You’d think that after last winter I would know how to dress in the cold. You’d think that after living in Norway for a year, I might have an idea of what was involved. But, every day for the past few weeks I’ve been constantly going outside dressed in inappropriate clothing and been shocked by the various parts of me that are capable of becoming cold. My ears. My knees. My eyebrows (ok, ok, the skin underneath my eyebrows then). It’s almost as if you have to cover up absolutely everything in thick woollen things or just be resigned to the fact that it is probably going to fall off with frostbite at the end of the day (yes, alright, its probably not going to fall off with frostbite at the end of the day).
The thing is that last winter, I didn’t actually spend a lot of time outdoors. For the first part of the season, I was looking after little munchkins, who tend to turn into little icicles if you leave them outside too long (particularly the little ones who can’t really motor themselves about on their own two legs and sit in a pram turning into a pram-icicle), or at least you’re terrified that’s what’s going to happen and then you’ll have to explain to their parents why they now have to look after two ice-children instead of their regular, normal human children. So, I spent a lot of time indoors, wearing cheap tights that you could see my leg hairs through and slippers and big jumpers and thinking that was all that was needed to get through the winter. Later on, when I had my little cottage, I spent most of my time dressed in my PJ’s, sitting on the sofa next to a pot-bellied stove, wrapped in my doona, eating chocolate and drinking tea and thinking THAT was all I needed to get through the winter.
But, this year, I’m actually trying to do things outside, or at least, I’m doing things that require me to get dressed into actual clothes and take a bus or tube and then walk around for a bit before locating the place that I am doing the things at. Yes?
The first thing I have learnt is that cheap clothes are generally not warm clothes. Just because something from Primark looks furry and is in the shape of a jumper doesn’t mean that it will protect you from gale-force winds, or even, you know a slight breeze. Cheap things also tend to look terrible after even the slightest amount of activity/usage. The first day you wear the cheap thing, it looks bright and shapely. The second and third days you wear it, it looks slightly less shapely and slightly less bright. Then it gets rained on, you put it in the wash and you don’t have a jumper anymore, you just have a ball of slightly grey looking fluff. This rule is especially important in regards to shoes. There is no point in buying cheap shoes, especially in winter, because, inevitably, on the first day you wear them, it will piss down and the cheap glue will be destroyed and instead of keeping the water out, the shoes will now keep the water in and you will end up with trenchfoot (you may not end up with trenchfoot immediately, but it will happen). This rule, luckily, does not apply to second hand clothing stores, where you can get excellent quality, heavy-duty, if slightly old and mothball smelling woollen things for a ridiculously small amount of money.
The second rule is that ‘just because it is long, doesn’t mean it is warm.’ Minds out of the gutter, people, I’m talking about clothing. And the rule can apply to many objects of clothing: skirts, pants, shirts. Back home, when the coldest it would get in a day would be 16 degrees, you could look at a long-sleeved shirt and say, ‘oh, well, yes, that will certainly keep me nice and toasty. In fact, I may not even need such large amounts of material wrapped around my body. That may make me over-heat and sweat. I might just opt for the short-sleeve and long pants.’ Not in England, where the temperatures dip into the single digits. Long-sleeve shirts do nothing except cover up pasty white arms (which is useful in itself, really). Long skirts, even with stockings underneath are not useful unless they are wool or tartan. Long things are not warm things.
The third rule is, just because it is warm inside and sunny outside doesn’t mean you can leave the house without a jacket. Because I don’t have a smartphone (I don’t need one! I’m smart enough!) I don’t have those app things that tell you everything that you never knew you needed to know. I also don’t have an easy way of checking the temperature. I guess I could buy a thermostat, which is what people in the olden days (10 years ago) used to use or check the news, but by the time I’m getting dressed in the morning I’m usually already late, so my brain is in panic mode and isn’t able to think rationally about these things, so just goes, ‘Open the window and stick your bare arm out in the air for a little bit! Yeah, just wave it around in the air and see what it feels like!’ The fourth rule is, even if your arm doesn’t feel cold when you stick outside in the air for approximately 30 seconds, it is likely that when your whole body is all outside at the same time for several hours, the temperature will feel different than it did when you thought, ‘oh, I really only need a light wrap or something.’ YOU WILL ALWAYS NEED MORE THAN A LIGHT WRAP (this is as true for lunch as it is for clothes. Ba-da boom).
The fifth rule is that even thought it’s itchy, it’s really warm: always wear wool. Back home, I could choose not to wear my woollen jumpers on the basis that it was what old people wore and was therefore not cool. And, occasionally, I could wear a woollen jumper on the basis that it was what old people wore (and was therefore cool in an ironic way). Over here, wool has become my friend, my constant companion, my one true love. Even though whenever I get home after a day in a woollen jumper and look in the mirror, I have a whole lot of scary-looking red marks all over my skin and I freak out thinking I have a weird skin disease and then I realise its just because I’ve been violently scratching myself every two minutes all day long. What can I say? Love hurts.
Because of all these rules, the way that I am dressing is gradually changing. I’m looking much more intense, getting about in a lot of black and ex-army clothes (they’re REALLY warm) and Doc Martens (no water gets into Doc Martens!) Back home, my clothes always verged on the romantic, whimsical side of boho-hippy chic, wrapping myself in layers of floaty colourful cottons and rayon and other useless materials whose only point, it now seems to me, is to cover up your rude and wobbly bits. Hippies in England must be constantly old. Or dying of hypothermia. Maybe that’s why most of them tend to congregate in warmer climes like California and Byron Bay.
The flipside of this is the English people seem to be so aware of the cold and how to prevent themselves feeling cold that they actually seem to be actively fearful of what might happen if they leave themselves open to feeling even a little bit chilly for a few minutes in a day. They also seem to think that if you are indoors, it is your God-given right to feel warm and toasty, perhaps even boiling hot even if the only thing you’re wearing is your underwear. Which means that often at work you’ll find the heaters have been turned up to 28 degrees, which is just plain silly. I mean, apart from the fact that I’m running around at work all day and 28 degrees is a temperature at which I will become uncomfortably sweaty even when sitting down in the cool shade with a nice iced drink or an icy-pole, I just feel like saying to everyone, ‘Look, ok, you live in England. I know that may not have been a choice on your behalf, but I think you’re going to have to learn to accept it, or move somewhere else. I mean, I don’t sit around in Australia with the air-conditioning on, trying to make my household 10 degrees just so that I can get more use out of the scarf, beanie and gloves I own; so I think you should just accept that your country is always going to be a little on the cold side and its not an infringement of your human rights to have to wear a jumper indoors.’ I don’t, of course, because that’s not good customer service, but oh how I want to. I guess the upside is that if the English continue to ridiculously overheat their houses and buildings so that it’s actually warmer indoors in England in winter than it is outdoors in England in summer, they may manage to so irrevocably wreck the climate that it will eventually be like the tropics here without the use of the heaters. And then all my hard-learnt lessons will be useless.