I know that it’s unfair on the Feast of the Epiphany to mis-quote T.S.Eliot but it seemed an apt line to introduce what the American media are describing as a “Polar Vortex,” (CNN, NBC and Fox News) and a “Major Arctic Outbreak,” (The Weather Channel.)
Yes, it’s going to be very cold for two days - although not as frigid on Long Island as it is going to be in parts of inland United States. I’m not going to predict minus numbers (numbers in both senses of the word) because the smarter meteorologists are very good at doing that and getting very excited as computer animations swiftly turn blue on the screens behind them. But I am going to suggest that if everybody is sensible and looks out for their neighbor then, guess what? We are going to survive this temporary deep freeze.
Growing up in a large and rambling country vicarage in the 1960s English Midlands we knew all about low winter temperatures. They announced their arrival in late December and stayed until early March. And even if the sun shone the dark passageways of the house never truly thawed out. Because except in two rooms (maybe three) there was nothing to thaw them out.
The two warmer spots were my father’s study, where a huge coal fire burned from dawn until dusk, and the kitchen. And it was there that the family met, ate, read, did homework and generally lived during our waking hours, for the kitchen contained a wonderful coal-burning Rayburn – a stove that not only cooked food and warmed the whole room, but also heated water for washing and hot drinks.
And that, devotees of central heating, was that. I mentioned a third room: The living room did have a small, two bar electric fire in the closed-up fireplace. But what good was that in a room that measured about four hundred square feet? And the upstairs? Heat upstairs? Unthinkable, even when the ice formed on the inside of the bedroom windows and the blankets had to be properly aired or else they would also stiffen up in the cold. We dressed for bed, and dressed some more in the morning.
And even when temperatures dropped well below seasonal expectations – I really don’t recall it being a news story.