Tag Archives: uk

The incredible dryness of cold

Frosted gingerbread roof

I’m not about to express surprise at the fact that it’s cold in winter. By the standards of a LOT of people I can think of, the temperatures we’re facing this week – an average of about -7°C during the day – are temperate, mild, even balmy by comparison with quite extensive other parts of the world.

But what never ceases to amaze me in Southern Germany is just how dry cold can be. Having spent my formative years in the insular climate of lowland areas of the UK, especially on the coast, I’m used to cold being accompanied by wet. I expect a daytime thaw even when there’s snow on the ground, and so the fact of the snow just staying the same for days on end, simply because it remains frozen and can’t go anywhere or change its consistency, is quite weird. It strikes me as eerily Groundhog-Day-like, so maybe it’s appropriate that I’m writing this post today of all days!

What’s struck me particularly today is that even though there is absolutely no snow or visible patches of ice on the streets here in the middle of the city (the picture above is of the North-facing roof of the house), the street surfaces nevertheless have an odd look to them, a pale, dusty, almost mildewed-looking grey. It’s like a thin salt crust or sprinkling of talcum, very dull and matte, and not in the least slippery. I’m guessing the tiny moisture droplets in the air are simply freezing on contact with the frozen ground and causing this strange effect. It’s definitely not salt as it darkens and then disappears if you warm it.

It’s odd how little details of a place’s climate can astonish you even after many years of living there, but at the same time it’s pleasing to be able to marvel at something that must strike many other people as ordinary or insignificant.

Postscript: Following on from a discussion of this with Rolf on Twitter, I have now been reminded that this phenomenon is called deposition or desublimation – in this case the direct transformation of water vapour (i.e. gas, not droplets) into ice in sub-freezing conditions. Thanks Rolf!


Filed under Intercultural & interlinguistic, Out & about

Belated update…

Wow, it’s been too long since I updated this. Life has been busy, busy, busy in the last few weeks, mostly in positive and exciting ways (though there’s been a lot of work as well).

Well, the new relationship is progressing and we’ve visited each other in recent weeks and spent some lovely time together, as well as talking a lot in between. I’ve decided to continue my general policy of not naming names here for the time being, but if anyone is still completely in the dark: he’s going on 39, is Welsh and lives in Southampton.

So the logistics of a long-distance relationship are constantly being explored; Skype is a godsend, of course, and at least we don’t have the added complication of considerably different time zones, which I know is something a number of friends have to contend with in their relationships.

Anyway, he came over to visit me for a good long weekend back in mid-July. We had a fairly lazy time of it in the end, not doing too much major touristy stuff but just relaxing, going with the flow and still doing a whole variety of things. Some of the most memorable highlights (well, the ones I feel like talking about here) were: going to a concert of John Dowland and contemporaries given by a group called Les Haulz et les Bas (we’d been talking about some of these very songs only shortly before that); attending the English department’s first graduation ceremony in many moons (which was hilarious as well as very special); meeting my colleagues and students at a party afterwards; spending a raucous evening in the park with friends and several six-packs; cooking, eating and drinking in general; getting all dolled up to go out for a sumptuous dinner at Trattoria Enoteca (caprese / salad, saltimbocca and tiramisu, together with a fine bottle of wine); getting totally and utterly drenched in the rain and not caring in the least; and sharing our favourite pieces of classical music (there were a lot of coincidences there…).

On my brief return visit to Southampton we also packed in a lot of stuff, despite it being only a visit of a couple of days. I was taken to view the Isle of Wight by night (and there was a fantastic orange moon out over the Solent), we had a day out in Oxford, we took a brief tour through some lovely Hampshire villages (thatched cottages – oooh!!), we cooked a meal while listening to the Proms (OK, he cooked, I helped), drank some 1993 Dom Perignon champagne, had a fairly impromptu picnic on the back lawn, ate Marmite on toast for breakfast (this is always a big deal for me, and even more so when there’s someone to share the experience with) and went shopping in Southampton.

We also had a very “interesting” journey from London City Airport (which I can thoroughly recommend as an airport) to Southampton, not just because we passed sights such as the Thames Barrier, Canary Wharf, the Dome (none of which I’d seen before), the London Eye, Parliament, Battersea Power Station, but also because when we were on the train from Waterloo, there was a very strange man sitting opposite. He wasn’t unpleasant at all but was decidedly odd; he had some very misguided ideas about firewall security, used his Macbook as a plate for his sandwich, went on about having been a banker or something in Manhattan, and kept ostentatiously opening his battered briefcase to reveal what could only really have been a collection of bondage gear. After he got off, we had an entertaining time discussing his oddness with a lovely woman from the Isle of Wight, who also studied Music and German (like me) and was a recorder player in times of yore (ditto). She now apparently works for one of the big two American political parties, though she was a bit cagey on that point.

The next few weeks will see me back over there. I’m really looking forward to it…


Filed under Up close and personal