Sunday, 1 March 2015

Calling a spade 'a spade' and not 'the biggest dessert spoon ever'.

I know this blog is supposed to be about renovation but as we wave a fond farewell to February, I feel compelled to share an observation about life over here in Toronto. Bear with me whilst I veer off piste - there is a tangential link, I promise.

When we arrived in this city, the winter of 2013/4, there were two hot topics of conversation; Rob Ford and the Polar Vortex. It was the winter of all winters, we were shoveling snow almost from the get-go and met our new neighbours over talk of snow removal, plunging temperatures and the sprinkling of salt on the sidewalk. We were assured that last year was the exception, ‘Toronto is never like this’ everyone chimed. 'Its extreme', 'We're sorry about the weather', 'Next year will be better'.

And here we are, a year later, and Rob Ford is off the front pages but again the headlines are all about the weather. Would you adam and eve it, this year the temperatures have dropped again and the city is in the grip of another wave of extreme cold? Its bad, we're told. In fact, its so bad that the past month, February 2015, will go on record for the ‘most consecutive days of extreme weather warnings’. There it is again, proof that this year its bad. Toronto is never like this, its extreme, next year will be better.

Well, that’s a bit of bad luck on our part. We land in a new city and hit two of its worst winters. But this isn’t my first time living here, I came over from London in 1998 for a year on a scholarship program. Now those were the days before Facebook, iPhones and a life archived in social media. However, I did keep a scrapbook and so I've dug it out from storage to remind myself what winter was like in 1998/9. This is what I found - newspaper clippings from 'the ice storm’, the winter of the power cuts and when so much snow fell on Toronto that the army had to be called in to help shift the stuff. Everyone remembers that winter, it was bad, it was extreme.


And so, according to my small sample of winters spent in Toronto, it would appear that winter in this city, is tough. Its cold, its snowy, there is ice involved and some days we are advised to stay indoors, i.e. there's an extreme cold weather warning. 

I have a sneaking suspicion that, put quite simply, this is it, Toronto. This is your weather and every year is simply a variation on this cold and frigid theme. So, why the superlatives? Why the compulsion to give each winter season a title that will condemn it to the annals of meteorological history as the season to beat all others? Well I have a theory about that too!

Could the need to view this winter as an extreme be a survival tactic? It surely helps to brave the crippling cold if we can tell ourselves that this is unusual, its not normally like this, next year will be better. After all, who wants to face the harsh reality that the climate here is hostile for at least a third of the year and we choose to live here, like this?

I've come to the realisation that this is the reason that Toronto’s roads are choked with cars (and not small cars, but SUVs, minivans and the like, so that they can plough their way across the inevitable snow banks), its why cycling is not a feasible means of transport all year around, its why shopping malls exist and why the building regulations have minimum requirements for HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning - see, I found the renovation connection!).

It's time to tell it how it is: the frigid cold season is called winter, when temperatures drop, the wind chills, snow falls and water freezes.

Tis the season of down coats, fleece lined gloves and furry ear muffs. Put the leather boots into storage til spring, and resign yourself to the salt marked snow boots, Wigwam socks and thermal leggings. Ski, skate (on rinks, not the lake), snowshoe and toboggan, drink hot chocolate and toast marshmallows on the fire. Fly south if you have to (but don't forget to budget for the plumber's bill when you get back and find the pipes frozen).

And those of us anxious to get renovating, toes on the start line and ready to go, we have to wait for the big thaw when the snow and ice disappear. There's no demolition work to be done til it does.

Unless of course, I'm wrong and next year will be better.

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