I wasted quite a bit of time trying to get The Week’s search facility to cough up an address for this essay but it won’t play.* So I’m going to have to type you some highlights:
Yakutsk: journey to the coldest city on earth, Shaun Walker, The Week, 20 Dec 08
At -20C, the moisture in your nostrils freezes, and the cold air starts making it difficult not to cough.** At -35C, the air will be cold enough to . . . mak[e] frostbite a constant hazard.*** And at -45C, even wearing glasses gets tricky: the metal sticks to your cheeks and will tear off chunks of flesh when you decide to remove them . . . friendly locals warn you against wearing spectacles outdoors.†
Yakutsk is a remote city in Eastern Siberia . . . that . . . can, convincingly, claim to be the coldest city on earth. In January, the most freezing month, average ‘highs’ are around -40C . . . in local parlance, temperatures in the -40Cs are described as ‘cold but not very cold’. . . . So, before venturing outdoors in Yakutsk for the first time . . . [he puts on] two pairs of socks; thermal long-johns and undershirt; cashmere jumper; fleece; padded winter coat with hood; [two pairs] gloves; wool scarf; woolly hat.
. . . He is driven indoors again ‘with severe pain all across my body’. He’s been outdoors 13 minutes.
Okay. It’s been a lovely, balmy day in southern England (unless you’re a geranium). And as Jenny, who is too frelling chirpy by half, said, oh, the frost’s better than the mud. Um. Yes. Mostly. But Jenny isn’t a gardener. And I wonder if she’s still going to be so chirpy when every horse in the yard needs clipping in half the usual time. And, so, balmy may be pushing it (unless you’re from Yakutsk) but we did have glittering sunshine in an ice-blue sky, and it was very beautiful, except for the numb feet, which were distracting.††
But sometimes there is a good fairy. When hellhounds and I had left for our mild and refreshing walk, there had been a brown paper parcel lying on my doorstep. The handwriting was intriguingly unfamiliar . . . but it could wait till we got back. It was already late††† and I wanted to get going. ‡ I tossed it on a kitchen chair and decisively locked the door.
But when I stopped in at the cottage long enough to pick up my knapsack (memory stick, the first half of the first draft of PEGASUS in hard copy, torn-out magazine articles on the coldest city on earth that I can fail to find a web address to, etc) on our way to the mews for lunch, that package threw itself at my feet [sic] and said, Open me! You really, really want to open me!
So I did. Through several layers of packaging, like a kind of Russian doll of packaging, as we seem to be pursuing a Russian theme here. Over two months ago now, as several of you will remember, I did a signing at Murder One‡‡ in London, and various kind people brought me presents.‡‡‡ One or two had posted small unusual items, and one of these packages got tucked behind a counter and forgotten till after I’d gone. I’m more than a little paranoid about having my home address lying around loose in public places like bookshops, so I asked that it be posted to Merrilee’s English division, which was duly done. And–before hellhound digestion and resulting stress-related ME intervened–I was going to find a day to go up to London again, have lunch with the English division§ and pick up my parcel. This hasn’t happened, and the English division has evidently been having a New Year’s clear out. . . .
So first there was the Writers House packaging, and then there was the Murder One packaging, and then there was . . . the original parcel. Which contained a very nice letter from a reader, saying that she’s just discovered the blog and that she thinks I can use these. . . .
Two pairs of black neoprene toe warmers. Little black vaguely crescent-shaped or squashed-half-circle shaped things, only as long as (approximately) half a human foot. No, I had no idea any such object existed.
And I’m standing in the middle of the kitchen floor surrounded by drifts of packaging, having just been thinking that the shoe liners and the second layer of wool socks are a lot better than nothing but my toes really hurt.
Bless you, whoever you are§§. I don’t remember blogging about cold wet feet last autumn, but I evidently did. And while neoprene toe warmers would have been a welcome revelation in November, in the middle of the worst cold snap we’ve had in years in January, I feel like the little match girl who has just found a goosedown comforter hanging from a lamppost. Or Captain Oates, instead of having been some time, coming back in again and saying, actually, chaps, the yellow brick road starts just outside the tent here, I think we might make it after all.
* * *
* The Week needs to take search-engine lessons from the Guardian. I generally find myself muttering under my breath and getting creative with the G’s search, but I think I always get my man, er, story, er, net address eventually. I suppose there’s no reason one news periodical’s search shouldn’t be solar systems better than another’s, I just keep thinking, hey, news, aren’t you by definition supposed to be Getting It Out There so we can all go ooh ugh tell me more (no don’t)? We live in a net world! On the net we share!^
^ Although no one knows you’re a dog. Or, possibly, a cow. Or a bear. Or a ferret. Or a bar of Green & Black’s. Or . . .
** Winter in Maine. I remember it well.
*** This is the point at which winter used to start to scare me, back when I was young and (comparatively) brave. I don’t like that sense that something really is out there waiting to get you. And I’ve been frost-nipped a few times and it’s no fun.
† The error I would not be making is taking them off. So, plastic glasses. People in Yakutsk must have unusually great vision or something. Or laser surgery is really popular.
†† And with reference to all the helpful advice I’m getting on the forum: I’m happy to read suggestions that people have taken the time and trouble to post, and thank you very much. But doooo please remember I’m (a) old and (b) no more than half stupid. I don’t wear All Stars in all weathers because I like pain. I wear All Stars in all weathers because they’re the only shoes I’ve found that will do 5-8 miles a day, every day, seven days a week, and not give me blisters. Blisters are a disaster when you’re going to have to do 5-8 miles again tomorrow. Ecco did a line of hiking boots that rescued me from cracking canvas All Stars for most of a decade, but of course they stopped making them. And I use shoe liners and second pairs of socks in my lowly but indomitable All Stars . . . and in extreme rain, plastic bags.
††† It’s always already late. It’s already late now.
‡ I am reading the copyedited FIRE stories. Electronically. Aaaaaaaugh. Maybe I’ll blog about that tomorrow.
‡‡ Well, when you think about it, vampire novels are about murder
‡‡‡ Let me say here, very humbly and earnestly, that this is in no way a suggestion that any of the rest of you should want to send me presents. Please don’t.
§ Who is a very nice lady named Angharad Kowal. Yes! Angharad! Really! I know! I said exactly the same thing in November!
§§ One of our motorcycle babes, from her letterhead and her description of her neoprene-toe-warmer-based survival on the mean streets.
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