Winter in London

Winter in London

In climate we southern Brits have a winner. It very rarely gets too hot or cold, too wet or dry. We immediately complain if we have more than a day or two of the gales and ice which the Hebrides take for granted, or the droughts of south western France. We need go no further than 500 miles to north or south to see what a narrow and favoured latitude we live in. We even have the boon that, within a temperate climate, the local weather is always changeable and enables us to talk to complete strangers in the supermarket queue. For sure the townsfolk of Luxor never talk among themselves about the weather. They know that this morning is very similar to yesterday and tomorrow.

I’ve never quite understood (and I’m fairly sure I say this without envy) why the very rich spend their year following the sun. Thereby they miss much that I wouldn’t want to be without: the first signs of early Spring, the slow move of Autumn into Winter, the sudden day which happens where it doesn’t belong. That’s not to say that a week or two in Barbados in mid-January is a bad thing. Invite me to your villa (carried, of course, by your private V.I.P jet) and I’ll be there. But the magic of this would be that it is just a week or two; very different from the other 50 in the year.

But set against this (somewhat complacent) column of credits there is one irremovable debit. It is called darkness. We first notice it in November when the Authorities start fiddling with the clocks, and dusk, at an acceptable 6 p.m., suddenly becomes 5 p.m. Then, equally suddenly, so it seems to me, early December makes it 4 p.m., and the daylight day has swung on its hinge.

It’s a reminder that the Arctic Circle is nearer to us than the Equator. We’re temperate, but we’re northern. Our old bloodthirsty roots may, in geological time, have sprung from African seeds, but in proto-human time they grimly flowered in Norsemen and Frieslanders, slaughtering their way into the eastern coasts and then cowering in huts against the wind behind wattle hedges. Perhaps they were the very first millionaires in search of the sun. For them their voyages were, after all, towards the south.

And even today, they have something to teach us. ‘If you want to know about winter darkness’, the Stockholmers might say, ‘visit northern Sweden in January, where daylight is rationed down to three hours per twenty four’. We don’t need to make an actual visit. Imagination will do it for us. And meanwhile we can readily see why Finland does not have an acute problem with would-be immigrants from Africa.

But let’s come back to southern England, and in particular to London, now into its second week of winter. And here –which is the only purpose of this memo – I have one or two suggestions to offer.

Let me immediately say that they are of no use to those whose clocks are governed by others. If your work-place, in order to be itself, understandably has to open at 9 a.m. and close at 5 p.m., and if your journey to and from it takes at least an hour, then I cannot protect you. But that leaves a lot of us (a growing lot of us) who have some control over our own clocks.

My general message is ridiculously simple: USE DAYLIGHT TO THE FULL. But what really counts is the detail.

Never get up from your bed before daylight. If others in your household are breaking this rule, make maximum use of ear-plugs, eye-masks and, if absolutely necessary, bursts of bad temper.

Develop the skill of making an excellent and fully nourishing breakfast: enough to keep you going well beyond what others call lunch. Do not expect or encourage others to join you. Clear up meticulously after you have finished.

Start what you want to do that day, but – not later than 12.45 – go out and get done any outside activity such as shopping or exercise. Have a good look at the sky and exult – from the emptiness – that most other people are cramming down a hasty lunch.

It may well, by now, be coming up to three-ish in the afternoon. The sun, if there is sun, will be very low over the rooftops and there might even be the very first signs of dusk. It may well have grown a little colder. Immediately go to your workplace/study or whatever. Pull the curtain firmly shut and make sure that the temperature stays above 70.

Switch on all lights in the house and, if you must, have a snack, small enough not to ruin your appetite for supper. Go back to whatever you want to work on. After a few days of practice you will hardly notice that you have got it right and that it is now darkness.

Do not be distracted or misled by those who believe that it is still afternoon. They have to say this because of clocks which are not theirs. In reality it is now night.

Night is for bed. There is the relatively recent concept of ‘the evening’. In latitudes only just south of the Arctic Circle this is dubious. It has to prove its case, particularly if it threatens to disrupt the sane regime prescribed above. Never hesitate to walk out of an evening into bed if you feel threatened in this way.

Believe me, my clock-free friends, it WORKS. Just try it and you will see.

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