Keeping warm in the freeze

We must be reaching all time record breaking coverage of the winter weather conditions which continue to keep us company. The newspapers, radio and television have been addicted to forecasting and reporting on the conditions which presently sweep the British Isles. They are making a jolly good job of it too and have to be congratulated for their efforts to keep linked-in to the situation which directly affects everyone.

No-one can dispute that our weather is unusual for seldom do we ever experience snow settling down to stay for longer than a few days or even a week, and the freezing temperatures have prevented the usual thawing. We have had some degree of thawing as was evident by the healthy flow of water in the Luther Burn on Wednesday.

The local authorities have done a sterling job in keeping the main road to Aberdeen ploughed and well salted, but regardless of the quantity of salt scattered its anti-freeze properties are defeated when temperatures sprint beyond zero plummeting into the minus readings, as experienced by folk in the central belt of Scotland earlier in the week. We are all very ready to become agitated and voice our opinion when it comes to road conditions and apportioning blame. The real truth of the matter is that we have become unaccustomed to winter conditions as those we are experiencing and possibly those of days gone by. It is not only the local councils who equip themselves with equipment to deal with conditions as they have been and then perhaps find themselves less able to meet the demands which the present snow has brought. We as individuals are in exactly the same position for how many of us run our vehicles with winter tyres from November through to March as was done in my youth, and in addition to the tyres most country folk had a set of chains which they attached to their tyres to add further traction in snowy conditions. How many of us carry a shovel and sand in our boot during winter just in case we get caught out in bad weather, which can happen oh so quickly in Scotland. Few of us even carry additional coats or warm blankets in our cars.

I remember the days when we had a definite summer and winter wardrobe of clothes, the summer cottons being exchanged for the winter woollies. That too has changed for central heating has warmed our homes to such an extent that we would overheat if we wore layers of woollen clothes. Our winter clothes of the past started with the scratchy woollen vest which lead to the third or fourth final outer-layer of the home-hand-knitted chunky pullover. Today we wear cottons and man-made fibres throughout the year and few of us appreciate the benefit of natural wool as an excellent insulator against cold.

Many modern day woollen fibres have been adulterated by man so that they no longer have to be washed by hand but can be put into the washing machine and even tumble dried. However in the process of making this possible the wool is twisted(spun) extremely tightly and then coated with a chemical plastic which prevents the fibres from shrinking when thrown into our machines, and thus robs wool of its natural properties of keeping us warm. Therefore if you want to keep yourself warm do not invest in a super-duper machine washable woollen jumper, instead choose one which needs a good old fashioned hand-wash.

I return to the woollen scratchy vest which certainly used to keep us warm and also irritated our skin at the same time. This I think was probably due to the quality of the wool which possibly included a percentage of Shetland wool. Wool from the Shetland breed of sheep is soft and fine and not at all scratchy, but the jumpers which are labelled Shetland Wool are all very scratchy. The reason being that Shetland wool is a term used in the wool trade to describe one of the coarsest grades of wool used for knitting and weaving, and thus garments made from it are far less expensive then those produced from better and finer quality wools. Although coarse, Shetland wool is excellent at keeping us warm for it traps plenty of air which is the secret of wool keeping us warm. Cashmere, known as the fibre of kings is far more readily available in the shops than it used to be, and apart from it being soft, silky and warm to touch, it is particularly cosy to wear. It costs more and if it is good quality it wears extremely well, washes well and keeps the wearer beautifully warm. The ‘fibre of the kings’ can be found in some of the popular supermarkets, but one must be careful for although the advertising reads Cashmere, on reading the garment label we find that only a single figure percentage is cashmere!

Whether we are successfully keeping warm during this winter snap can very possibly be attributed to insulation. The insulation of our bodies and the fabrics we wear is one aspect and the other is that of our homes. Modern houses are usually well insulated through double glazing and levels of cavity wall and roof insulation as required by law. Old houses generally did not have had the same insulation factors build into their construction and their bigger rooms and higher ceilings all add to further heat loss and greater need for energy to keep then comfortable during freezing weather.

My favourite tip for keeping warm is to insulate yourself with family and friends, visit them or invite then round to spend time with you. There is nothing better to lift spirits and warm the soul than sharing time with people whose company you like.

Share a pot of tea or a pot of soup with them and enjoy their company and chat, it works wonders. If you do not have family and friends near at hand them invite in a neighbour or two and get to know them during this big freeze.