter too!

    I like my porridge with nutmeg and cinnamon grated into it and a dollop of greek yoghurt plus a spoonful of jam - it turns it into the most wickedly decadent breakfast going!!

    Goose is marvellous - not sure if we will be able to afford it this year - but I enjoy winter cooking of all types. I had my first chestnuts about a fortnight ago and revelled in them. Hope your toes warm up soon. XX

  4. difficult to find five but here goes
    1 no gardening 2. log fires 3. hearty childhood cooking, stews, soups, steamed puds etc 4.catching up on reading (in front of said fires, after said meals) and best of all this time of year 5. knowing that for 10 days between Christmas and New Year everyone else is busy 'doing Christmas' and so we softly drift through peace and solitude - ah bliss

  5. I am more of an autumn person. Love the first feeling of cool air after summer days of heavy heat and humidity which is the usual case in my city.

    I am so afraid of driving in snow so I don't. Here in DC, the city doesn't know how what to do with it so it usually is not cleared away until it melts on its own. Also we get a lot of ice so don't know if studded tires would help on the slick roads.

    But do love the smell of wood burning in fireplace and I will now incorporate your suggestion of warm milk and whiskey! Will be my new favorite bedtime drink, I'm sure. :)

    And - sigh - Christmas used to be great fun when I was a child. Now, I also have relatives who constantly ask me what the "plans" are for Christmas. In the summer.

    Maybe I'll visit you one day around the holidays and we can stay on the couch drinking milky whiskey and playing with the cats!

  6. My prerogative as a reader of this blog is that I imagine Violamaths is a literary creation. Probably, in a masterpiece yet to be published, Violamaths leads a tragic, hard life. Here, in your posts, she is free and happy to do and say whatever she likes.