July 27, 2015

Horse 1946 - Cold Comfort

As I paw at the 'keys' on my tablet this morning, I am convinced that if my body needs 10 litres of blood to run properly, then I only have 9. Instead of being pink, my fingers have started to acquire that particular jaundiced shade of hypothermia and even though they appear to be able to make the tablet work, I can not feel any individual key stroke.
As I closed the front door and stepped outside into a morning where I could feel an icy wind slap against my cheek, before I walked to the train station this morning, I noticed that the car's windows were caked in ice, the grass on the lawns crunched underfoot and I'm sure that even Antarctic penguins would be looking to take a summer holiday because it's so cold here. It's so cold that Geordies might consider putting on a coat.
This is Sydney in the winter. The only consolation is that on SBS World News' nightly weather report, the only city in the whole world with a lower minimum forecasted temperature was Canberra.

If you'd been transported to Australia in 1787 for the hideous and heinous crime of vandalising twelve cucumbers (yes, that did actually happen to a chap called Thomas Chadwick), then arriving in Sydney in a stinking hot summer where the mercury was on its merry way to 40°C, then you might have thought that it was a fate worse than a fate worse than death. Six months later after the colony started to run out of proper clothes and before it had built any substantial buildings, you'd have your sentiments confirmed when the mercury barely escaped single digits centigrade.
This city built around a harbour and at the top of the world (or the bottom depending on your prejudice) can and does get as cold as Blighty on occasion but we seem to be living in some sort of self-imposed delusion because we pretend otherwise.

There was a study which was published in The Lancet* which looked at the rates at which people died of both heat and cold exposure and came to the conclusion that far more people die of cold than heat. As you read through this chilling study you find out that the cold contributed to about 3.9% of all deaths in Sweden, but 6.5% of all deaths in Australia; that compares with only 0.5% of all deaths in Australia caused by excessive heat. That's nuts.
As a result of our self-imposed delusions and the myths that we tell ourselves, we tend to build houses in Australia to cope with the 40°C summer days but not chill during winter and the consequence is that more people in Australia die of cold exposure than in Sweden.
I can attest to that. The house that I live in, is suspended upon brick pillars but the distance from inside to outside is only the thickness of the floorboards and even then there are gaps between some of them. During the day you can look down in places and see daylight peeking under the house. Basically, even in a city where every cent is spent on rent and isn't meant to supplement the government, we live in fancy tents with vents.

When I hear stories of old people dying of exposure in their homes and not being found for days, it's not that much of a stretch to work out why. Old people tend to live either in older homes which aren't as well insulated or they tend to be in a period of dissaving, which means that they feel cost-of-living expenses such as heating their homes, more in the hip pocket. A "make do" attitude probably helps to contribute to higher death rates from cold in older people.
In places like Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Germany and even England where the government has taken the economic decision to slowly kill off old people and poor people, they've built houses with more substantial flooring and central heating. We design our houses to let the heat escape during yet another summer that blazes on but then suffer as a result of those same houses working perfectly as designed during the winter.
I regularly sit on our back steps on a Sunday morning, with both hands wrapped around a cup of tea,  trying to thaw them out by conduction, convection and radiation; failing at all three because work's a curse and all the heat in the universe is going to cool down - 'cause that's entropy, baby!
Even as I sit here upon the train in my Crombie coat, scarf and bowler hat (because I have both style and flair and my default fashion setting is 1937), yet again I think that I don't belong in Australia. I belong in England where it's still cold and miserable but at least its centrally heated and I'm not going to freeze to death because I'm staying up late to watch football or Formula One racing. I'm also more likely to be sitting in a train which doesn't have the air conditioning set for six months past or in the future.
I can't feel my fingers.

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