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Cold!

By Michael Harling

Summary: It's funny how you adjust to life and the weather where ever you live. Cold in one place is completely different in another. Harling shares his experiences in Sussex, England.

Living Abroad - Cold is Relative

I admit to being a bit of a prat about the weather here in that I derive great delight from writing to friends and family back in upstate New York, regaling them with tales of how I am sitting on my balcony enjoying a beverage and watching the daffodils sway gently in the warm, February breeze while they are slogging though blizzards and enduring yet another hideously soul draining, mind numbing, bone cracking season that we in the north eastern US innocuously named winter.

I know it's annoying, but if you don't like the weather, move.

Well, the gods or karma or whatever you believe in seem to have heard about this and they aren't letting it slip by; for over a week now it has been abnormally cold. Okay, so cold here generally equates to about 34 degrees but when you're used to walking around in a tee shirt and a light jacket, it comes as quite a surprise. And, as I write this--rumbling through the Sussex countryside on a drafty commuter bus en route to my office in Brighton--it is as cold as I have ever seen it; -5C, or 22F. I don't think the daffodils are happy.

The main reason the cold in England feels so cold is that no one is prepared for it; rain they can handle, but they don't know beans about cold.

For one thing, all their houses are built of brick or concrete. Not exactly the cosiest of substances. Even on the warmest of days the walls, feel cool and in the winter they simply ooze frigid air. No one seems to have figured this out yet either, as all new dwellings are erected using brick, mortar and poured concrete, which has the dual effect of providing a super-highway for the cold and damp as well as possessing all the visual appeal of a milk carton.

The only concession to climate newer buildings can boast are better heaters and double glazed windows. I'm not certain, but I suspect they also allow heat in modern bedrooms and, perhaps, even the bathroom.

More traditional buildings, such as ours, have a single heater in the living room and one in the hallway, but none in the bedrooms or bath. This unfortunate oversight, coupled with the concrete walls and single pane, metal framed windows (which conduct cold so readily that, on a still day, you might as well just leave them open) makes our bedroom seem more like a neatly squared off cave than a cosy comfort zone for much of the winter.

There are times when I begin to marvel at how people who live in such a traditionally dreary climate could build houses without proper heating, but then I remember that I grew up in a wood-frame house where the only source of heat was a kerosene furnace in the central hallway (and this in a land where -20 Fahrenheit was not uncommon). My wife, when she talks about cold, tells how she can remember seeing frost on the inside of her bedroom window. Where I grew up, we couldn't even see our windows for the thick swirls of ice caked to them; we had frost on our walls. If you wanted to murder someone in our house, all you had to do was shut their bedroom door after they retired for the night and they would freeze to death in their sleep.

Isn't this interesting; without meaning to, it appears I've come full circle. Granted, I live in a flat where layered clothing and extra blankets are necessary for survival, but I have had it worse--much, much worse.

So I guess I'll close now and simply enjoy the scenery. It is frosty, but the rising sun is glinting fetchingly off the rolling fields and distant downs while, out on the street, people are scraping ice from their windshields, no doubt cursing the weather and wondering how much more of this they will have to endure.

Perhaps a few of you in the northern US would like to trade places with them for a winter or two?

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About the Author

I am originally from Upstate New York and moved to Sussex, UK in 2002. I have recently published a book titled, "Postcards From Acoss the Pond," a humorous look at life in the UK through the eyes of an accidental expat.

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First Published: Jan 24, 2009

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