Friday 20 September 2019

Turning up the temperature in a country town

Fiona O'Connell

It's likely that my city slicker friend, Vanessa, will blow out her birthday candles today, wishing she were doing so in the country. For this winter baby often waxes lyrical about upping sticks to live the good life.

She might change her mind if she knew that the good life could also be the teeth chattering with cold life. For cities seem warmer, what with crowds, lights, and spending so much time going from one heated interior to another.

Rural life exposes you more to the elements, even in a country town. For the houses and shops, churches and schools, are surrounded by open countryside, with big skies and fewer barriers against the wind and rain.

Or maybe the cold seems colder because you notice the seasonal change to nature; driving down country roads lined by bare trees bereft of leaves, a few stragglers shivering on spiky branches. Mist lies heavy over land that can breathe - with the downside of the world becoming blurred, as if viewed through a fogged-up window. The emptiness is accentuated by silence. Though the volume cranks up in the heart of town, for there's nothing muted about the weekly country market - where not everyone has an issue with icy weather.

Like our resident cold-loving Kiwi, Leslie, who is at the table with the cash box, ticking off items sold next to the relevant trader's name. She was beaming from one frosty red cheek to the other, that Siberian Saturday - a cheery contrast to her melting hot misery during last summer's heatwave.

"You can't do anything in the heat," pipes up Marian, who is sitting next to her. As one of the pillars of this market of enterprising self-starters, that wouldn't do.

We grow quite heated, expressing our preference for plummeting temperatures and horror of humidity. Until it occurs to me that Paddy probably never invaded other countries because we couldn't stand their clammy climates.

"There's nothing nicer than the sun shining in a blue sky on a crisp cold day," Marian says. "My dad loved frost and so do I. It makes everything look beautiful."

Thankfully, Jack Frost still leaves room for Jack the Lad to spice things up. For what brings me to a standstill, as I'm passing the butchers on my way home, isn't the sight of John chopping up someone's leg. It's the fact that the door is open, as usual, "buy local meat" chalked on the blackboard there. Yet there's no sign of his wool hat.

"I don't need it," John declares.

"But you do," the reckless vegetarian contradicts the cleaver-wielding butcher. "It's freezing."

"Ah, but you see," John smiles, showing all his white teeth, "I had a great start to the day that's warmed me right through."

Turns out he's not talking about thermals. He leans across the wooden slab and his blue eyes sparkle. "Let's say I had a cuddle in the bed this morning."

He roars with glee. And why wouldn't he? For no city heating system can hold a candle to a red-hot rural romance.

Sunday Independent

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