A good friend of mine doesn’t believe I like the cold. He insists that nobody actually likes the cold, and that those of us who persist in saying that we do like the cold are deluding ourselves. So, in honour of the fact that it is getting deliciously close to the Irish winter, and in the last few days its dropped below 10 degrees (that’s celsius, for any of you American readers out there who just freaked out about how cold I said it was), and the fact that these things have made me realise that I do love the cold (though, I was deluding myself about loving the rain… that’s a much more complicated relationship that myself and the rain have), I am writing this list of things of why Winter can sometimes be the loveliest time of the year.
1) Mittens and/or Gloves
When it starts to get cold – and I mean, really, really cold, not like that fake, pathetic cold that you get in Sydney, where its 18 degrees and the sun is shining and everyone’s all like, ‘ooh, its a bit cold in my singlet top and thongs (flip-flops, you crazy Americans), I might put a cardigan on,’ but then you forget, because you’re too busy adjusting your sunglasses and getting a tan – well, when it gets actually, really cold, you’re allowed to wear mittens or gloves and you don’t look like you’re an affected twat who saw someone wearing mittens in the latest issue of ‘Vogue’ and thought they might complete your look. No, you’re allowed to wear mittens and/or gloves, because without them your fingers might be lost to frostbite! Yes! Frostbite! Hooray! Now, why would this be a wonderful thing? Well, I have a soft spot for woollen things. I particularly like woollen, knitted things. And, if they are also a bright red colour, that makes me ecstatically happy, and liable to fall in love instantaneously, or do a little jig in the street. Why so? Well, I think woollen, knitted, red things remind me of childhood. Or, at least, a picture-perfect childhood I was sold in a Grace Bros catalogue (oh, nostalgia. Remember Grace Bros? *Sigh*) There’s something so sweet and old-worldly about them. Plus, when you’re hands are encased in red wool, its kind of difficult to use them properly, which also kind of makes you feel like a kid too, in that you can’t actually do anything properly anymore, and need to ask random passerbys/adults-with-no-gloves-and/or-sensible/chic-leather-gloves to assist you. You can’t pick up things, you can’t undo your laces, you can’t use your touch-sensitive technology – its just like being a kid! The whole world is an adventure! How will I push the shuffle button on my iPod and skip all this ABBA music I’ve had since I was 12? Oh, I can’t, I’ll just have to listen to it and pretend its Winter 1995 and I’m 12 years old! Wheeee, Mamma Mia!
Along with mittens/gloves, there are all sorts of other lovely things you are suddenly allowed to wear when it gets cold. Jumpers! Cardigans! Leg warmers! Muffs! Tights! Scarves! Beanies! Berets! Ponchos! Jackets! Capes! YES! You can wear capes! Like a freakin’ wizard! Or a 19th century upper-class lady swanning around London! One of the most fun things about winter is seeing how many layers you can wrap yourself in. How much wool and fluff and mismatched colours and bizarre patterns you can fit onto your body. Tights are brilliant for lending a crazy, bohemian edge to any outfit. I’ve had a love affair with crazy tights since I was 9, when I had to get a pair for a production I was in. Dad was unable to find any zany tights in the stores, so decorated a maroon pair with neon pink puffer paint Halloween shapes. I’m still not convinced of that particular colour scheme (there’s a fine line between delightfully kooky and horrifically clashing), but they were admired nonetheless, and the passion for tights, and a season you could legitimately wear tights in, was born. When it comes to clothes, the bigger and the brighter and the longer and the more ridiculous, the better. I like to feel like I’m still playing dress-ups, and winter is great for that. Scarves are much more fun if they wrap around and around and around your neck until you’ve basically got a tire sitting under your neck, but they still then have enough material left to hang down to the ground and graze the cobblestones. Jumpers are much more fun if they are 5 sizes too big and cover your knees as well as your arms and chest. Ponchos are best when impersonating a portable, wearable blanket. When you get inside, and its warm, its like a whole adventure getting off all those layers and finding appropriate places to store them. Plus, sometimes, you can’t even remember what you actually decided to wear underneath all those chunky, knitted goods! Oh! I chose that dress! What a delightful surprise!
There is something special about quilts. Quilts as opposed to blankets, duvets and doonas. Whilst I’m not opposed to blankets etc. they do tend to be store-bought. A quilt, however, is usually home-made, and therefore, has a story behind it. It has love and dedication. You just have to see that movie, ‘How to Make an American Quilt’ to know that quilt makers are one racy lot. Sex in artists’ studios, sex in lakes, sex on hillsides with your sister’s husband when your own husband is dying in hospital, extra-marital affairs, that’s what’s behind quilts, according to Hollywood. Seriously though, my mum used to make quilts, and whilst I don’t want to really think about that in regards to the comments I just made, the quilts she made were beautiful and special and unique and I still have the one she made me when I was 7, so, clearly they last for years, and you can make ‘friendship quilts’, which is so lovely, because, then its like you can wrap yourself up in friends, and you can’t do that with Facebook, no siree bob, so put that down as another mark against Facebook, it just goes to show how evil Mark Zuckerberg is, taking away all our real human interactions and supplanting them with fake ones, and oh, but, hey, there’s a money-making idea, what about a quilt that had all your Facebook friends’ profile pictures on it, and, oh, but, REALLY the point I’m trying to make here is, that you can only bring out a quilt, no matter how beautiful, how special, unique, or ‘friendly’ during the winter time, and that is a fact. Well, ok, sure, you might need it in an Irish summer, but, that’s just not a fair argument because Ireland is weird and an anomaly and doesn’t have real seasons, it just has ‘weather’. ‘Bad weather’.
Admit it. Everyone is, at heart, a bit of a pyromaniac. The difference between all of us though, and that crazy cat guy played by David Wenham in ‘Cosi’, is that most of us keep our pyromaniac tendencies to some matches, a gas stove, a fireplace, or, when we’re really lucky, a campfire. There’s something about those flames that is just so hypnotic, like they’re alive, like they’re little red and yellow demons jumping all over the wood and gobbling up the paper. And then there’s that delightfully smoky burnt woody smell that hangs in the air, and on your clothes, and in your hair, the smell that says, ‘I’ve recently been near a fire! I’m a real, live human being! I’m so rustic and authentic! I should be wearing heavy-duty brown pants and a knitted woollen jumper right now! I belong in a ‘Colorado’ catalogue (you know, back when that store existed)!’ This is where winter comes into its own. Fireplaces that sit empty and forlorn for 7 – 8 months of the year are suddenly crackling with little fire demons! You can sit in front of them, on a woolly rug, wrapped in a quilt, clutching a glass of wine and dreaming of your next pair of mittens. You can also toast marshmallows. And everyone knows that the only way to eat marshmallows is melted and so hot that your mouth is rendered useless through being burnt by molten-lava liquid pink sugar. Yes.
5) Hot drinks
Everybody loves a hot drink. Everybody does. That’s why your mum always made you hot chocolate or warm milk and honey when you had a cold. Because she knew that hot drinks were that much more comforting than cold ones. Now, if you’re like me, you’ll drink tea whatever the weather, but the fact of the matter is that its more pleasant to drink a great big pot of tea in cold weather, if only because you don’t break out in a sweat afterwards. Sitting inside with a pot of tea, a quilt and a fire, when the weather outside is lashing rain and howling wind to rival a tornado, is as much as anyone should need from civilization. Screw the internet and the iPad. Give me a pot of tea any day. And as a further note on hot drinks, some drinks that you think might not be good hot, say red wine, or whiskey, are actually better hot! That’s right! Better hot! In fact, I’ve read that some UK visitors feel Australians serve their beer too cold! And whilst I’m not qualified (not being a beer drinker, myself) to comment on that, I will say that mulled wine and hot toddies are Europe’s least-appreciated gifts to the world. Hot, alcoholic drinks have been well and truly overshadowed by things like Shakespeare, modern democracy and the tabloid sensation that is the House of Windsor. I say, next time you’re cold, give them a go (the hot drinks, that is. Not the House of Windsor).
Well, ok, yes, you can hike in the summer. I have hiked in the summer. But, hiking in winter is delightful. Sometimes it rains, its true. Sometimes its foggy. But, these things happen in summer too. What is wonderful about winter hiking is that you may get one of my absolutely favourite types of days to be out and about. That is, a crystal clear, bright sunny winter’s day. Because there are no clouds about, its often colder, but there is a brightness on a clear winter’s day that is completely different from the garishness of a sunny summer’s day. Everything seems sharper, in focus, whereas sunny days are so often hazy, muggy. The sweat trickles into your eyelashes and suddenly you can’t see anything. You spend most of your day lying somewhere shady with your eyes closed. But, on a clear winter’s day, there is nothing better than being out and about on a hike, looking about you. Your cheeks get appealingly apple-red and rosy. Your eyes get bright and shiny (like Elizabeth Bennet’s). You can see your breath hanging in the air in front of you. Your limbs feel energetic and full of life, instead of sweaty and drowsy. Crystal-clear winter days are the business.
Yes, you sleep in the summer. Of course, you sleep in the summer. But winter sleeping is different. Its easier. Its longer. Its deeper. You never wake up in the middle of the night in winter, tossing and turning, kicking off the covers, making trips to the bathroom to splash your face with water, getting all the ice from the freezer and lying on it, and, finally, in one last desperate attempt, trying to organise and stretch your limbs in such a way that keeps every piece of sweaty skin away from every other piece of sweaty skin on your body (unless something’s gone wrong with your central heating). No, in winter, you can wear your entire wardrobe to bed, pile on every blanket you own and create a little cocoon of warmth, a little mound of hot happiness into which you will snuggle and not leave for at least 8 hours, knowing that no blazing hot sun is going to creep through the curtains at some ungodly hour of 5:30am and force you to get up and go jump in the pool, or go to the gym or something. Sleeping is made for winter. That’s why so many animals hibernate through it.
This is subjective. And, maybe a little ridiculous. But, as far as I’m concerned, winter is more magical than summer. Maybe its that everyone and everything is wrapped up and kind of hidden in winter. You can’t quite see everyone. Everyone’s just a little bit more mysterious, like a tall dark stranger in a Tolstoy novel. So, you’ve got on your layers, but, then, so does the environment – fog, mist, rain, clouds, snow if you’re lucky – all more usual in winter, and guaranteed to create a bit of atmosphere. And, then again, some things that you don’t normally see, you suddenly can see. Like, your breath. Or, the shapes of the branches on the trees. Things are kind of topsy-turvy. There’s more darkness, and everyone knows that its in the darkness that the little folk come out and the magic happens. When its cold you can believe that you live somewhere like Norway or Finland or Poland and that there are trolls living in your backyard, or a Golem that haunts the town. Apart from whether or not you believe in faeries or gnomes or golems or not, sitting inside, when its dark outside, you have to find something to do. One of the best distractions is, of course, a book, and nothing is more magical than a book.
So, there you have it. My top 8 reasons in favour of winter. I could go on and on. I could tell you about frost patterns. About the desire to cook curries and use a crock-pot. About how hugs and snuggling are suddenly so much more appealing and user friendly (I can get affection without getting someone else’s sweat patches transferred onto my clothing? Oh, glorious season!) But, its late, and its been dark for a good long while now, and my bed and innumerable doonas are waiting. So, enjoy your summer, Australia, its winter here, and I, for one, couldn’t be happier.