I am cold.
There is something about being cold that is completely debilitating. Something that numbs the senses as much as the fingertips. Now, I think it only right to point out – lest you were to consider calling the emergency services – I am not talking life threatening here. Nothing close to hypothermic. What I am talking is ‘Below Optimal Operating Temperature’. I am talking chilled, not frozen. However, it is more than cold enough for me.
As the body becomes cold it begins to pump out all manner of messages to the brain, most of them telling it to stop whatever-it-is it is doing and figure out a way to get warm, that does not involve emigration.
I am old enough to remember life before central heating, when homes were occupied by small puddles of warmth within a sea of cold: the fire, the oven, the bedroom paraffin heater. I remember when the only way not to be cold in bed was to be covered in such a weight of woollen blanket that it was impossible to move. I remember the dread of having to vacate that woven cocoon in the morning.
In general, our lives now are not dogged by cold: our homes are warm, our shops and cafes are warm, our clothes are warm. We encounter cold much more infrequently and, when we do, we seek to find warmth with an increased alacrity. We do not seek warmth, we bathe in it.
I also remember draughts. Homes were full of draughts, the entry points of which had to be blocked by any means available: parcel tape around windows; paper over airbricks; giant, cloth-filled ‘sausages’ at the bottom of doors. This was the world of the draught-excluder. Unchecked draughts were the root of all illness: got a cold – you must have been sitting in a draught; got arthritis – you must have been sitting in a draught; T.B., Consumption, Pneumonia – all draught-related. Of course, the home with no draughts was also the home of suffocation – the price you had to pay.
This lack of ventilation also led to damp. Corners of rooms were routinely black with mould; windows ran with condensation; clothes were always heavy with moisture. On a wash day, the whole house could be fog-bound. A simple Sunday boil-up of spuds came with the threat of low-visibility across the English Channel.
I have always felt the cold. My gran said that I was ‘thin blooded’. I’m not sure what that meant, although I was thin. Mind you, I had that in common with virtually everybody I knew. If you weren’t skinny, then you were fat and therefore, presumably, not cold. I’m not sure why we were all so thin. We ate the kind of food that was not ready until it had had the living shit boiled out of it. Anything green required several hours of boiling before it was considered edible. A steak and kidney suet pudding may have to be boiled for several days in order to cook the three inch layer of suet which surrounded the gristle-bound lump of meat that lie at its core. These foods were meant to give us ‘a lining’, to keep out the cold.
Well, these days, I am more than adequately lined, but somehow, I still feel the cold and now, I know that it must be serious because my mind has thrown all of the words out of my head and is currently pleading for hot chocolate…