Windswept and Winterstruck

So, for all my homesick yearnings and complaining about how mercilessly hot it is out here, it seems I have acclimatized after all. After three years, my internal thermostat must have recalibrated to Middle Eastern settings, because I was totally, profoundly shocked by how cold it was back home in England.Church near Rye. Bleak innit.

I don’t mean just “Brrrr – that’s a bit chilly;” I mean literally not caring about what I looked like so long as I was warm enough – frequently resorting to wearing all my clothes at once. Never before have I angrily ransacked my own suitcase, thinking to myself, What’s wrong with me? WHY don’t I own a balaclava? At times I had to improvise by pulling my bobble hat right down to my eyes and nestling my chin into several layers of thick jumpers. My feet were encased in so many pairs of socks that they resembled woolly trotters. Even so, my skin responded to the cold by cracking and peeling off, while my husband’s lungs went into shock and he developed some sort of wheezy, sub-zero-induced asthma. What had happened to us?

In my mind (and idealistic, highly selective memory), British spring days are brisk and blowy – showery perhaps – with brightly changeable weather and fresh, crisp air which promises warmth soon. Spring is a time of optimism: “Though April showers may come your way, they bring the flowers which bloom in May”; a season that is so energetic and cheerful it inspires (allegedly) the urge to spring clean (mercifully, I have never experienced this terrifying phenomenon).

Motivated by this entirely theoretical optimism, on one bleak, sleety morning in Rye, my husband and I set off for a walk in the beautiful Sussex countryside. It really was very cold. VERY cold. Bitter. We cut across the salt-marsh towards the sea and walked past a herd of sheep and their tiny lambs, shivering beside the ancient ruins of Camber Castle. After a few miles it started to rain and we stumbled numbly across a pub in Sheep and Castlewhich we sought refuge from the unseasonal weather. We sat beside the fire and sipped hot chocolate, watching the wind whip freezing rain against the window. We decided to walk home via the coast (I don’t know why we decided this. The cold must have dulled our powers of reason) and our spring stroll in the country somehow turned into a grey, eight-mile trudge, leaning into a frozen coastal headwind. Our hot chocolate-fuelled warmth and good humour soon faded. A grim silence fell between us as we both considered the possibility that we actually might die on the snowy wastes of Winchelsea. Like many Arctic explorers before us, we knew that there was nothing to do but keep walking. If only we’d thought to bring a team of trained huskies. We saw no one on our walk apart from one small cluster of hikers who had apparently made the same terrible mistake as us. As we passed them, we raised our eyes and looked into the blizzard, meeting the narrowed, terrified eyes that peered out from beneath their waterproof hoods.

We didn’t die. We caught a bus home. Back in the safety of our hotel room we turned the radiators up to full blast. I decided I needed a hot shower and was startled (not for the first time on this trip) by how brutally cold the water from the cold tap was; in Dubai the tap water never gets any colder than tepid. In the summer months, when the pipes are heated under the baking ground, you don’t even need to turn on the hot water to have a shower, it pours out of the ‘cold’ tap piping hot. This is of course a problem when you are desperate for cool refreshment. Last year I once resorted to putting ice cubes in the wash-basin. Sometimes I think my life has become bizarrely polarized. Back in Rye, I used the hairdryer to warm the bed up and snuggled beneath the piles of extra blankets I had asked for, at last deliciously, luxuriously warm… Until I woke in the middle of the night needing a glass of water. My husband deserves a medal for getting up and launching into the icy air for this selfless quest. He wrapped a thick dressing gown around himself and groped blindly through the frozen darkness, muttering the fatalistic words of Captain Oates – “I am just going outside and may be some time…”

Roaring FireOne of the benefits of this unexpectedly cold weather was that it gave us an excuse to do little more with the rest of our holiday than sit in lovely pubs and tea rooms and eat delicious food and toast ourselves in front of roaring log fires. If I were to make a list of the things I miss most about home (other than friends or family of course), a log fire on a wintery afternoon would definitely be in my top ten. We gazed at the hypnotic miracle of the dancing orange flames. We sat in comfy chairs and dozed and did crosswords for hours at a time, sleepily absorbing the luxurious, crackling heat. We became experts at when it was time to ‘put a couple more logs on’. I think one pub landlord thought we had moved in, we made ourselves so much at home.

But the weather did change. One beautiful blue-skied Saturday, back home in Kent with my family, spring finally arrived. I went for a glorious walk with my brother for which neither balaclavas nor bobble hats were required (nor a team of huskies for that matter). There were the beginnings of buds and blossom on the trees. Spring flowers which had been frozen closed in a strange stasis finally decided to risk opening their petals. And high in the blue sky above us, a tiny dot of a skylark sang his little heart out with such zeal that it was as if he himself had banished the winter with his song of unalloyed joy. It seems spring is a time of optimism after all.

Blossom               Hail to thee, blithe Spirit!
                     Bird thou never wert –
                 That from Heaven or near it
                       Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art. 

                Higher still and higher
                     From the earth thou springest,
                Like a cloud of fire;
                     The blue deep thou wingest,
And singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest…

from Ode to a Skylark by Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1820

Spring buds

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37 Comments

  1. Rick

    Looks like I’m first again………laughed out loud several times……….wonderful. And yes, it has been an unusually cold winter over here, and it went on, and on, and on. Even after that brief burst of Spring we are now back close to freezing again. Excellent blog, Luce, frothy, lovely and bright…..just like the Spring we are hoping will arrive any day soon. At this rate we may have to skip Spring completely and go straight into Summer.

    • Thank you! It means so much to me that you enjoy reading it. Yes – I think moving straight into summer is an excellent plan – just in time for my next trip home, please! x

  2. I am absolutely loving the rain today!! It makes me feel normal. Would’ve loved a brisk walk and the boys having a chance to splash in puddles!!

    • Yes – it has been unseasonally wintery here too, hasn’t it! It was such a rare, cosy, rainy afternoon yesterday!

  3. I completely understand you. I hate the summer in the Middle East but then it’s so lovely to sit outside and drink cold lemonades in March, while my friends in Europe are texting me from their ski slopes…Maybe our bodies should just come with a switch- press here for summer mode. Very nice, thank you, now can we please revert to winter mode.

    • What an excellent idea… Maybe I’m just not good with extremes of temperature – But then I’ve always been a middle-of-the-road sort of person… 🙂

  4. Clever girl. Now you’ve got me singing “Wanna go home”, and pining for the windswept Cornish coastline, a hot pasty and a pint …. 🙂 Loved this, especially the idea of anyone heating up their bed with a hairdryer!

  5. Brilliant! Made me laugh out loud several times – especially when you met the other equally miserable hikers! I really miss old fashioned pubs and their grub and open fires as well. But when I go back to England in July, it will probably still be open fire weather so I won’t have to wait too long!

    • Quite right too – it’ll probably still be below zero. I’m definitely not venturing home without the fur-lined boots 😀

      • The first thing I had to do when I got there last year was buy a coat – in July. It was freezing! I was very grateful for the children’s section in Asda as I hadn’t set aside money for a new winter wardrobe!

      • Brilliant! I never thought I’d say it, but I miss George at Asda too 🙂

      • A winter jacket cost me £12 (aged 12-13 – I’m glad I’m small!!) Can’t beat that!!

  6. The encounter with the hikers has me laughing still…as does the perceived need for a balaclava.
    I was in France and England last November/December – before the foul weather really set in.
    One wait outside Lille station for an overdue Eurolines bus in icy rain in the early hours of the morning convinced me that in future my trips will be in the summer months.
    Without the heavy silk trousers I was wearing I think I would have gone down with hypothermia.
    I could have done with the balaclava too….

    • That does sound pretty grim. I honestly don’t know whether I’d rather be shivering with cold or cooking in the heat. Both are bloody awful. Is there anywhere in the world that maintains a consistent, lovely 20 – 30 degrees all year round?

  7. Welcome to my world. 😉 It’s really bad luck that your visit home coincided with just about the coldest Easter on record. I know – we were snowed in for almost 3 weeks – over Easter! We of course are used to wearing lots of clothes most of the time, but you describe so well the culture shock of coming from somewhere where clothes are almost a nuisance rather than an urgent necessity. Glad you caught a glimpse of spring at the end. A super, funny post.

    • Thank you, Perpetua – I did indeed. And it’s always lovely to be home, whatever the weather. Snowed in for 3 weeks?! I hope you had plenty of Easter eggs to keep your strength up! 🙂

  8. What a wonderfully entertaining post! Not that I’m laughing at your misfortunes, because I have experienced the same (wading through waist-high snowdrifts putting out dormouse tubes), but, well, it’s funny 🙂

    • Glad you enjoyed it! I think I’d love to put out dormouse tubes – I bet they need them when it’s that cold – poor little things! 🙂

      • Well… they don’t need them when its cold! They hibernate in little nests on the ground over winter, where temperatures are likely to fluctuate less. They use tubes and boxes during the active period, usually April-October to stay overnight in or breed.

        Still, if you want to put out 150 tubes whilst wading through waist high snowdrifts with a bitterly cold wind freezing your face off next year, you are more than welcome 😀

      • Thanks for the generous offer but I might pass – think I’ve just had enough British winter to last me a couple of years at least… 🙂

  9. Warming the bed with your blowdryer, now that’s wimpiness for you! Great post.

  10. Thank you for that…loved it!

  11. Haha, I’ve done trudging in bleak wet weather too. Not any more now though if I can help it. It’s great for character-building and I reckon I’ve built up enough now ta. 🙂

  12. Thank you so much for liking one of my posts and bringing me to this page. I loved reading it … spoke so much to my heart. From another who was born in England and now living elsewhere!

    • My pleasure – really liked looking through your poems, too. Thanks so much for stopping by! 🙂

  13. I’ve lived in Malaysia, and now, for twenty four years, in Houston, TX. I am still homesick!
    I just went home for a wedding in Spain which was sandwiched between England. On a beautiful sunny afternoon at my sister’s home we sat outside to eat lunch. They were in t shirts, I was wrapped in my fleece jacket. Even in the south of Spain I felt chilly. Because of my thinning blood I think they will always think of me as the weeny of the family. Unfortunately I left when the weather was glorious. Far better to have left when it was cold and raining then I wouldn’t have come home with my romantic ideal and longing for home.

    • Welcome to H&H! You’re probably right – these last few months would have been a lot more difficult if it had been a glorious English spring! Sounds like it’s still on the chilly side for June… Do you think you’ll ever move back there now?

      • I would but I think it would be difficult. My kids all live here and I don’t think they’d come back with me. My husband wouldn’t want to go back either. Also I worry that I might regret it and miss my home here. The grass is always greener – right.

      • The grass is indeed always greener. There would be lots of things I would miss about Dubai if we had to move back to England tomorrow…

  14. I’m so fortunate to have stumbled upon your blog…..haven’t laughed so much for a long time. You’ve quite distracted me from the task in hand with this terrific stuff you’ve written.
    You’ve inspired me to get on with my jottings about my visits to England – a place I have truly loved ever since I lived there for 13 years in the 70’s and 80’s. Curiously enough, even though I live in Queensland, Australia, I’m shivering from the cold as I write this. The trouble with our houses is that they’re not designed to cope very well with the occasional cold snap.
    Not that our cold snap could hold a candle to the sort of bone-chilling cold I experienced in England. I remember, in the days before I’d had enough brains to buy a climate-appropriate coat, having to appear in public looking for all the world like Albert Steptoe about to perform the dance of the seven veils; all I had to keep me warm were numerous,no doubt, trendy warm scarves to wrap around my person and a tatty pair of mittens.
    Anyways, I’ll shut up now…….sorry to be leaving an essay instead of just a comment. Thanks for a wonderful read.
    Mary :D:

    • Hi Mary – welcome to H&H! So glad you’ve enjoyed having a read… Really enjoyed looking at your blog today too and I’m looking forward to reading some of your memoirs about the England of my youth!! Love the description of you wrapped up in your scarves; whatever I wore when I was going out, my mum would protest that I was dressed ‘for a summer’s day’ and needed to wrap up warmer 😀

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Lucy Strange

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