There is a Danish saying I’ve always loved: ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.’ And it’s so true. As long as we’re togged up with thick gloves, puffa coat, faux fur scarves (check out the hot pink/red colour-blocked option from Warehouse – Trinny Woodall loves it too!), and of course a HAT, anyone is pretty much weather-proof in even the most Arctic conditions.
And I know there’ll be those of you out there who think I’m off my rocker for saying this, but I am a huge fan of cold weather. (Not least because it decimates the slug population.) Just as we have different body clocks – I’m a lark, you may be an owl – I think we have different ‘weather clocks’, too. Come summer, I’m wilting like a week-old lettuce, wafting around ineffectually with a brain barely functioning. Come the cold weather, my brain’s crisp as it gets, my senses invigorated, and I feel utterly alive. You can stay under the duvet till April if you like. But I’ll be out there feeling the chill Northerly wind on my cheeks, and loving every glad-to-be-alive moment.
Of course there are risks attached to cold weather. (This is where the Danish proverb comes in.) Hypothermia. Frostbite. Prolonged exposure to cold without the right insulation impacts on the immune system. (Apparently there is a higher risk of heart attack in cold weather, too.) But there are also pluses, health-wise.
First off, being in cold weather not only gobbles up calories as our bodies try to stay warm, but it burns ‘brown fat’ – which in turn can burn off other ‘white fat’ (that’s the type many of us would like a little less of). Walking in cold weather increases energy expenditure long after we’ve gone indoors again and stamped the snow (or leaves) off our boots.
Cooler temperatures also make us sleep better. Funnily enough, when I first moved in with my now-husband, all our arguments were about the bedroom temperature. Half-Scandinavian, he liked to sleep with the windows wide open. And I mean WIDE OPEN. Having been raised in what was essentially a hermetically-sealed suburban house, this was a huge shock to my system – and I didn’t like it one bit.
It was literally the only thing we fought over (and he generally won). On a trip to Paris in the early years of our relationship, however, I came to count my blessings. We were having dinner with a Danish friend – who lived at the time in a beautiful house overlooking a fjord –and when I came back from the loo they were both laughing. ‘What’s so funny?’ I asked. ‘Ask Lisbeth where she sleeps,’ prompted Craig. I duly did as I was told. ‘Lisbeth, where do you sleep?’ ‘On the verandah,’ she smiled. Turns out that Lisbeth and her husband zzzz-ed outside beneath a toasty duvet, bedcaps on their heads. ‘We only got snow on the bed once,’ she added, ‘when the wind came from a different direction to normal.’ I never complained about the temperature in the bedroom again – at least we HAD a bedroom! – but I’ve now come round to Craig’s way of thinking and can only sleep in a cool, even cold room. (I’m not denying that I love slipping into clothes that have been warmed on the radiator next morning, but if the room itself is stuffy, I find it hard to drift off, now.)
Cold weather also gives us greater appreciation of the good days. I’ve never wanted to live somewhere like LA., where the seasons blur into one another. According to Psychology Today, week after week of balmy weather doesn’t make people happier – and in fact, the cold weather makes warm spring days seem even better, as we appreciate them more.
Reading Nigel Slater’s marvelous new book of seasonal recipes and recollections, The Christmas Chronicles – I cannot recommend it too highly (it makes me want to spend the whole of December in the kitchen) – I discovered that Nigel and I share this passion for chilly conditions. ‘I am rarely happier than when working outside. Digging, sweeping, walking do it for me. I find manual work in the cold as energising and life-affirming as much as I find it (deliciously) exhausting. Short trips around the garden punctuate my day. I walk rather than take public transport to go shopping. Each morning, I will usually saunter around the garden, coffee in hand, rain or shine, frost or snow. I live in hope of the last one.’
The short trips around my own garden at the moment, with a steaming cup of Green & Black’s Hot Chocolate to keep my hands warm (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it), are mostly my squirrel patrols – to see which of my spring bulbs they’ve marauded most recently. (I could write an entire editorial on squirrels, but it wouldn’t have the positive spin that this one does.) But I enjoy the frosty air – and the warmth of that mug – hugely.
Anyway, as Mr. Slater concludes, in his paean to cold: ‘I pick a newspaper article about winter, totally at random, from the internet. Within the first three paragraphs, the author trots out “bitter, plummeting, battered, dire, freezing, awful, discontent”… Not a single word in praise of an entire season of the year. Which is, in an average lifespan, over twenty years of our life. In my book, that is far too long not to enjoy ourselves.’
I’m definitely with you, Nigel. And whatever winter throws at us: remember, a furry muffler, a Uniqlo jacket and a pair of insulated gloves are probably all you need to enjoy every wind-chilled moment of being outside. And being alive.