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Writings of Albert Morris
Article 68 - While around us the elements stormed, inside we were toast warm

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.

In most 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 building.

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.

These 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 decongestant pills.

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.

Like other 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.

Wearing such 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 sun-scarce seasons.

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.

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