S & M Files, Part XVI

Distribution Permission

This version of S & M Files is freely distributable provided that the copyright notice remains intact. All material in the Annals, unless otherwise stipulated, is copyrighted (1999-2006) to Michelle A. Hoyle & Stephen B. Dodd.


*** This is another S&M Files late-breaking (very late) information update!
Yes, news as it happened!
Sit back. Relax. Enjoy.
All the fun of travelling but someone else's hassles

In this episode watch as
->Stephen recounts the tale of two temperatures: hot and cold.
->Our triumphant foray into England, the land of hot and cold, but mostly cold, and the ever-present smell of fish and chips. These, my friends, are the tales of ice and floe.

Part 1 - Cold

One alarmingly nice day in merry old England, I was informed that this was the sunniest March in England since 1907. Imagine that. Imagine waiting another century for a decent amount of sunshine to penetrate gloomy England. 100 years. I'd be too damned old to appreciate it, and with better luck by then Michelle will be finished her thesis.

Enjoying the unusual sunshine, I was little aware that it would shortly be my fate to hike on the hottest day on record, bereft bereft of shade, under a sun so fierce, one member of our group would fall, beaten, unable to rise or continue.

Years before, we flew over Wales with the sun watering in our eyes, bright and sharp through the Plexiglass window, clouds distant and inconsequential below. It was our first day in England and the last time we would see the sun for a long time. These clouds soon took on definition as we started our descent into Heathrow, growing closer, thicker, and greyer. These weren't the fluffy, white, billowing clouds of my childhood dreams. Nor the deep, menacing clouds of a pregnant sky full of energy and potential. These were British clouds: polite, immovable, drawing little attention to themselves but always there, blanketing the land. They probably smelled like fish and chips.

As we penetrated this layer of mousy sky, the sun gasped, flickered and was defeated. Its seemingly momentary defeat would last for many, many months. We arrived in the late fall, the rainy season, and never having grown up here, never having lived through a British winter, never having seen an English summer, we experienced each day with no idea that there were times in England when the sun did shine. Each day seemed like the one before: damp, chilly and drizzly with a low, dull sky. It was like living underground in a giant cavern, the sun and surface a distant memory.

For some time, I was unaware that the daily weather maps featured symbols other than rain, cloudy, and partially cloudy. It wasn't until the following spring that I saw an odd looking symbol over Kent in the morning paper. It was a funny, little icon of the sun.

I studied it closely.

This was quite a shock coming from Canada where the winters are long, blue and white. In a Canadian winter, the sun it not so much yellow as it is white. Like the landscape, a blanket of a thousands of shades of white draped over trees, cars, houses and fields. You can feel the sharp bite of winter on your skin, waking you up, telling you to be careful, to be present, to be here in this world where the sun streams out of a blue sky onto a white tableau so strongly luminescent, it makes tears run down your face.

The cold doesn't bite in England. It is deeper than that. It penetrates. It gets inside of you, pervasive and unrelenting. A bit like being in love, I suppose. But I rather prefer to choose my lovers. And I prefer a lover who doesn't chill me to the bone. (Cold feet in bed is about my limit of devotion, thank you very much.)

Several Canucks in England related the same experience: the winter they stayed in London was the coldest winter in their life. Period. They had survived -30°c, even -40°c blizzards in Canada yet compared to Londoners, they were pussies. These hearty Canadians simply couldn't handle this cold, this damp, pervasive London cold.

It didn't help that they generally lived in flats that had a coin-operated heat register. Out of coins? No heat for you. There is something visceral and tangible about feeding coins, your coins, into a heater. You are closely connected with the price that must be borne to stay warm. There is a real difference between turning the thermostat up a notch and reaching deep into your pocket for same coins you use to buy fish and chips with. The heat that does come seems to escape too easily through those large cracks, precious fish and chips leaking out of shallow walls. Through this convection connection comes frugality. There are only so many coins you can drop forever into a heater before you start to feel a bit of the spirit of old Scrooge. "Surely I can survive with a little less heat (and a little more fish and chips)." And so, many Canadians, and even more English, suffer through a cold winter, too cheap in their living room to heat their sorry asses.

You will often find that in English flats being inside is only marginally different than being outside. Perhaps the English are a hardier bunch. Or perhaps the secret of insulation has not yet come back from those elusive Colonies.

Our first adventure in British flats involved a cheery little place smack dab above a fish and chips shop. It had no insulation and no apparent heat. In all the rooms, there was only one electric heater. To warm up you turned it on, invited your mates in, closed the door, stuffed towels under the door gap and sat around rubbing your hands together until you could no longer see your breath, all the while staring at the heater and wondering how much this must be costing in electricity.

"But I'm still cold, " I'd complain. "Put on another jumper," was the usual comment. A comment so usual and often repeated that it became a catch phrase and solution for most of life's ills. Cold? "Put on another jumper." Hungry? "Put on another jumper." Love sick? "Put on another jumper." "But I'm already wearing all my jumpers," I'd retort as I rubbed my hands together once more. And I was. Plus my thermal, Arctic-survival, downhill-skiing, long underwear. Indoors. Sitting on the futon, dressed like a polar expedition trekker.

The only other heat was, apparently, when they fired up the deep fryers below and a current of airborne fish-and-chips grease would rise slowly through the floor.

Our plane cleared the soup of clouds and deposited us to wander through the miles of identical corridors that is Heathrow until we found an exit to the outdoors, to England. We stepped outside under the British sky. Here we were. Our new life. Above us, grey and just a speckle of rain. In front of us, a large, curious sign. It was a billboard advertising some London exhibition. In poignant, foot high letters it proclaimed:

"Well, you didn't come here for the weather, did you?"

We had arrived.

*** Stay tuned faithful readers!

Part II - Heat will be shown this time next on the same channel. Watch as most, but not really all, of our intrepid travellers survive the hottest day on record struggling over the barren wasteland that is the Peaks District. Send your pledges in now. Operators may be standing by: who's to say, really?

[Michelle's Mind]

S & M Files
Ep. 1 (I) | Ep. 2 (II) | Ep. 3 (III) | Ep. 4 (IV) | Ep. 5 (V) | Ep. 6 (VI) | Ep. 7 (VII) |
Ep. 8 (VIII) | Ep. 9 (IX) | Ep. 10 (X) | Ep. 11 (XI) | Ep. 12 (XII) | Ep. 13 (XIII) | Ep. 14 (XIV) |
Ep. 15 (XIV) | Ep. 16 (XIV)