Friday, February 2, 2018

I miss the sun!

I recently spent two weeks in London, in the dead of winter, helping my niece who just had her second baby and spending a lot of time with her firstborn toddler. C is very particular in announcing that he is three and a half, not four or even three and three quarters. He can expound on any number of subjects way beyond his years. One day, when we were discussing colors, I asked him what color the sky was. Without even considering it or looking outside, he immediately said, “Grey.” I’ve always associated England with dreary weather and I was getting a big dose of it, bone-chillingly wintry cold and wet. What I didn’t expect was to come back to the tropics and face the same dull conditions!

London is marvellous, of course, full of history and with names of streets I used to associate only with Monopoly. It was in full gear for Christmas, with streets and stores decorated for their biggest celebration of the year. Food halls were chock full of Christmas goodies, from puddings to cake and pies. Everyone was feverishly buying presents and dashing about from one store to the next.

Even going to the supermarket was an adventure for me. There’s nothing I like more than wandering along supermarket aisles, checking out produce that isn’t available in my local supermarket. Wintry root vegetables the likes of which I haven’t seen before. Fresh brussels sprouts still on their stem. More than ten different kinds of potatoes!

I had never been to London before in winter. While I have lived in New York where winters can be bitterly cold and long, it was still a shock to me that wintry days are so short in London. It takes a while for the sun to rise, at about 8 am, if it does at all. When it does, it just casts a pale yellowish pall that doesn’t lend heat at all. Sunshine doesn’t last very long before the skies revert back to being dull and overcast, with lashings of rain, a fine mist if you’re lucky.

Just getting ready to go out was a major undertaking for me. Thermals beneath my clothes. A warm scarf to go around the neck and a beanie for the head. Then socks and warm shoes. Boots if it was wet. A heavy jacket to go over everything, with gloves ready in the pocket.

Three and a half year old C doesn’t seem to be as affected by the cold, having been born and growing up in London. Just long sleeves and pants (Trousers, he corrects me), a jacket, hat and mittens, and he’s good to go. Still, the effort to dress the both of us, head out to take the bus to pre-school, and then help him remove his outer gear indoors, was time-consuming. I’d forgotten the attention span of a toddler, although C does an admirable job of getting dressed all by himself.

Even going out shopping was tedious. You’re all wrapped up to brave the elements, only to be blasted with heat when you get into a store. All bundled up and looking at clothes or shoes to try, I decided that it was just too much effort and headed for a coffee instead. And there I encountered another British idiosyncrasy. They serve their hot beverages with cold milk! Used as I am to requesting for, and getting, steamed milk with my Americano, I was met by frowns in English cafes, and soon gave up asking.

C takes the cold weather in stride, announcing each day (for my benefit) that the sky was either light or dark grey. A couple of days we even had snow! In early December which is highly unusual. We bundled up and headed out to pre-school and sometimes I picked him up at about 6 pm when it was totally dark out. I saw mothers and nannies rushing little children home in the what looked like the dead of night, but I guess they’re all used to it. It must be a treat when the weather finally gets warmer and the days get longer.

Me? Give me the tropics anytime where the temperature stays the same pretty much all the same. My blood must have thinned in my old age! I still remember when my son, B, was studying in Australia and would ask me what the temperature here was that day, and I would say, “32 degrees, the same as it always is.” Even if the sun isn’t out, the temperature stays constant, with the only variant being that it might rain.

This January though, the weather was unusually cool in this part of the world. Heading into Chinese New Year (in February this year), the weather would typically be dry and searingly hot. But now it’s cool, and water coming out of the tap is actually cold! Be a global warming naysayer all you want, but the weather is turning topsy turvy and something weird is going on.

Cool or not, I’m just glad to be home, where I can just slip into my flip flops and head out the door in a jiffy in a t-shirt and shorts. There’s an umbrella by the door in case I need it, but that’s all the gear I  ever need. All year round. Kids here, I’m sure, if asked what the color of the sky is, would say, “Blue!”

Weather update: It's been searingly hot the last few days and I' sweating even as I write this. Not complaining!

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