An Englishman’s Guide to Surviving Winter

This is my first winter in New England and the past week has been the coldest week that I’ve ever known; it hasn’t been above -5C all week and the temperature when I woke up on Thursday was -19C (-28C with wind-chill). Unless you were conceived and born in an Arctic research station that is pretty bloody cold. At that temperature exposed skin gets frost bite within 15 minutes. I can either deal with the temperature stoically or moan about it incessantly and as I naturally chose the latter option plenty of New Englanders have been offering me advice to deal with the cold (probably to shut me up). I have decided to share some of these tips and some of my own with you, so if you ever find yourself in a place where it’s colder than it has any reason to be you will be glad that you read my blog.

Ice is starting to cover the rivers and lakes.
Ice is starting to cover the rivers and lakes.

1. Be grateful that you aren’t somewhere colder. No matter how cold it is, there will always be someone who tells you that it is colder where they are. That person is usually (always) in Canada or the Midwest. Winter in cold countries is basically a contest between who is the most miserable; kind of a Top Trumps of temperature. Be prepared to quote both the actual temperature and the wind chill factor in defence of how cold it is where you are. The good news is that no matter how depressingly cold it is where you are there will be someone who is facing even more frigid weather and is prepared to share their misery with you. This is a game that you essentially can’t lose; unless you move to within the Arctic Circle, in which case you, my friend, are screwed.

Waking up to this makes me so eager to get out of bed. Not!
              Waking up to this makes me so eager to get out of bed. Not!

2. Buy Thermals. Now I understand that thermals are probably the ugliest thing that you can think of (except maybe Rush Limbaugh’s politics) but when you are so cold that it’s difficult to breathe you will appreciate them. Thermal pants may be a passion killer but they are less of a passion killer than your genitals dropping off or getting frostbite! When outside in Maine in -15C temperatures last March I quickly learnt that jeans and socks are no barrier to the cold and that you need an extra layer or you will lose your ability to reproduce. You should also cover your face; rocking the bank robber look with only your eyes visible in the coldest weather will save you a whole lot of misery and might ensure that you keep your ears.

Ugly as hell, but useful!
Ugly as hell, but useful!

3. Consider the temperature in Fahrenheit rather than Celsius. A lot of New Englanders have given me this advice and I’m starting to appreciate it as useful. America may be the only major country in the world that stubbornly sticks to Fahrenheit but it does have one advantage; temperatures look a lot better when it’s cold. -10 in Celsius looks horrendous and makes me not want to leave the house but the equivalent 14F makes the temperature seem a lot more welcoming. Until I actually leave the house of course. You know it’s really cold when it is negative in both measurements; when the temperature drops below -18C you are also hitting negative Fahrenheit.

4. Appreciate the beauty. It may be so cold outside that you lose the will to live but it is also rather beautiful out there. Iced over lakes and rivers, frozen waterfalls and icicles hanging from buildings make a winter wonderland. I’m hoping to buy some skates soon and try some skating on frozen lakes but I’ll be taking advice from the locals about the safe places to do so first! Seeing huge lakes freeze is pretty remarkable to someone from England where large lakes and lots of ice just don’t exist. When it snows it gets even more beautiful until you have the inconvenience of actually doing anything in it!

Winter can be rather beautiful.
Winter can be rather beautiful.

5.Get a cat. Our cat, Sammy has a natural ability to find the warmest place in the house but he is prepared to share if you move him gently enough. He is also willing to share some of his warmth by lying on you at night although his predilection to waking my wife and I up with a series of loud meaows and also to stand on the most tender parts of our bodies at 6.30AM leaves a little to be desired. In the event of us being snowed in he has shown an ability to drag birds in through the window so we know that we won’t starve either.

6. Move to somewhere warmer! A lot of people have told me that they would like to move to southern climes at this time of year; usually Florida or Southern California. I personally like winter in New England so far because even when it is so cold there are icicles hanging from cars in the street the sun is usually shining. It certainly beats an English winter; last year it rained for two whole months in a row and the sun became a mythical object. I’ll take freezing cold temperatures any day if I can get lots of sun to go with it.

Of course you should do all the sensible things too like watch out for black ice, have a blanket in the car and candles in the house in case of power cuts but there are plenty of websites that tell you about all that stuff! Do you have any tips to surviving the winter that you’d like to share with me?

Je suis Charlie

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11 thoughts on “An Englishman’s Guide to Surviving Winter

  1. Such good advice- when I went from what I thought was a cold Wales to a properly cold Iceland this Christmas, I was so glad for my thermals!! And it is beautiful to see frozen lakes in a way that just doesn’t happen in the UK, the photo you took looks incredible, looks like you may need some ice skates for next winter!!

  2. Brilliant post Tom and written like only us Brits can do when talking about the weather! Back here in the South West corner of the UK it’s been blowing a hoolie and wet like only the Atlantic can throw at us, but it is about 8 degrees Celcius! To be fair the sun did come out off ten minutes this morning, but light drizzle falling on Bodmin Moor as I type….
    Given the choice, I’ll get on a jet to New England.

    Dookes
    Je suis aussi Charlie.

    PS The forecast is for more wind and more rain!

    1. I’m glad you liked it! I kind of miss the wet and drizzly moors at this time of year; sinking waist deep into a peat bog is something that hasn’t happened to me for a while!

  3. Love the catwarmer idea. (In fact, I believe that’s how the band “Three Dog Night” got their name!)

    Oregon weather seems just like English weather, with a few hotter weeks and a few colder ones, but many in which the sun is only a rumor.

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