Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Hibernator's Handbook 

This is exactly the kind of thing I want to avoid

2017 didn’t end well for me. In fact, I began the holiday season looking up from my belly and ended the year looking down at it. Less than a week before Christmas, I was riding hard, standing on the pedals, when one of my bike’s crank arms gave way beneath me. Luckily, my ribs broke my fall. I spent the entirety of Christmas trying not to move, but now more than anything I have to try to move which is a tricky business when I’ve decided under no circumstances should I go outside.

Having no bike to ride as transport and with the temperatures well in the crispy -20 to -30s I began to feel a hibernation coming on. If bears and other beasties can do it, why can’t I? I’m old enough to not be drawn out by any kind “cold shaming” that accuses you of not being Canadian if you can’t face the cold. I have nothing to prove. I recently rode a bike 30 minutes across town in -23°C just to go skating for another 30 minutes then ride another 30 minutes back again. Did I mention the temperature? Did I mention the blistering wind as violent as any shark attack? Did I mention the difficulty tying my skates after all my fingers had frozen then broken off? I ride throughout the winter devising stratagems and tactics such as doubling of socks and gloves while employing a variety of balaclavas, scarves and hats in such a combination that not even I know where my face begins or ends. No, I have nothing to prove and it now seems appropriate to withdraw from the world and enter a prolonged state of torpor.

“How exactly does one hibernate in the city? The same as everywhere else. Stay inside.”

It sounds simple enough and in fact, it is. A key to wanting to stay inside is turning up the heat until it seems wasteful. If a squad of environmental warriors have not stormed your door demanding you stop wasting electricity (or “Hydro” as we quaintly call it in these parts) then you have not turned up the heat enough. It is odd that we still call electricity “Hydro”. The term fills the imagination with helicopter flyovers of powerful, sustainable and clean hydroelectric stations churning glorious and affordable Kilowatts for all. Never mind the small town drowned to form the dam or the entire ecosystem displaced by the behemoth infrastructure. It sounds so clean it must be good for the soul. Also, pay no attention that Ontario gets most of its “Hydro” from its three wildly expensive nuclear plants and eighteen active reactors. At this point it would be more accurate to refer to our electricity as “nucleo” which isn't nearly as cute or clean sounding. Here’s a little secret I don’t often admit, but there is a smell associated with electric radiators that few discuss. I imagine it is all the dust and detritus that has accumulated on the heating element which burns off when you really crank the heat. I like that smell, even if it is burning dandruff, and I associate it with a house that is warming up.

You may have made the house cozy but is it, “I could fall asleep at any moment” cozy? My abode is a wee bit draughty so to make sure I’m never just below boiling, I layer myself in the finest of undergarments. I sew myself in and begin to stew. If my calculations are correct, and they rarely are, I should be finished and ready for consumption in early April. Think of it as “sous vide” slow cooking but for yourself and not a grey piece of skinless chicken breast. I’d love to say MEC’s fine merino wool base layers are the best, but they are not. While those base layers feel great initially, they stretch and sag in a way that bunches where there should be no bunches. Far more affordable and comfortable is the Heattech line from the Japanese retailer, Uniqlo. Yes, the Japanese have done it again. This is definitely the best of class of winter underwear. I prefer the t-shirt combined with the long underwear, topped by toasty socks, jeans (if you really have to wear trousers) and an outer layer of a natural, breathable wool sweater. Nothing could be finer that wearing an underliner.

High-speed Internet is a must for closing yourself off from the cold but not the world. Plus, one has to earn a living. E-mail, video conferences and YouTube breaks are all necessary to work from home and they all need a big ol’ pipe to make sure all those bytes keep flowing. The recent addition of a large high-resolution monitor to my work arsenal means I no longer have to slouch o’er a tiny laptop screen like Scrooge’s hapless help, Bob Cratchit but rather can bask in the glow of millions of illuminated pixels.

Consumables. I’m no survivalist with gallons of water or powdered eggs to last a nuclear winter, mostly because I live almost directly across the street from an ever adequate, low-cost grocery chain. Stockpiling snacks and a cache of tinned goods make it so much easier to avoid the cold void of outer space (by which I mean the space just outside my door). Another tin of smoked mussels? Don’t mind if I do.

Beverages, hot and cold, sweet or not, sparkling or still are another essential ingredient to staying put rather than going out. A variety of teas, coffee, chocolate, juices, beers, wines and spirits are a must to any hibernator’s larder. Don’t forget reliable cocktail ingredients such as vermouth, bitters, olives and marinated cherries in syrup. My supply of sherry has run out just in time to top a tipple of whiskey to Robbie Burns and/or Virginia Woolf, both of whom may be celebrated on a dark January night.

Multi-media is a must to stave off early onset ennui. In fact, to some, this may be very reasonable when it becomes most unseasonable. Shelves of books, stacks of magazines plus a near infinite supply of the world’s film and music libraries via the Internet should provide all the distraction one requires to prevent la fièvre de la cabine. You are more likely to go mad trying to decide what to read, watch or listen to next than from boredom.

A bike trainer and Norwegian Slow TV combine to provide exercise and the fantasy of a 7.5 hour train ride from Bergen to Oslo, Norway. Why ride your bike outside, when you can ride inside and watch a video of the outside instead? I enjoy the augmented reality of riding while watching a video of travelling down a road or rail line but sometimes I enjoy watching the augmented reality of British royalty as depicted in Netflix’s The Crown. This week alone I’ve ridden more than 80 KM as Winston Churchill was almost ousted from power twice while learning that many British men are given the nickname “Dickie” at birth!

Fire is also important. I burn pure ethanol in my non-functioning fireplace and the effect is one of instant “hygge”. Sadly, this form of exothermic reaction is both silent and odourless (honestly) so it helps to play a recording of a crackling fire whilst burning balsam scented incense at the same time. No one said this was going to be easy.

Unfortunately, I keep having to leave the house for fresh fruit, pantry restocking, and “societal obligations”. I have found I could often go several days without speaking to a single person but eventually, I was bound to leave the house when I had a string of volunteer meetings to attend wherein I excitedly described a recently discovered bit of floor fluff that looked exactly like PEI. I realize now that most floor fluff looks exactly like PEI and that topic wasn’t really the sort of thing normally conversant people discuss. Henceforth, I’ll reserve my PEI-shaped floor fluff discoveries for Instagram. Future awkward social interaction crisis averted and another hibernation success story!

So join me, my fellow Canadians, by leaving me alone, on a journey of self discovery. Avoid backwoods skiing into an avalanche of death, ignore the call of the snowy trails, stay away from mass influenza transit systems, shy away from neighbourhood ice rinks of shinny and reconnoiter your rec room until spring is here. Together we can do nothing and ensconce ourselves beneath blankets only to emerge when the power of the sun returns.

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Blogger Unknown said...

MMM, so many encouraging tips, wrapped in the indefatigable Peter humour!
I love my Uniqlo Heattech shirt!
Thanks, Peter

2:31 PM, January 26, 2018  

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