Dropping temperatures and shrinking days, balding trees and nights that suck up the morning, frosty windows and chilly fingers, winter is on its way. As a foreigner the Dutch winter takes me by surprise every year, like an icy assassin. The lack of daylight hours leaves me listless and grumpy and I am all too often confronted by the heavy reality of gravity as icy pathways whip my feet and my bike out from under me. I spend far too much time in the winter months lying on frozen pavements, which has bought me to the conclusion that concrete is even harder when it’s frozen. I loose all contact with my toes from November through to March, and when the feeling finally returns to my distant digits I feel like 10 strangers have been attached to my body.
I also start moulting, like a snake loosing its skin I leave items of clothing all over Holland; A scarf at a friend’s house, an umbrella in the train, another in the umbrella parking lot (a large metal bin next to the entrance) in a department store. I have particular issues with gloves; a left hand forgotten in a café, a right hand travelled on to Amsterdam after I exited the train several stops earlier, another glove jumps ship out of my jacket pocket onto a cold city street and a gaping (as yet unnoticed) hole in my jacket pocket allows a pair of brand new mittens to make a stealthy escape. I feel like I am leaving a trail so I can find my way home…. Just follow the fluffy accessories. But, every winter as I walk through the frozen streets I take great comfort in the fact that I’m not the only one shedding my winter woolies all over the city. Every winter after the first frozen mornings I start to notice lone gloves on side walks, lost scarves in public transport or a beanie left hanging on the back of a café chair. I can’t help but feel sorry for these lost pieces of winter armour. They are like ‘fallen soldiers’ lost tragically in a valiant fight against cold ears and frostbitten fingers. Every time I see one of these fallen soldiers I can’t help but think about the cold hand somewhere, that will reach into a jacket pocket chilled fingers fumbling awkwardly only to discover that the woolly finger armour that it expected to find is alas, nowhere to be found. The fingers are then forced to soldier on unarmed and defenseless against the attack of the winter chill. I started collecting these ‘fallen soldiers’ out of sympathy a couple of years ago and I am now cultivating a glove orphanage in the bottom of my closet.
But the ‘fallen soldiers’ I have the most sympathy for are the umbrellas. Despite their inherently flawed design they do their up-most to protect us against the almost ever inclement Dutch weather, but their flimsy wire frames and cheap material are no match for fierce winter winds that rip them inside out, twisting wire arms and ripping material leaving it flapping sadly in the wind. Then if that’s not enough torture, once they are wind battered and broken they are stuffed into a garbage bin or discarded in a gutter because no one ever goes to the effort of fixing an umbrella, they’re just not worth it. Ah… the miserable plight of the umbrella, such an unappreciated accessory…
Whilst I try to spend plenty of time frolicking in the snow, breathing warm air into cold hands and other such cliché winter related activities I think I prefer the winter hibernation, curled up on couches, under blankets and perched on café stools whilst partaking in more than my fair share of warm beverages, everything from tea to mulled wine. I particularly like to wipe the condensation from the inside of a foggy window just enough to give me a peep hole into the outside world, and from this vantage point I decided that winter is actually quite pretty. I just prefer to observe it behind glass, preferably near something that is giving off warmth.