I’m regularly asked ‘Nigel, Why do you like the cold..?’ I’m no expert or scientist, but I know what feels right to me. Cold may have tried to kill me, but it’s where my heart is happiest. After recent trips to Scotland, Norway and Italy this year, I decided to look into my childhood for some answers…
The dictionary definition of cold is – ‘having relatively little warmth; of a rather low temperature’. Sounds simple enough, but this four letter word has followed me through the ups and downs of my life and probably always will.
As a child, I suffered severe catarrh. My family put up with my coughing for months and neighbours complained about the non stop dog barking in our house. Believe me, it wasn’t a dog..! In desperation my mum took me to the Doctors for help. I was too young for the medication available, so the doctor came up with a very simple and effective answer – fresh air. ‘Put him outside in his pram Mrs Vardy’ were words that made all the difference to my life. It wasn’t a cure, but it helped relieve my lungs and give everyone a little respite. My mum walked miles around the local area, pushing me along, whatever the weather. I found that the colder and fresher air was more beneficial than the warmer and perhaps this was the start of my chilling desires. My childhood was still dogged with bouts of coughing, and I was once accused of being deaf by a schoolteacher because of the problems it caused my ears. I was told that i’d ‘grow out of it’ and by 21 my lungs were finally free.
My childhood was filled with the outdoor life. We had a large vegetable garden, beautifully planted and harvested by my mum and dad. A relations farm saw me mucking out and feeding animals in any weather, day and night. Long summer holidays were spent bailing and stacking hay. The heat was oppressive and I then discovered what a Migraine headache felt like. Perhaps another reason to prefer the cool, fresh air.
Hill walking was another family pastime. We spent many happy hours wandering the peaks of Derbyshire, in the days of woolly jumpers and pac-a-macs, leather boots and dubbing. Again, I found the colder days better for me and as I walked alone from my teenage years, I always preferred the winters days.
The UK has a fascination with the weather. Whenever cold conditions are forecast, the news fills with tales of school closures, travel disruption, Snowmageddon, Thundersnow and the recent ‘Beast from the East’. Food shelves clear and mild panic ensues. I just get my skis out.
As Samuel Johnson once said “It is commonly observed, that when two Englishmen meet, their first talk is of the weather; they are in haste to tell each other, what each must already know, that it is hot or cold, bright or cloudy, windy or calm.”.
We should be mindful of the cold, but we should not fear it. It’s as much a part of our history as Frost Fairs, Fenland Skating and our Dickensian view of Christmas. Snow is something many people like to look at, but don’t want to touch. I wonder what else in their lives gives this impression..? Snow allows me to see through the eyes of a child again, to laugh, to smile, to scream with fear and delight and importantly, to breathe. I still enjoy feeling cold air bite at my lungs. It feels refreshing and pure.
It has been reported that many people prefer cold weather because they can hide their body under layers of clothing, and that cold conditions cause social withdraw and depression. I’m not gong to disagree with science, but I do wonder if people are running away from themselves rather than the weather.
Now don’t think all mountaineering is a freezing pastime. Anyone who has climbed or skied on a sunny day will know how hot it can get, and many of my expeditions require long, hot treks to base camp, but mountain air is clear and that’s what works for me.
As a GetOutside Champion for Ordnance Survey, I can’t say enough about the benefits of fresh air. In a world where people are glued to their computers, enveloped in air conditioning and managed light, we all need fresh air. We also need exercise, both physical and mental to help ourselves. I’ve said many times ‘God Helps Those Who Help Themselves’. I crave fresh air when I’m stuck inside and make time wherever possible to get out, day or night. I’m sure my neighbours think me strange as I work in my garden after dark, clearing my lungs of pollution and breathing again.
But for now, spring is here and the suns warmth is on the rise. Flowers and blossoms galore present themselves to the world as the winters grasp releases – until the next time…