Sunday, September 19, 2010

Now is the winter....

As sunmer ends and the nights close in, let us pull up a chair and ponder the winter to come:


A few years ago I flew into Heathrow and the pilot announced that it was "63 and cloudy" in England. After what I can only assume was a silent smirk, he quickly added, "But then it's always 63 and cloudy here isn't it?" And yes, it appears that way. Hands up how many of you (in the UK) have said in the past few years that the winters don't seem as harsh as they used to be?

Forget your glorious English summer - How I long for an English winter.

Although it is still warm and sunny here in Chicago at the moment, my heart is already sinking at the thought of another long and frozen winter. Chicago doesn't even get the worst snow, but that's often because apparently "it's too cold for snow". Yes folks, if we get snow it's a sign that things are warming up.

Over the next month or so, people all over the northern plains will be preparing for winter as follows:

•Mulch the gardens if you don't want to lose all your perennials. (There is a very limited number of perennials that make it through anyway.)

•Prune all the dead and crisp branches down to the ground.

•Buy in huge quantities of salt to keep the sidewalks navigable.

•Train your dog to wear dog booties, as the salt can be very painful on their paws.

•Join every local toddler gym and indoor play facility (if you have small children) as they won't be playing out between November and March.

•Match up all the gloves and mittens - they can be needed at a moment's notice.

•Make sure all the snow suits/pants fit.

•Put away all your fashion boots and coats. Parkas and snow boots are the only option.

•Find at least one snow shovel. (In our case, have a back up for when you leave it outside and someone helps himself to it.)

Although we don't have the continuous darkness that Mike refers to, we do have months and months of sub-zero temperatures. On a really bad day the weather guys on TV will tell us to stay indoors and give us "frostbite signs" to look out for.

Now I've depressed myself and it's sunny outside. Must go and make use of the sunshine while I can.


The days are closing in, a sharpness is creeping into the evening air and a tinge of yellow is highlighting the hedgerows. Autumn is here, which means winter cannot be far behind.

Not that I mind so much; winters in Sussex cannot hold a candle to the winters I left behind in Upstate NY. Oh, there is the odd year when we get more than our share of snow, when the traffic snarls and the sidewalks ice up and everyone starts to grumble (it’s what we do best in Britain, after all) about why we can’t cope with a little snow. (I’ll tell you why: it only snows about once every ten years here, you don’t stockpile road salt and maintain a fleet of snow plows. No one even owns a snow shovel. That’s because you don’t need to, so stop whining! Just clean up what you can with what you have to hand, wait for the rest to melt and thank your lucky stars that you don’t know what REAL snow is like.)

Anyway, aside from the odd blizzard that socks us with, oh, two or three inches of snow and the few days the thermometer dips below the freezing mark, winters over here are a doddle. For me, anyway; people who moved here from Florida or Southern California must think they’ve landed in hell, but it’s paradise to anyone north of the Mason-Dixon line.

What it lacks in cold, snow and ice, however, it makes up for in darkness. Don’t forget that even southern Britain, latitude-wise, is on a par with Labrador, and while the Gulf Stream keeps the weather relatively mild, there is nothing you can do about the sun and its relation to the earth’s axis.

At the nadir of the year, it’s still dark when I get to work, already dark when I leave, and grey in between. I only get to see the sun on the weekends and then only when it is visible through the cloud cover that seems to appear at the end of October and not dissipate until April.

This is the time of year when pubs come into their own; there is nothing like an evening in a cozy pub by a wood fire in the inglenook fireplace to keep winter at bay. And British ale is specially brewed to contain all the vitamin D you need to offset the lack of sun. Either that, or it makes you not mind the lack of sun so much. Either way, it’s how you get through the winter.

In spring, you can start drinking lager again.

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  1. My husband called me the "Snow Queen" for having been in the UK for Christmas for the first time last year, and supposedly "bringing with me" all that unanticipated snow. We have spent the 6 Christmasses previous to that in Chicago (or Toronto) and he knows how challenging the cold can be although he hasn't gotten used to it really. Thank you for this post... spot on on the grumblings and observations on the respective winters! -- to which I totally agree!

  2. Toni: yes, I forgot about the great winter rituals, putting insulation down, draining the outside faucets so they won't freeze solid, having the antifreeze in the car checked, and putting antifreeze in the wind shield wiper fluid....

    The list goes on.

  3. Got to admit, I'm looking forward to not preparing for a Bosnian winter this year. That much snow did my head in - and the fighting with my children to get them to understand that they had to spend as long outside as it took us to get ready to go outside killed me.

    But obviously I'll find something to grumble about this winter - I am English after all!

  4. Ha ha - forgot about that aspect. You spend 20 minutes shoe-horning your kids into the snow suit, hat, scarf, gloves and boots, and they come in after about 5 minutes either blue or bored.

  5. I actually enjoyed the winter in New York last year. It was properly cold and snowy - but there also seemed to be an awful lot of sunshine, when it wasn't snowing. Unlike England which just seems grey from November till March. Still, maybe the excitement won't last this year - the thrill of shovelling the drive was already wearing off by February...

  6. The English winters I remember from childhood do not exist anymore. Xmas Day is always mild and grey rather than chilly and frosty. I miss it!

    Also, if you're interested, I'm having a little giveaway on my blog at the moment: My Autumn/Birthday Giveaway! Hope you enter!

  7. Hi guys- My children have seen more 'ice' days then snow days here in England. I try to explain what real snow is,like in Connecticut where I grew up, but the only way they understand is when we take them over to the US to ski (or Europe). and don't get me started on all weather and snow tyres here in the UK.

  8. Ah, winter in the desert southwest--when people drape their yucca trees with fairy lights... We always look forward to the fall migrations when the waterbirds start to arrive for the season. It's supposed to be a La Nina year, though, so we probably won't see much snow--last year we got a good 4 inches, if you added it all up.

  9. Well I was silently dreading my first UK winter with small children, but after reading about life in Chicago I'm feeling quite chipper.


  10. Oh the darkness of British winter... thank God for a West Wing box set that got us through. :)

  11. I have to say I love the Autumn in Britain - especially up here! The colours are absolutely amazing...


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