Penguin’s eggs, the Antarctic, and how to keep warm

This is actually Stoke Newington, not the Antarctic, but it's easy to get confused
This is actually Stoke Newington, not the Antarctic, but it’s easy to get confused

It’s below freezing in London at the moment. How do you cope with the cold weather? Last year I found an unusual solution – this book.

It’s called ‘The Worst Journey in the World’, and it’s by a guy who rejoiced in the name ‘Apsley George Benet Cherry-Garrard’, and was on the Polar expedition with Captain Scott.

The ‘worst journey’ wasn’t actually the trek to the Pole, but a 2-month quest he and two others took through the Antarctic in the depth of winter, to collect some penguin’s eggs which scientists at the time thought might be a vital missing link in evolutionary studies (spoiler alert: they weren’t).

It was pitch black the whole time. They trekked 70 miles in the snow, sometimes travelling just 1 mile a day in temperatures of -60. It was so cold that each morning they had to prise their sleeping bags open so that they’d freeze with a hole where they could insert themselves at night. It was so cold that their sweat iced up immediately and didn’t melt, so they walked everywhere with massive sheets of ice moulded to their bodies.

All their teeth fell out after the nerves died. If they stood still for more than 30 seconds, their clothes and harness would become frozen into position and they’d have to man-haul sledges in that pose the whole day.

It was bloody cold, is what I’m trying to say. At one point their tent blows away during a huge blizzard and they lie on the floor in a icy cave, waiting for death. Then the blizzard lets up a bit and they struggle outside to realise the tent has miraculously been caught on a bit of rock outside. It’s nail-biting stuff.

This is the explorers on return to base camp. The other two later died on Scott’s ill-fated Polar expedition

What’s really heartbreaking is that not only were the penguin’s eggs a massive red herring, but when Apsley took them to the Natural History Museum a clerk basically told him to piss off and stop bothering people doing important scientific work. Then nobody even bothered to dissect the eggs for years.

After reading this book I had a mental epiphany, which is that if they could cope with two months of this, I could cope with getting out of bed in a cold flat and getting into a hot shower. So if you want to feel slightly warmer than a man with only a reindeer fur sleeping bag between him and the frozen Antarctic waste, I recommend this book. It is quite long though.

If you don’t have time to wade through 600 pages, and you don’t want to crank up the heating bills either, I recommend these things instead:

  • Get two hot water bottles (one for your feet and one to cling to desperately). You can even make your own covers.
  • Knit some handwarmers that you can wear indoors while still being able to type, make cups of tea etc. I recommend this pattern.
  • Uniqlo Heat Tech is surprisingly good. It’s all polyester, but somehow breathable. The tights are particularly amazing.
  • I have been living in my boyfriend’s Snugpak army surplus bodywarmer non-stop for the last week. It’s a bit Made in Chelsea to actually wear out of the house, but it does have military grade warming properties.
  • Accept any invitations to go out. Whether you’re in a public place or someone else’s house, at least they’ll be paying for the heating.

Any other strategies for the current weather?

This guy looks quite happy about it

26 thoughts on “Penguin’s eggs, the Antarctic, and how to keep warm

  1. Kerry January 25, 2013 / 2:00 PM

    That book sounds brilliant – a few years ago I saw an exhibition at the Queens Gallery in Edinburgh ‘In the Heart of the Great Alone’ which was photographs of Scott and Shackleton’s expeditions. It was beyond amazing and incredibly moving. I couldn’t listen to the last part of the audio guide which was reading Scott’s last diary entry.

  2. Kathryn January 22, 2013 / 8:07 AM

    That book sounds so moving. Did you go see the exhibitions at the Queen’s Gallery and Natural Hisotry Museum about Scott’s last expedition? I managed to miss them both but this books sounds just as interesting – thanks for the tip! Thanks for the two hot water bottles tip – I too love me a hot water bottle but so far only have one. I’ve been enjoying the walks to work in the snow and on the plus side I walk a lot faster when I’m cold so I don’t need to leave so early!

    • yesilikethat January 22, 2013 / 10:15 AM

      No I missed them and I’m gutted about it! They closed just before my obsession began 😦

  3. Sewing Sveta January 22, 2013 / 7:19 AM

    We have gold winters here, in Saint-Petersburg, Russia. Like 3 month of below zero temperature. Only one good thing – we have central heating and it is pretty warm inside. But outside is pretty pity and uncomfortable%(((

    • yesilikethat January 22, 2013 / 10:15 AM

      That is one thing that cold countries do well – indoor warmth and cosiness. I feel like it’s not that important in the UK. Everywhere is so drafty and leaky and damp. Blurgh.

  4. six and a quarter January 22, 2013 / 3:58 AM

    Wow. I didn’t think it was humanly possible to survive temps like that! Yes, I believe we hit 2 degrees Fahrenheit today, but this puts everything in perspective! Stay warm! 🙂

  5. Michelle January 22, 2013 / 1:00 AM

    We have the exact opposite problem in Australia at the moment – I can never decide which of extreme cold or extreme heat is worse! I’ve found hand knit socks and jumpers from a good woollen yarn are the best items to help stay warm during waking hours and a toasty electric blanket for sleep time.
    A friend of mine works for the Australian Antarctic Division, based in Hobart, but she went to Antarctica last summer for a visit – she was provided with some pretty impressive cold weather gear (including one of those shepee things, I guess you want to remove as few clothes as possible when it is that cold!). Thankfully she had a much nicer time than the early explorers did and came home with all of her teeth and some very cute penguin photos.

    • yesilikethat January 22, 2013 / 10:14 AM

      My friend in Sydney said it’s nearly 40 degrees there! Can’t imagine that kind of heat. Think I would turn lobster red and keel over within 30 seconds.

  6. busyellebee January 21, 2013 / 11:07 PM

    Hello, I have a tip! If you still have one, visit your local library 🙂 Loads of books to look at for free, access to the internet, and most importantly … free heating! I am lucky that I have 2 good libraries near me where I can spend many a happy hour learning all sorts of things from gardening, clothes designing tips, new knitting stitches, all sorts of things. I’m going to check out your link for the hand warmers, and maybe I will be making them in the corner of the library later in the week. Thanks for yet another great post 🙂 Keep warm everyone!

  7. craftylittlebugger January 21, 2013 / 9:02 PM

    That book sounds incredible, I will have to give it a read. I use the same tactic of comparing my life to that of others when I find myself wanting for things that aren’t that important, or complaining about silly things. I’m currently enjoying a book about civilian life in WW2.

    As for heat tactics – ski socks.

    • yesilikethat January 21, 2013 / 9:07 PM

      Ooh what’s the book? Have you read the ‘Our Hidden Lives’ Mass Observation series? I love those so much.

    • craftylittlebugger January 21, 2013 / 9:12 PM

      It’s ‘How We Lived Then’ by Norman Longmate. It is the most comprehensive book I’ve ever come across about civilian life. Fascinating stuff. I hadn’t heard of ‘Our Hidden Lives’, no, but I’m glad I have now. Thanks!

  8. gingermakes January 21, 2013 / 7:28 PM

    Oh, that story is so sad! 😦 I can’t imagine going on a trek that difficult.

    I like to go the opposite way with entertainment, though– if it’s cold out, I watch movies set at the beach or in the desert and it makes me feel a little warmer! I also make the dogs sit on my lap and they keep me pretty warm when I’m cold in my apartment!

    • yesilikethat January 21, 2013 / 9:08 PM

      I must try that. Somehow it often makes me feel colder in comparison, but I guess if I had a dog to warm me up it would be better 🙂

  9. CGCouture January 21, 2013 / 5:57 PM

    Bake something! Not only does it give off a delicious scent, but you’re doing something useful and heating your house up (so that you don’t have to later when it’s warm outside). 🙂

    When we were kids, our two-story drafty old farmhouse didn’t have any heat except a fireplace next to, you guessed it, two drafty windows. It regularly got cold enough to freeze the drinks we might have taken upstairs to bed with us. We had electric blankets under quilts to keep warm with, and I always slept with my next days clothes so that they were warm when I got up. Ahhh, memories. 🙂

    • yesilikethat January 21, 2013 / 9:09 PM

      That sounds freezing. All good training for dealing with cold later on I guess! We never have the heating on at night, I can’t bear sleeping in a hot room (as long as I have a nice warm duvet to keep me toasty).

    • yesilikethat January 21, 2013 / 9:10 PM

      Have to agree. Had some amazing chorizo/cabbage soup the other night.

  10. Geri January 21, 2013 / 4:43 PM

    I bought a novelty German electric foot warmer from Lidl last year (it looks like one giant slipper!) which I inteded as a hilarious secret santa gift, but spoiled by actually using. Don’t feel so bad about it at the moment though, as it really does heat up cold feet with Germanic efficiency.
    One of my true great regrets, was not applying for a job to be a cleaner at the NZ base camp at Antartica. I chickened out when they extended the minimum stay to 12 months instead of 6 months, and my friend said I’d go bonkers just talking (and cleaning up after) scientists for that long. Plus I hate the cold. Still…..its Antartica y’know!

    • yesilikethat January 21, 2013 / 9:10 PM

      Oh man that would have been amazing! I have heard that people go a bit stir-crazy down there. Also you don’t get to eat any fresh fruit and vegetables for 6 months of the year.

      Now I really want a novelty German foot warmer…must make the trek to Lidl…

  11. Zoe January 21, 2013 / 3:29 PM

    What a lovely article. I am totally cold blooded and am currently sat with freezing cold hands and would love to make some handwarmers to wear at work! The link to the handwarmers isn’t working for me thought 😦 can you help?

    • yesilikethat January 21, 2013 / 3:32 PM

      Thanks Zoe! All sorted now. Should really check them before I press ‘publish’ 🙂

    • Zoe January 22, 2013 / 7:12 PM

      Thank you 🙂

  12. houseofpinheiro January 21, 2013 / 3:21 PM

    I live on uniqlo heatteach clothes and hot water bottles. Just got a personal electric heater too

  13. shivani January 21, 2013 / 3:12 PM

    my heart broke a little reading about those poor poor chaps. amazing what some folks do for the good of mankind (or not, in this case). This has seriously made me ashamed of all my moaning the past couple of days.

    I received an electric blanket for xmas from my husband (so romantic, I know) and it seriously changed my life (ok, just a little bit). also, those little handwarmer things from camping shops – pop a couple of those in your pockets/wellies, and it all becomes a bit more bearable.

    • yesilikethat January 21, 2013 / 3:34 PM

      It is an AMAZING book, best thing I read all year. I am obsessed with the Antarctic at the moment. So many heartbreaking and heroic stories took place out there.

      Electric blankets are amazing, if I got one I’d be pretty chuffed! My mum used to have one that had different settings on each side, so if your other half objects they can have a cold bed and you can have a toasty warm one.

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