Tuesday 28 October 2008

Ice is all around me

Wow, it certainly sure is chilly out this morning. There's ice on my car and the pathetic hot water pressure in my bathroom had me shivering throughout my very quick shower.

I often wonder how much I could talk about the weather given the chance. I certainly never leave the house in the morning without first watching a BBC weather bulletin!

But, is it being British that gives me an innate fascination with the weather or am I just a meteorological freak?

If I was one though, I think I would choose to live somewhere a little more weather diverse than slap bang in the middle of the most temperate bits of the world.

Take Svalbard, an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean north of mainland Europe, about midway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, for example. Right now it's temperatures are -10°C with a wind chill of -17°C. That’s so cold that people can't wear mascara as it would freeze, weigh their eyelashes down and then they'd fall out (not sure if this is an urban myth or not). But anyway, seeing as the sun sets in October for quite a considerable amount of time, I guess it doesn’t matter if you have to scrimp on make-up as no one can see you anyway.

Or what about El Azizia in Africa, where on September 13, 1922, the highest temperature in the world was recorded at an eye-watering 58°C? In those kind of temperatures, my English rose complexion would be redder than a London bus before you could say ‘Where's my sunscreen!?’

That said, I really don’t mind extreme heat or extreme cold – so long as I am warm, I am happy! So for the former that means basking under a parasol in factor 50, and for the latter wearing four million layers of thermals under a down jacket.

It's when I get that bit wrong that there's trouble. For example, many years ago, on a beach in Fiji, I cooked myself to within an inch of my sanity. I got sunstroke and went completely gaga! Seriously, I didn't make any sense for at least half a day. I had the concentration of a goldfish – it was shocking.

Then, there was my ice climbing experience in Scotland. The weather was being, um... Scottish, and after two days of being holed up in our Station Bothy because the mountains were closed, with only stew to eat that some bright spark added toothpaste to, we finally got to go and do our training.

Ever single bit of my skin was hidden from the freezing temperatures, bonkers blizzards and 80-mile-an-hour winds, as was everyone else’s including my instructor. We trudged up hill for a good hour or so until we found a bit of snow that looked exactly like the snow at the bottom of the hill and then, our instructor spent the next hour teaching us something. To this day I still have no idea what it was as his mouth was hidden behind several layers of down!

This was in my less proactive deaf years, so instead of alerting him to predicament I decided to just copy everyone else! This involved throwing myself down the mountain headfirst, turning myself around mid slide and ramming an ice axe into the snow! It was great! I loved it! Until I lost everyone and realised I was on a mountain unable to see or hear. I was also freeeeeee-eezing cold as in my panic I had started to take my layers off as I thought I couldn't breathe – something that is apparently quite common according to my instructor.


After much panicking and flailing around (it’s hard to run in giant plastic boots and crampons) I finally found the vivid waterproofs of my group – my instructor then made me sit under a piece of canvas until I had warmed up and this moment of solitude helped me to decide that this really wasn’t for me. The next day, I went snowboarding instead – it really does make sense to take a lift up a mountain, slide down and have a hot chocolate at the bottom.

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