Winter is the marmite of seasons – you either love it or you hate it. Me, I love it, except when I hate it.
Winter has good PR, I’ll say that for it. No matter how many winters I’ve weathered (see what I did there?), and there are quite a few, I remain vulnerable to the winter fantasy peddled by magazines and advertisers.
You’ll recognise the images: happy family cuddled up in their pastel cashmere pullovers, enjoying special time over a board game. Or gathered cheerily around the kitchen table, delighting in bowls of hearty broth. Or gaily running through piles of fallen leaves, laughing. Or perhaps reading in front of a roaring log fire, sipping mugs of steaming cocoa.
The reality’s somewhat different. In our house, we spend much of winter skulking around complaining about the cold and arguing about how best to deal with it. Out of respect for the planet (and my bank balance), I think everyone should put on a jersey (sadly, we’re short of pastel cashmere). If that’s not sufficient, put on another one. And so on, until you’re warm enough, or you can no longer move your arms. Once you’re wearing every item of clothing you own and can’t move your arms, but still aren’t warm enough, you can put on a heater.
Our house is old and not particularly well suited to the cold, mostly because it isn’t airtight. If you come home at night and the lights are on inside, you can see strips of light under the doors. If you sit next to a closed window, you sometimes hear a quiet whistle of air coming through a crack. This makes heating difficult. Please don’t write in and tell me to get one of those sausage dog draft excluders. The house looks like Worshondjie Retirement Home! Still,
the hot air gets out and the cold air gets in.
If a heater’s deemed necessary, we’ll heat one room, perhaps two. If you leave one of the heated rooms, you have to brace yourself for a walk down the icy passage. As I leave the warm room, I like to utter the famous last words of Captain Oates to his three companions, recorded by Scott of the Antarctic: ‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’ Whereupon – aware that his ill-health was impeding the others’ chances of survival and willing to sacrifice himself – he stepped out of their tent and into the raging blizzard, never to be seen again. People thought it was funny
when I first said it. Now, not so much.
Oh, and we have pets which love to lie around the fire or the heater. There’s an undercarpet heater in our bedroom and you can see exactly where the pad is because the animals are spread out in a neat rectangle. You never realise the true surface area of a cat until you’ve turned on the undercarpet heating. The cat resembles a large puddle about an inch thick. I have no idea where his bones go. It’s a marvellous sight. When the animals aren’t absorbing all the heat from all the heating appliances, they want to go out. Or in. Or out again. And every time the door’s opened, all the heat you’ve carefully built up disappears.
Where I do coincide with the models in the ads is in providing the steaming hot broth. As soon as the weather turns chilly, I start making soups. I love soup and could eat it every day. Not so the rest of the family. After a week of mushy lentils and veg, the husband starts muttering about a ‘convalescent diet’. The kids ask: ‘Can we have solid food tonight?’
So I make them a non-liquid meal, turn up the fire, get out the Banagrams, and let the outside pets in and the inside pets out. And if the light’s right and you squint a little, we look exactly like the family in the ads.
FEATURE: KATE SIDLEY AND PHOTO: FOTOLIA.COM