Invisible Stranger

Invisible Stranger

Collecting Crises on Old Compton Street and Beyond

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Little Tinker

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Monday, August 11, 2003
Waking In A Winter Wonderland
There's nothing I love better than a cold winter's day, when the mercury hits zero and then just keeps on dropping. When the trees are covered in snow, the lawn's a crisp and endless sheet of white, and there's ice floating down the Regent's Canal. When the sky's so clear you can make out the Milky Way even through the light pollution, and your breath hangs in icy clouds before you. As long as I'm outside wrapped up warm, or inside snuggled on the sofa, watching the frost etch patterns on my windows, then you won't hear me complain.

The coldest winter I ever experienced was one January in Berlin. The temperature was down to the minus-twenties; the wind was howling its way in from Siberia. To the south-west of the city, the great lakes had frozen over. Delivery vans and cars took short-cuts across the surface of the Wannsee lake, and impromptu stalls had been set up selling hot-chestnuts and Glühwein to families out on a day-trip. It was what I imagine the old London Frost Fairs were like on the Thames.

I'd been out of town for a few days, and returned to an inevitably chilly reception. The heating system of the studio-flat I was staying in, already hoary with age when Bismarck was a boy, had finally packed in. The water in all the pipes had frozen solid; and my loo was one dirty great lump of ice.

I surprised no one more than myself by successfully managing to thaw the lot out. It took me several days, during which time I kipped under a duvet wearing thermals, a duffle-coat, bobble-hat and thirteen pairs of socks, but the whole thing passed off without incident. (I even sorted out the toilet arrangements, but we won't dwell on that.) For days afterwards, I was an insufferably smug little Stranger.

The smugness lasted a few weeks until one frosty February morning. Lying in bed in the darkness, I was awakened by what I thought was the gentle pit-pitter-pattering of rain on my window pane, a sure sign the thaw was settling in. I turned over, tried to get back to sleep, but the sound became louder and more insistent. So loud, in fact, that it was almost as if I were outside in the rain, rather than in my own warm and cosy bed.

And then I remembered the upstairs neighbours who'd gone on a family trip to Turkey and still hadn't come back. Their heating system was even more knackered than mine. Nervously, I flipped on the bedside light.

Being woken up at four in the morning, to find it's pissing it down in your own bedroom, is not the best way to start your day.

I still love the winter though. It's just the plumbing that bloody terrifies me.

(There. I hope that's gone and cooled you all down, my dears.)