Life

Saturday 24 August 2019

The joy of being frozen

I lived through a war, says Eilis O'Hanlon, so a bit of cold doesn't faze me. And my kids will thank me. One day

Winter may be coming in Game Of Thrones land. In Ireland, it's already here. The cat wants to creep under the quilt each night, because it's too cold to lie on top of the bed.

If you wake in the middle of the night, needing a trip to the bathroom, you just go back to sleep and hope for the best, because it's not worth risking the frostbite, and, anyway, you'd only disturb the aforementioned cat. And besides, if you did have a little, erm, accident, then the warmth would be a welcome relief, in more ways than one.

I could switch on the central heating, but, well, how can I put this? Are you out of your tiny little mind? Of course I'm not going to put on the central heating unless it's absolutely necessary.

That costs money. Quite a lot of money, in my experience. Regular central heating was one of the first things to go once the recession started to bite, along with health insurance and satellite TV. Warmth is a distant memory now.

Secretly, I'm not even sure that I mind any more. Being cold is character-building.

That's what I tell my children, regaling them with tales of my childhood in Belfast, when we'd regularly wake with frost on the inside of the windows, and the only thing more horrifying than turning on the hot tap in the bathroom to find freezing-cold water flowing onto your hands, was turning on the hot tap to find hot water flowing - because have you ever experienced anything like hot water on chilblained mitts in winter?

No, of course you haven't.

You're a wuss who grew up in a house that felt like a tropical island in winter. I didn't. Ours really was a cold house for Catholics, so cold that Eskimos would have marvelled at how we stood it. But I'm not sorry. It made a man of me. And I'm not even a man. That's how character-building it was.

My children are subjected to this speech regularly. It comes right after the one that goes, "I grew up in the middle of a war, you know, and you don't hear me complaining when the local vegan store is out of coconut oil."

Yes, I really do lay that guilt trip on them. I have no shame.

They're still not convinced about the benefits of freezing to death, however.

There's only one way that they take after me, as my daughter discovered when she went away to university.

Suddenly, she realised that not everyone in the world sits watching TV in a coat, with a blanket tucked around their knees to keep warm. That's our regular year-round ritual, save for those two weeks we jokingly call "summer".

It makes economic sense. Why pay to turn on a radiator, when you've got blankets that have already been paid for? If the blanket isn't enough, go for the quilt. Winter tog rating, naturally.

It's very comforting. Try it, if you don't believe me. You feel all cocooned and safe, like a gender-studies student who's been told that she never has to hear any opinions that conflict with her own ever again.

My daughter soon discovered that she missed this part of home life most of all, once she was in snug lodgings where fellow students actually expected to be able to feel their toes.

I should probably have been insulted that she didn't miss her parents foremost, or her brother and sister, or even the cats, but deep down, I was proud.

I knew that, even though she hadn't had the privilege of growing up in the middle of a war, and so would never know the unparalleled joy of feeling immensely superior to people who didn't, she'd still managed to absorb some of that Northern grittiness.

So in a way, I think I'm doing my children a favour by making them shiver. I'm giving them a sliver of that doughty Belfast strength of character that made their mother such an incredible human being.

I'll draw the line at taking away their hot-water bottles, though. That would be far too cruel.

To the cats.

Kids are one thing, but you can't expect the cats to be cold as well. What kind of monster do you think I am?

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