Ice Age 4

A few years ago, a friend sent me one of those e-mails that undermines your will to live. This one suggested that, far from globally warmed tropical conditions in Western Europe, we would be plunged into a new ice age as a result of the Gulf Stream being diverted off course. As yet, it hasn’t happened – and I sure hope it never will – but, to paraphrase Stingray, ‘anything can happen in the next half-decade’.

This cold ‘snap’ is providing us all with a sneak preview of what to expect. This morning, I took the dog out for a walk, swaddled in all kinds of winter paraphernalia. Cycling, however, into the teeth of a wind that seems to be blowing direct from Kamchatka or some such other frozen wilderness made a mockery of all my compound tog value. It was like placing your bare chest on a sheet of cold steel. My face was locked into an indelible grimace. ![](upload://bb7OkDBsEfgz169QMjWaDDNezkB.jpg)

In 16 years of soldiering through continental winters, this is the coldest I have ever known it. Once, while visiting friends in the Alps, who persuaded us to take our daughter up a mountain for a ski lesson, I experienced cold that made my whole frame shake, cold that brought this grown man to his knees. But that was due to the fact that I was dressed more like Tintin in Tibet than a sensible modern-day parent.

In terms of consistently sub-zero temperatures, this current spell beats the winter of 1963. There was more snow then certainly – I remember being off school for several weeks, seeing the snow half way up our morning-room window and reading all about the cancelled matches in my Charles Buchan’s Football Monthly – but it can’t have been as cold as this, because central heating in those days was a new-fangled mod con and my parents certainly hadn’t invested in a system, so I wouldn’t have lived to tell the tale.

Yet, apparently, and according to the retired guy down the road who likes to chat whenever I bump into him during one of my Alf-time twice-daily dog walks, it was worse than this during the winter of 1956. It was so cold that he remembered the sound of the plane trees cracking and splitting in Martel. There was certainly no chauffage central in dem days and, he told me, families would huddle around their fireplace to keep as warm as they could.

The combination of cold and water, I’ve discovered over the past few days, can be dramatically destructive. A good friend of mine here, who looks after houses while the owners are away as one of his many sidelines, phoned me in a state of some distress. While hugging the wood-burning stove that was struggling to maintain 14 degrees in the house, he noticed water dripping from the floor above. A practical man, he dealt with the leak as best he could before popping next door to check their empty gîte. There he found that six of their old cast-iron radiators had burst with the cold, spilling black gunge all over the floorboards. Did I know of a plumber who could help? I did not. The one reliable plumber in the area has gone back to the UK. And the plumber who fitted all the pipe-work in this house is still wanted, dead or alive. Just to put the old tin lid on everything, the owners’ geriatric cat, poor creature, now seems to be peeing blood. The owners are due back in a few days and so far no plumber has answered his S.O.S. calls.

On Friday, after a week spent marooned at the bottom of our drive, due to a dead car engine and ice on the gradient, a friend took me to the château that I’m supposed to be looking after. A scene of devastation greeted me, with stalactites hanging off fractured radiators, taps frozen up and, in one apartment, a bath full of water that must have dripped from the ceiling above and frozen solid, unable to drain away via a frozen plughole. Boilers had been left on in hors gel position, but the wind from Kamchatka must have got in under the eaves and rendered the heating useless. I had to send e-mails to all the owners and describe the damage to their beloved apartments. So now It’s my turn to try to find a plumber prepared to come out and help. Second homes! Who’d have ‘em?

Cold as it is, though, what on earth must it be like in Siberia, Alaska, Spitzbergen, Greenland and all those other frozen parts of the globe? Imagine the misery of trying to stay warm in conditions that are twice, even three times as cold as it is here at present? No wonder them Russkies drink so much alcohol. What else is there to do in such a climate other than to climb into bed, your head befuddled with vodka – and stay there? You can’t possibly work. Even eating becomes an effort.

Cycling into the teeth of that glacial wind this morning, I also thought back to Scott, Shackleton and all those other intrepid polar explorers. Whatever possessed them? Voluntarily to put yourself through the misery it must have been to drag a sled full of instruments and provisions, trying to fight off frostbite in an era before Gore-Tex, polar fleeces, Damart thermals and other sensible modern weatherproof clothing. What were they thinking of?

I remember watching a dramatised documentary about Apsley Cherry-Gerrard’s The Worst Journey in the World, when he and a colleague endured the most appalling deprivations to bring back a King Penguin’s egg (or something like that). Poor guy developed irritable bowel syndrome and suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder for the rest of his born days. OK, he achieved some degree of immortality – though he would probably have gone down in history in any case as the possessor of one of the most ludicrous names ever given to a child. Faced with the choice between a warm bed and a penguin’s egg, I think I’d have known which one to choose. Screw the immortality!

So there you have it. Has anyone seen the long-term weather forecast? I’m hoping that this week will see the back of this Arctic cold. I’ve had enough of genuine winter already. I’m told that this kind of frost is good for the soil and the next harvest. But after the big chill comes the big thaw – and we all know what happens to frozen pipes and frozen baths when temperatures start to rise again.

Oh yes celeste, I notice that David Kelly, one of the greatest interpreters of Beckett alone, and Eamon 'Chick' Deacy who worked on his brother's veggie delivery rounds whilst playing for Galway and did it whenever he could whilst being with Aston Villa, have both died. Quality Irish folk, both, may they both rest in real peace and be remembered for who and what they gave the world.

Well said Andrew, on both!

No problem with any beliefs and religions when they're not used as trojan horses and to "put the fear of God" into people in order to control/suppress the masses and create not very religious/humanist oligarchies...

any way enough of that, come on you two, spring's just around the corner, it'll be a great match! there again Paris isn't SW France and early March...!

Hell no celeste, I presume nothing, never. Life is tooooooo full of surprises. I am of dissenting Scots Calvinist background myself which can be holier than the holiest Catholicism preaching hellfire and damnation for such sins as hunger for not working hard enough! No, Irish is far from Catholic as people believe. One of my old pals in Germany is married to a member of the Murphy brewing family, herself being the daughter of a Beamish (work that out, I never did) who are a Cork protestant family. One year when we were over in the SW for the fleadh and stayed in an entirely protestant village where the only pub was owned by the only catholic family and the man himself was known as Pope Sean! All in good fun.

No ma'am. I studied religion as part of social anthropology of course. The world would be a poorer place without it. It is just that it ALSO has a bad track record in evangelising, murdering and so on that political movements share. So I do not have a deity, do not need a deity but what I live out is something comparable to a blend of Quakerism and Buddhism that give me peace with my peace and faith in humanity.

The Irish, like the Scots, have been transplanted just about everywhere in the world. That is why I know an Irish dance club in Hanoi and have seen a totally Nepali Scots pipe band in Kathmandu. I agree, they are far more tolerant than most other people on this planet BUT have been so mistreated themselves that each kick back against that is taken as hate of the other.

I have too many gay friends and relatives (mem amd women) to even bother to bother with the difference. The best cook I know is a militant, separatist, feminist lesbian who makes a fantastic joke of never letting a man in her kitchen, let alone cook for her! Her dinners attract the most superb mix of people imaginable and her parties are to dream of...

But important matters. The pitch. Andrew - crystal ball!


Celeste, just been announced on France 2 at the end of the news that the France-Ireland match will be played on Sunday 4 March at 16h00.

Brian, er yes...! ;-)

Celeste was simply uninitiated in the nuances of nonsense hiding sense - whatever the latter is?

Made perfect sense to me Brian but perhaps that's just proof that I'm barking mad too :-O

Trs. Don Ernesto is my OH's uncle who is the emeritus bishop of Locarno who was photographed with his former boss (John Paul), sister-in-law's partner is a moslem and brother-in-law is gay in response to the comments about Catholicism and the fact that my OH and I more or less agree with Andrew (see below)...

General view in this house. Tio Don Ernesto's photo with the Polish bloke is all over family walls bar sister-in-law who is unmarried to her Algerian long term partner who is..., bro-in-law who lives with his male partner and us because we agree not to play silly superstitious games and wreck people's live. Gotta walk dogs, sample the thawing slush!

Catholic church - just another barking mad sect (but that's just a personal agnostic opinion!)...

Yes, alcohol was the undoing of many of the native Greenlanders and has remained so since... But then the French did that in Viet Nam, Kampuchea and so on when they tried to plant vines and locals got into its outcome and began hitting each other. Domestic violence did not exist before then and the version of Buddhism they still practice still tells people not to be violent to each other... Kind history, loving gentlke people in their souls who I have loved working with but wrecked by Catholc missionaries teaching the peace taht comes with Christ! Errrr?

They were talking about an end of season game on France 2 this morning but I haven't seen or heard the news since - there are limits when "at work"!

Celeste, I'm fortunate in that I have my netbook in my classroom and as soon as I set them a task or a few exercises to do I can check my emails etc - they're formulating 5 headlines at the moment - journalistic style French for a change. still snowing - it's all melted here, not a flake left!

Yes, not even Inuit lived on the north of Greenland. Cliffs too high to get down to the sea, nothing but ice and howling winds at the top, so why bother! Americans, they're everywhere and anywhere. Chucking off a few Polar bears is just about the biggest eviction they did there...

I heard the Ireland-France game would be played at the end of the season because they couldn't fit it in, but not next season!!! Top14 is the mainstay of the rugby I watch - don't ruin it, I only have French TV! No Hollande won't be any better, possibly worse if he tries to spend his way out of the current situation...! Back to my chinese and eating cake ;-)

Celeste I agree with all of this except you said 'eskimo'. Aaaaargh, never use that word to an anthropologist! Inuit, Yunik, Inupiat or just tolerably Aleut and you're cool. As for the words for snow, that is in the Inupiat-Yunik languages where they have such fine definitions as a single word for 'snow in small, clear flakes that settles on the back of my hand to tell me that it will settle' (really). Sarko and Carla on Greenland then, the north where there are no settlements except the USA's nuclear base that they deny exists but there are so many satellite pictures of with it submarines in docks cut through the ice etc, that they could get Sarko there underwater. Take the RFU with them too perhaps and why not replay the game on another planet in 100 years then?

Yeah, hole in one there. Where to the French send small people when they're finished with. Elba!!

Ha ha, great idea, or the arse end of sardegna, hey why not Elba, would be rather fitting...!