Last week we were in the headlines. We watched from afar as the BBC told the UK of freezing weather hitting Canada, and we were there, bang in the middle of it all. We were staying in a small cottage in a forest just two-hours north of Toronto in our son Joshua’s new, ‘self-built’ home. At its coldest and with chill factor included, the temperature outside reached minus 31C during the day and minus 40C at night. Our nearest town was a twenty minute drive away. Our nearest neighbours were either 1 kilometre down an icy track or 700 metre across a frozen lake.
From the house we could see nothing but snow-covered countryside. Here was mixture of beauty and bleakness broken only by the sight of deer gracefully crossing the ice. But the cold was also a threat – there is something worrying about being surrounded by Arctic conditions and not being sure whether we would ever get out.
To help keep the cottage warm we draped the windows with rugs and carpets and later hung curtains. With these, plus the central heating and our personal four layers of clothing, we stayed cosy. Outside it was a different story. There, even with a fifth layer of clothing plus hoods, hats, scarves, and two pairs of gloves, it was biting. And all the time we were very aware that the fuel stocks for our heating furnace were falling fast.
Despite the icy conditions we set about our everyday businesses, and apart from chatting and shopping there was work to be done. Our twin challenges were to keep ourselves warm and to get the new house ship-shape. To this end we worked in two teams – the curtain-makers, consisting of my wife Rohan and our daughter-in-law Ali, and the carpenters, consisting of myself and Joshua.
Although the tasks for both teams were equally demanding, the dynamics were very different. The curtain makers were the epitome of quiet and calm, with concentration linked to industry and negotiation, and with compromise topped off by occasionally hugs. For the carpenters, for whom the main task was to build a customised bookcase in a poky corner in a downstairs study, there was planning, reviewing, debating – some cursing – correcting and the use of tools that made vast amounts of noise and dust. With each stage completed, there were high fives. For both teams there was a sense of closeness and the feeling that the work was all the better for there being the four of us.
When the day-time jobs were over, most of our evenings were spent en famille watching films projected on a home screen. They were all films that we had seen umpteen times and with which we were very familiar – Casablanca, The Third Man, Bugsy Malone and North by Northwest. I am not normally a film lover but to my surprise this movie-fest gave me untold pleasure. I rediscovered for the first time in years that films can be great fun.
Seen on a small TV screen from across the other side of the room, details can be missed and large amounts of the director’s efforts are lost or defined by guesswork. In the cottage, the screen almost fills the room. Watching digitally remastered copies of the older films on a large screen, the words are audible and the pictures crispy-clear and little is lost. Being immersed in such clarity I felt as though I was seeing films as never before. Suddenly the plots, the sub-plots and the clues were accessible and as such the messages more easily got into my head. Fancy having to stay in an isolated cottage in a snow storm to discover that!
After ten days it was time to return to London. The inclement weather in Canada, and the added family closeness it bought, won’t be forgotten. And there was something else. Just as we were leaving for the trip home a lorry carrying new supplies of fuel trundled down the road to the cottage. It was a close run thing!