Just a little bit lower, and I’ll feel better

Funny thing, temperature.

Over the past week or two in the UK we’ve experienced some pretty low temperatures. Not as low as Antarctica, or even Braemar on a bad day, but low nevertheless.

However, if we wear the right clothing, we can survive it without much trouble. In fact a brisk walk up to a nearby hill (taking care not to break a leg on the unsanded pavements or the uncollected rubbish) can be quite invigorating. The nip of frost on bare cheeks is kind of pleasant, in a bracing sort of way.  The outdoor life holds no terrors for us.

And yet when the temperature goes up, so that it’s about ten degrees warmer – say five or six degrees above freezing – we start to feel unpleasantly cold. The outdoor life is suddenly not for us, and we hasten inside to make friends with the central heating.

Why should this be? Why is a lukewarm bath somehow less pleasant than a cold one? Are we designed to prefer extremes? Or is it just me?

Maybe it’s a psychological thing. Very cold weather has visual compensations: the beauty of icy spider webs, the purity of fresh-fallen snow – the stunning, inexplicable attraction of something that is actually threatening to us, like floods and bombers. Not many of us would share the view of a friend of mine, who believes that “if you’ve seen one snow-covered mountain, you’ve seen them all”.

Slightly warmer weather, however, has no visual excitement. It brings dampness, greyness, mud and a vague uneasiness. The countryside becomes flat and tedious, like a dithering driver. There is no stimulus for our minds to grapple with. No vital questions, like “Why does butter remain hard in winter, even in a centrally heated house?”

Somehow, cold seems to enliven us, as long as it doesn’t go too far and remove our toes and fingers. We dive into it, make snowmen, ride sleds, throw snowballs.

I have this suspicion, for what it’s worth, that snow and ice open our minds to other dimensions, but maybe this is because I live in a temperate, comfortable climate and can put up with a limited amount of ice and snow, as long as it eventually goes away and releases my car from its clutches. If I lived in an igloo, perhaps a heatwave would open my mind to other dimensions.

Maybe we’re desperate for something to open our minds to other dimensions, even if it’s just a change in the temperature. Something that makes us see things differently.