Winter carries the whiff of VapoRub, running noses, parkas, Disney-inspired, tinsel-heavy wonderlands (making you wonder a lot), not wanting to leave the house, man leggings, simmering family feuds surfacing over under-cooked Brussels sprouts, recycled Christmas gifts, optimistic diets and even more optimistic New Year plans, frostbite, reindeer jumpers, pretending Christmas is not happening by loudly singing Heatwave over schmaltzy Santa songs and always remembering that most things can be solved with a glass of mulled wine and chocolate coated gingerbread.
Some melancholic souls actually look forward to the grey drizzle to balance out the joyful exuberance of past summer months. I know, me neither. But I did finally use my dormant DIY skills to seal my single-glazed windows and thus increased my chances of not dying of frostbite in a Victorian flat sans heating. I was very proud of the job until I realised I had sealed them so well they won’t open. But still, it makes a lot of sense, the cold air can’t come in and the cold air doesn’t get out, a win-win situation really.
My bed and I are on good terms in any season but in winter we get especially close and comforting, snuggling up to one another as much as possible. I get grumpy just thinking about getting up in the morning as I open my eyes and feel the cold engulf me, devising cunning strategies of how to stay beneath the duvet as long as possible whilst still being productive. Like day-dreaming, checking Instagram and Facebook and deciding that whatever important things I wanted to do in the morning are really not that important and can wait till the afternoon. Or next summer.
How convenient then that favourite past-times can be done in bed. To be honest, there is very little reason to leave the bed at all during the winter months. Bears I salute you.
Our Friends from the North
Winter also gets me wondering why the Scandies aren’t cranky and inactive for 6 months of the year. Well, for one they might be masochists. Two, they might actually like the cold. Three, they quite possibly have well-insulated flats with effective heating. And just drink loads in case they don’t. Or drink loads anyway, cause that definitely helps keeping the blood flow high. They probably thrive sub-zero, get more inspired and creative, their brains working overtime, their mood miraculously rising as the temperature drops.
However, I only think about the Nordic phenomena sporadically, because the majority of my thinking right now revolves around how to make a living without leaving the bed, ordering groceries and take-aways online, having friends over for pajamas-movie parties and using a little bed-pan so that other urges are being catered for, too.
Having thus taken care of the winter beast, I would eventually emerge from my duvet fortress around Easter like Krtek, the little mole from the Czech cartoons, and notice that I didn’t miss much of anything. Except that more wars are being fought and more people are dying senselessly and, in a sensible world-weary move, move to Lisbon to breathe sea air and eat placid custard tarts.
Actually, there is one winter fantasy I play out during hibernational daydreaming, which takes place in a snowed-in hut in the mountains surrounded by forests with a log fire and enough food for weeks. This is the only acceptable version of spending any month after October.
There was one winter I remember more than any other. It was in Dresden in 1996. I lived rent-free with friends in a detached 20s house with loos out in the staircase and old-fashioned coal-fired ovens. Only I didn’t know how to heat an oven, so when my friends went away, my magical fire thinking didn’t do the trick. It also turned out to be one of the coldest winters. Or is every winter always the coldest?
Anyway, in the winter of 1996 which FELT like one of the coldest, when my housemates were away and I didn’t know how to heat the ovens and the pipes froze so that in order to use the loo or brush my teeth or get any running water I had to cross the backyard and knock on my neighbour’s door, I still don’t know how I managed to leave the bed. I think I made it only because I counted down and when I got to the end, I counted down again until I had to get up cause I would have been late for work at the photographer’s who had a shower. And heating. And pastries.
As if that hadn’t tested my endurance enough, in a bout of folly or maybe due to a non-examined underlying masochist impulse, my two friends and I decided to make a trip to Poland over New Year. Like hopping on a train to Warsaw and visit our neighbours. We should have read the warning signs when crossing the border, in an unheated GDR-train with red faux-leather seats, the water we spilled on the floor turned to ice within minutes.
Something else we hadn’t considered beforehand (which puts us in the same league as Napoleon’s army and the Wehrmacht), was that the more East we went the colder it got. In fact, Warsaw was so cold that we couldn’t stay outside for more than one hour without the skin on our faces starting to tighten and hurt. The hostel was cold, too, so we regularly visited cafes and bistros, ordering food by pointing to various z-s-w-filled words on the menu and ending up with one intestine dish after another.
Eager to change location and our luck, we went to Lodz, hoping to be met by tropical weather, sandy beaches and Polanski’s film school. Walking around the streets in the evening, finding neither Polanski nor anything that merited a trip, we ended up in a deserted industrial area. At that point our once joyful banter had been reduced to grunts, our adventure spirit dissolving as quickly as the clouds formed by our breath.
In another ill-fated attempt to avoid the cold and escape to a better world, we went to the cinema. I don’t remember the film but I do remember that they left the door open and it was freezing.
On the way back to what we hoped meant warmth and civilization, a cab miraculously appeared, promising to take us to a cosy place. It finally stopped in front of a spooky brutalist 80s hotel complex with long wide corridors and hundreds of rooms, all of them empty. Us being the only guests meant they naturally saved on the heating. By now in survival mode, we decided to wear our coats, hats, gloves and scarves inside our sleeping bags underneath the blanket – not hoping for anything anymore. If he was alive, I’m sure Roald Amundsen would understand.
Wobbling along on a slow train back home on New Year’s Eve, we ate raw garlic followed by vodka straight from the bottle and realised that not every idea is a good idea.