“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes.” That’s how the saying goes. When I first heard this phrase it was attributed to the comedian Billy Connolly. It has also been attributed to the Victorian-era art critic John Ruskin, the explorer Ranulph Fiennes and the fell-walker Alfred Wainwright, as I noted in this piece from 2016.
If you adhere to this belief, the weather here in the UK is not bad, it’s just worse than we’re used to on 2 March. “The Beast from the East” (the name given to the strong winds whipping in from Siberia) has combined with Storm Emma to bring more snow and much colder temperatures than we have experienced for many years. Maybe the hundreds of drivers stranded in their cars overnight on the M80 earlier this week consoled themselves, as they sat behind the wheels of their stationary vehicles, by saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather”.
After being caught out by many of the occasional cold snaps over the last few decades, I have finally acquired enough individual garments to feel that I have the right clothes for this kind of weather. The last piece in this sartorial jigsaw was a down-lined waterproof hooded jacket, purchased in an emergency last month at a cross-country meeting in North London. My 11-year-old daughter was competing. As soon as we arrived at the large public park, which also doubled as one of London’s biggest mud-baths, the heavens opened. My snug puffa jacket (purchased last winter, and which I am generally very happy with) is not entirely waterproof, and the only place to stay dry was under the canopy set up by a chap selling sportswear. We were 45 minutes early for the race. I bought spare keys for the spikes on my daughter’s running shoes and kept out of the rain, which had, though this seemed barely possible, become even heavier. Away from all the racks of running tops, shorts and tracksuits, and the boxes of footwear, there was a lone waterproof Adidas jacket, the kind that athletics coaches wear. It is, apparently, the official UK Athletics design for 2017. It was his last one, and not in a colour that I would usually go for, best described as lilac: not quite blue and not quite purple. It protected me for the rest of the day and has kept me warm and dry ever since.
The first time I bought anything specifically to combat a sub-zero climate was over 30 years ago, in preparation for my first visit to the Berlin Film Festival: two pairs of thermal long-johns. The temperatures dropped as low as minus 20 that week and I wore those under-garments the whole time I was there. I have worn them so rarely since then that one pair is still in use (and still fits), though the pair that I have worn in the last two days was bought more recently by my wife.
My footwear, to combat The Beast and Storm Emma, is a sturdy pair of Caterpillar boots, purchased in 1999 in advance of some hiking in Scotland. Since then they have been worn no more than 50 times. At this rate they could probably last another 50 winters. Over the years I have lost countless gloves, scarves and woolly hats but this year have not misplaced a single item.
The schools that my children attend were both closed today, and the three of us were able to spend the day together. As we walked our local icy streets and across the snow-covered public spaces all three of us were kitted out suitably for the conditions: warm, waterproof coats, hats, gloves, scarves, ear-muffs. At their age I always felt the cold. By the time we got home, with their gloves wet from throwing snowballs at each other, they were beginning to feel cold too, but not enough to stay indoors. They carried on out in the garden, until their hats and trainers were soaked through as well. I stayed indoors, marvelling at how I had not felt so much as a shiver while we were out and about. It’s a novelty. My childhood recollections of playing out in the cold are summarized in this piece, which I have just copied from “1000 Memories” to my Memories Menu. We certainly didn’t have the right clothes for this kind of weather when I was young, but we do now.