Sunday, February 27, 2011

Winter Begone!

This winter has been extraordinary on both sides of the Pond, but which side has it worse? (Not that it's a competition.)


I have to start off by saying that, in order to avoid another upstate New York winter, I would happily endure ten Sussex winters and count myself lucky.  While they do have their own unique pleasures—the hushed beauty of a heavy snowfall, the crystalline stillness of a twenty-below-zero morning, with the air so breathtakingly still you swear it could shatter—for the most part, they are pure torture.  Sussex winters are, in comparison, a walk in the park, but they bring their own special discomforts, or at least I’d better find some, or this may be the shortest post I ever write.

Sussex winters are damp and dark and, although not cold enough to freeze your nose hairs, the dampness has a way of seeping into your bones and drawing your soul out through your nostrils.  If you are susceptible to SADD, which thankfully I am not, you can have a bad time of it.  Even the most southerly parts of Britain are well north of any bits of the continental US, so it is dark when you get up, dark when you get to work, dark when you get out of work and pretty much grey in between, lending a look of perpetual twilight to the weeks between October and March.  And on those rare occasions when the sun does shine, it is in a position to be continually in your eyes.

So the worst thing about a Sussex winter is the incessant drabness.  The best you can hope for is hoarfrost, when the grass, trees, bushes and stationary birds all sprout a furry froth of frost.  It is exceptionally pretty.  But mostly it’s just grey, which tends to make you listless and depressed.  In Upstate, like it or not, you get a fresh coating of snow, oh, every two or three days, it seems, and, like it or not, that gets you outside to shovel, sweep, sprinkle rock salt, make snow angels and have a snowball fight with the kids, whereas in Sussex you would just be sitting inside, eating comfort food and gazing out at the gloomy, drizzly afternoon thinking about how cold you are.

The good thing is, the dark days linger for a relatively short time and by February, when New Yorkers are so winter weary they start doing daft things like naked snow bank diving (honest, I saw this myself) the days are already noticeably longer in Sussex and snow drops are beginning to appear.

So, yeah, winters can be a drag in Sussex, but in this Pond Parley exchange, the US wins (or loses, depending on your point of view) hands down.

Every winter I say "What the hell are we doing here?" as I gaze around the frozen tundra that is Chicago. Some winters are not as bad as others but it's all relative. We spend four months (somewhere between November and March) in below-freezing weather, where it's too cold to be outside for any length of time.

It's just been announced that February (which isn't even over) has had the most snow in over one hundred years. (see Expat Mum post for impressive photos).

The thing about snow in Chicago is that
a) it falls on a completely flat landscape, which means there's no skiing, not even a hill or two for the kids to have fun on
b) it doesn't melt so it just sits there, getting dirtier and dirtier, for months

c) it can lead to big fights, as I alluded to in a December post . People spend hours digging their cars out of piled up snow, only to have their parking spot "stolen" as soon as they drive off. This has led to the mayor-condoned practice of "dibs" whereby people place plastic lawn chairs, children's garden play equipment and anything else thay can think of, to warn people not to park in that spot. All day. A few people have earned a smashed windown or two by daring to park there anyway.

The sun shines a lot during the winter months, which means there's not much danger of SADD. What you do get however is CABIN FEVER, especially if you're stuck in the house with small children who need to run around. It can literally get dangerously cold here and a trip to the local park isn't really an option. Yes, there are more and more indoor options where the kids can run around, but none of them are free and well, you're still stuck inside. The supermarkets get full of moms with kids as it's seriously considered "a day out" in these frigid months.

Everyone's getting very excited at the moment in Chicago, because winter's almost over. I know in the next month I'll see people walking around in sweatshirts - and shorts, and they'll be grilling outside despite the fact thet they'll still be able to see their breathe. Brrrr...


  1. Although I think the darkness is longer in the UK than in the US, it is a little secret that winter is A LOT shorter here. Now that it is the end of February, the daffodils are coming up and I think there is no chance of snow until next winter. Spring is here, hurray!

  2. Snowdrops in Sussex and Daffodils in London?

    Not in Yorkshire mate, it's still winter up here and still as grey, or as bill Bryson described it, "like living inside Tupperware"

  3. I will take a million Suffolk winters over one 17 inches of snow in one go winter. Fact.

  4. It has been a particularly harsh winter here on Long Island - even those who have lived here all their lives say so. However, I still have to say I think I prefer it to the British winter. We have had beautiful snowfalls, been able to go skiing twice within driving distance, and the boys have enjoyed sledding and ice-skating. And when it isn't snowing, the sun is shining for the most part. Not like in the UK when it would hardly appear between November and February. And now the snow is melting, there are signs of spring here too - today is beautiful, and everyone is out and about.

  5. Today, we have grey drizzly weather. It started off foggy (very rare round here), and when the fog lifted, it was just grey. I remarked to Husband that it was rather like being in England! I love the way the sun shines in winter here, even when it's cold. But I also liked today - the familiarity of the nothingness, the greyness, the dampness...

  6. There are certain grey, damp, days here when it just smells like home, but I know if I were back in the UK I'd miss the glorious winter days we get here with blinding sun on snow.

    Already we've had days with temps in the high 30's when the children have insisted it's 'warm' and there's no need for coats! They are ready for winter to be over. I, on the other hand, remember getting 2 feet of snow on April 1st the year we got married, and I'm not holding my breath waiting for winter to be over!

  7. My friend was in a rental car last week because he moved someones dibs chair and they slashed all his tires in the middle of the night. Even his girlfriend couldn't muster up anything more sympathetic than, "You should move, people usually just key your car here." West Side, it's the best side baby!

    I for one am definitely at the point in the winter where I'd be more than willing to trade sunny days for warmer weather.

  8. No one but us Wisconsinites should be able to complain about winter. We woke up to minus 10 degrees F. again this morning. My daffodils are buried under two feet of snow.

  9. Wow Elizabeth, that's brutal. I was half kidding about the smashed window!
    And yes, CM - I always wonder how you lot live up there. As well as North Dakota and Minnesota. Madness!

  10. Sun in the winter sounds fantastic - we get the odd day like that here, but not often. But I don't think I could cope with the long season of cold. I'd have to live a bit further south.

    At least here there is some hope now that the garden has snowdrops and crocuses out, and the daffodils have poked their heads through the ground, though they're never out in my garden (in the midlands) in time for St. David's Day (that's today, 1st March, and he's the Welsh patron saint, and the daffodil is the national flower of Wales).

    I do get SAD (which seems to be SADD in the US - what does the extra D stand for?)and the British winter still seems very long to me. Can't wait to see some sun. Please let it come out soon...

  11. Yeah it was pretty bad, Humboldt Park really earned its reputation there. Especially since there was hardly any snow left at that point.

  12. Deep hard frost in Yorkshire this morning - Oh Joy!


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