Hazy Shade of Winter
Apologies for my second seasonal post following so quickly after Autumn Daze but little did I know last week when I was walking through piles of golden dried up leaves and enjoying the lingering warmth of the Autumn sun, that it would be my last taste of Autumn for the time-being. I had thought that Autumn was now in full swing and that we would have at least another few weeks of it. So it was much to my surprise that only days later the temperature dropped and to use Simon & Garfunkel’s words, the sky had taken on the distinctive ’hazy shade of winter.’
This week we had snow! Currently the daily temperature is struggling to get higher than 4°c and at night the mercury dips below zero, reaching -4°. To my Swedish friends this is nothing and is probably a normal Autumn temperature. But to us Brits it’s a different story, and I’m not even going to comment on what it must be like for my friends from much warmer climes! In Britain, Autumn tends to stretch into November. It may be constantly overcast and gray with the infernal British drizzle that never seems to clear up, but it is still relatively warm: at the moment the UK is still enjoying daytime temperatures well into double figures with parts of the country even reaching 22°c recently! Winter sets in nearer to December but other than an occasional flutter it is quite rare to see a snowfall before February (usually my birthday week).
Sweden is a different story. I am already up to 5 layers on my way to work in the mornings but that is because the coldest temperature I have ever experienced in my whole life to date is -4°c and that was here. This week. You see my problem? I have never been that cold before and it doesn’t help that I have spent the last 3 years in the tropics where I would get cold if the air conditioning was set below 26°c (yes, that IS cold there!!). Fellow commuters on the train stare at me in amazement as I shed my layers like some kind of colourful woolly snake, and Swedish friends’ responses to a Facebook status about the cold included “Haha, cute! You just wait ” and “-4° = NOTHING!” As much as I am trying to imagine what -25°c might feel like, I really can’t. I don’t even know how I can fit any more layers under my coat.
It’s not all bad though. Surprisingly, -4° here did not feel as cold as much warmer temperatures in the UK. The air is clear and dry, not the tuberculosis-inducing constant damp that pervades British winter. If it is not windy, it actually doesn’t feel too unpleasant at all. I understand that it is going to get FAR colder but have been told by a number of people that once it gets below -10°, there is very little difference between that and -25°, it’s all just cold!
A common saying in Sweden is that there is “no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing” so the trick is to get into some shops and see what’s on offer. Merino wool thermal tights, knee high woolly socks, boots with fleecy linings, coats that would transform Kate Moss into a sumo wrestler, and ear muffs! I can’t wait to get to the shops to buy my first pair of ear muffs since I was 7 years old! I’m actually quite looking forward to wrapping up so nice and warm. Swedes are far more prepared for the winter than the UK is, they have to be. Shops sell clothes that are appropriate to the climate (if only Britain could follow suit!), roads are salted at the first hint of snow, studded tyres are fitted to cars, and people do not go out unless they need to-city centres are deserted on a Saturday afternoon if it’s cold.
Swedes are very family orientated and winter is just a long excuse to do what they enjoy doing best – spending time with their families. In 1680, English writer John Evelyn wrote about Sweden in his diary:“Signor Pietro, a famous Musician, who had ben [sic] long in Sweden…told me the heate [sic] some part in summer was as excessive as the Cold in winter in Sweden; so cold he affirm’d, that the streetes [sic] of all the townes [sic] are desolate, no creature stirring in them for many months, all the inhabitants retiring to their stoves.” In my opinion retiring to a stove for a few months does not seem to be a bad idea: winter is the perfect opportunity to indulge in all that lovely comfort food; stews, soups, pies and puddings and all without worrying about putting on a few extra pounds! Paradise!
“Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: It is the time for home.” Edith Sitwell
So here I am approaching winter for the first time in over 3 years. I went to the cinema in Stockholm on Thursday night: the air was crisp and the clouds were heavy with the promise of snow. The unmistakeable scent of Christmas permeated the brightly-lit shops – I can’t wait to enjoy Christmas this year! Christmas is just not the same when you’re lying on a beach watching Santa strut up and down in hotpants distributing flyers for a $2 bucket of vodka red bull…I must admit that after watching Eat, Pray, Love, I came out of the cinema longing to go back to Indonesia but I can wait, I want a real Christmas this year
On Friday morning I left Claire’s house, where I had stayed after our cinema trip, to a light fluttering of snow. 30 minutes later I got off the train to find that the light fluttering had developed into a fine coating of the white stuff and the landscape was transformed into the scene from a Christmas card. It wasn’t very deep, although enough to bring the UK to its knees no doubt, but it was enough to make me very excited!
When there’s snow on the ground, I like to pretend I’m walking on clouds. – (Takayuki Ikkaku, Arisa Hosaka and Toshihiro Kawabata, Animal Crossing: Wild World)
The novelty will no doubt wear off very quickly once the train delays have started and I’ve slipped over on ice hundreds of times but until then I’m looking forward to snowballs, angels and christmas markets. And once the gloom finally settles in I shall hold to PB Shelley’s question when ”…Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”