It has recently occurred to me how many aspects of my life are governed by the weather. As a child, growing up in Plymouth, I enjoyed the different seasons. Sunny, warm summers and cold, blustery winters and of course rain the rest of the year.
I had clothes for all occasions and made sure I had an umbrella with me the rest of the time. I never worried about going outside or about how it would affect me when I did. I appreciate that over the years there has been severe weather (I remember the caravan up the road from our home flipped over by the hurricane, we experienced in the late-80s and the heavy snow that has fallen in the winter over the last few years) but these events are the exception rather than the norm.
Having now lived in different countries and experienced various climates over the last 10 years, I have realised how, although I complained about the weather, it never really affected my life like it now does.
The moment I said I was going to Kuwait, people asked how I would cope in temperatures over 50°C. What would I wear? Would I be able to go outside? The same of course happened when I was in Kuwait and informed everyone of my move to Kazakhstan. However, this time it was how I would cope in temperatures -50°C and under. But once more the questions went along the lines of “what will you wear?” “Will you be able to go outside?”. They could not imagine how people coped in such low temperatures.
To me it seemed quite simple. In Kuwait there were only so many layers of clothes I could remove to cool down (and remain respectful) but it appeared to me, you could always put on more layers if it was too cold. Unfortunately, life in cold climates is not as simple as that and I omitted to think of the extra inconveniences cold weather causes.
I have trouble with time keeping anyway, and now I have to start preparing to leave the house at least 20 minutes early to put on the five layers of cold needed to brave the arctic conditions outside. Although not politically correct in the west, the only thing thick enough to keep you warm is real fur and I have been provided with a vintage C&A coat by our neighbours. It is like putting a barrier against the wind and cold, and it is no surprise to find that the majority of people here have no choice but to wear fur.
If I forget my gloves and go outside, I experience lack of feeling in my fingers within minutes and my eyelashes and nose hairs are frozen not long afterwards. A few weeks ago it was so cold my eyeballs felt as if they would be next! I am seriously considering something similar to a Balaklava to use during the winter months. I just need to design a more feminine, friendly looking version!
Next I have to think how long it will take to slip and slide along the walkways which, for some, badly thoughtout (most certainly aesthetic) reason, have been made of marble in many places and, needless to say, result in pavements and steps like ice skating rinks. I was unable to enter a building the other day without holding onto the wall!
However, the city council does have snow cleared daily from the roads by vast convoys of snow ploughs and trucks. Orange-uniformed street sweepers are now employed to shovel the snow into buckets and in to trucks which take it out into the Steppe to dump it. Others chip away at the ice build-up on the pavements which see a person slip and fall every minute! For this reason five layers is an advantage, of course!
Recently, I had to catch a plane to Almaty and the plane was heavily delayed due to the necessary de-icing, which is a little like going through a car wash. I do give credit to places such as Kazakhstan though, which manage to continue to have planes landing and leaving from their airports in such icy conditions.
The sub-zero weather also means car journeys take double the time. At this time of year drivers are all swapping their summer tyres for special winter ones. Driving out with my assistant the other day (who had not managed to get an appointment with the garage to change his tyres and therefore was still driving with summer tyres) it took 20 minutes to do a journey which usually takes seven.
However, the sun was shining that day and it is truly beautiful to see the air particles freezing and glittering all around. I am reminded daily about the weather as well, by locals, who enjoy telling me how I ‘ain’t seen nothing yet’ and that it will get worse! Up to now it has only dropped to -23C. Strangers come up to me telling me I am not dressed properly and that I should have more clothes on.
I spoke to my mother the other day and she is adamant I need long johns and various other thermals. She is now trying to find the address of the nearest army surplus store for when I return at Christmas.