YAKUTSK: situated in eastern
Siberia just south of the Arctic Circle (population: around 160,000) and
reputed to be the world’s chilliest city, where winter temperatures reach
a yak-freezing -40°C.
How do the hardy hulks of citizens, many descended
from the original Cossack inhabitants, deal with a climate that can seem
colder than the miniature moons of Mars? Simple: as well as stoking-up
with warmth-producing meals, they wear many layers of clothing, topped by
massive fur coats, hats, gloves and fur-lined boots so that when they
waddle about the snow-packed streets they probably resemble a cross
between a Yeti or Abominable Snowman and a Mongolian yurt or tent made of
skins. They may not look cool but, by their black bread and steaming
beetroot soup, red as a Bolshevik banner, they have, in their permafrosted
purgatory, highly-effective cold comfort.
I mention Yakutsk because it has
no excess winter mortality, mainly because of the Russians’ traditionally
pragmatic attitude towards the worst winter can throw at them. They are
cover-up experts and if they encountered a critical blizzard about their
flaunting of fashion, they would, I am certain, hotly defy it.
Continental capitals, at around 8°C, according to the Met Office’s Health
Forecast Unit, the citizens, throwing fashion to the winds, wear hats,
gloves, scarves, overcoats and thermal underwear. In this sceptred,
shivering, sniffing and sneezing realm, a sizeable section of the
population apparently consider it fitting to brave winter’s wrath by
wearing clothing more suitable for midsummer in Majorca than winter in
Edinburgh which, at its Wagnerian best, can produce vertical winds,
horizontal rain and hail like shrapnel.
Walking along Princes Street
recently, when the temperature was cold enough to put goose-pimples on
goosepimples, I saw a young woman having the barefaced cheek to wear a
mini-skirt which, if it had been a few inches shorter, could have been a
collar. Accompanying her was another maiden, slender and sylph-like, but
apparently made of tensed steel.
Heedless of the meteorological
conditions, she wore a flimsy top and sagging, daintily-distressed jeans,
leaving her equatorial regions exposed to a deep depression with high
chill factor, perhaps coming from the Azores or, more likely, from that
well-known area of turbulence, the Mound’s temporary Scottish Parliament
Others among the city’s teeth-chattering classes
were wearing lightweight clothes, a few had coats and almost all were
hatless. That sartorial skimpiness seems prevalent all over Britain where
people can be seen, especially the apparently elements-impervious young,
clad, when winter rages around them, as if for lounging on some lido.
people, wearing fashionable flimsies or just dressing in defiance of
occluded fronts, that can bring unpleasantly-coarse, not to say, vulgar
conditions from the direction of Rockall, may find, at the end of their
modish rainbow, only a bottle of cough linctus and a packet of
I am of the generations that have always respected
winter and countered its onslaught by wearing so many layers of clothing
that we all tended to resemble the amorphousness of Michelin Man.
schoolboys, I was made winter-resistant in combinations - an all-in-one
underpants and vest garment - made of material so itchy that it would have
been ideal for a religious penitent to suffer in, heavy-duty shirt,
climate-conditioned tie, jersey, about as impregnable as chain mail,
jacket and shorts constructed, not only to resist Edinburgh’s climatical
fickleness but also to survive the class struggle. Added to these were a
raincoat of industrial heaviness, thick woollen stockings, heavy shoes
resembling miniature landing craft, woollen scarf and gloves.
armour was why many of us crawled so slowly and unwillingly to school.
Around us, the elements stormed but inside, we were toast warm. Our
parents showed the same defensive attitude to cold, some barely exposing
an inch of flinching skin to the slap, soak shake and teeth-chatter of the
Even to-day, we veteran winter warriors still don
sartorial strata to prevent being clobbered by the cold. The isobar of
public opinion may be against us but, as we climb into our woollen, tweed
and flannel cladding, we feel we have the truer sartorial wisdom.
I send warm
new year wishes to readers of this column, especially those in Yakutsk,
whose freeze-proof philosophy we should follow and wrap up.