Friday, 26 August 2011

How this Child of the Sun keeps warm in the cold

(Thanks to sheep, basically.)

A couple of weeks ago, my darling older sister sent me a white woollen cowl for my birthday.  It's lovely and snuggly and came with an unspoken message, "This is to keep you warm in that cold country where you live".  (That's OK.  We both feel the cold. I knit her socks. She moved to Queensland to keep warm; inexplicably to her, I moved to Britain and revel when it snows.)

The week before my birthday, it was warm - really warm, the sort of summer days we don't see very often in Britain, when your limbs are bathed in warm air and the sun shines.  It reminded me that I am a child of the Sun; I was born at the beginning of spring in a land where spring last a month and summer goes on and on and on.  (Melbourne's spring is August, remember.)  My favourite Greek god is Apollo.  When I feel sunshine on my face, it makes me smile.  Sunshine always lifts my mood. 

Thursday of last week, London was colder than Melbourne.  Today, it rained again.  Our summer has deteriorated into a stereotypical British one.

My love affair with wool began when I was a child.  Although winter is short in Oz, it is relatively cold in the southern states and it does snow on high ground. We have excellent ski fields.  Growing up, it was very rare for houses to have central heating.  Schools did.  Offices and public buildings did.  But most homes relied on a single heater in the lounge.  If temperature was considered at all when they were built, it was with a view to keeping the house cool in summer.  Winter wasn't usually a consideration.

My grade 2 teacher, Mrs Cooper, taught all our class to knit, both girls and boys.  It enchanted me.  Begging yarn from my mum, I created something that, in theory, was meant to become a scarf but turned into some weird trapezoid shape instead.  Two years later, I knitted my first jumper, something mustard coloured in acrylic.  It was probably Red Heart.   Three or four projects later, I graduated to pure wool.  I've knitted dozens of projects since and wool is always my first choice fibre.

During my first 10 years in the UK, I mainly lived in properties that didn't have central heating.  In winter, I had a recurring dream.  I'd dream of merino sheep about to be sheared.  The shearer would turn the sheep onto its back and, instead of being sheared, the sheep would wriggle out of a sheepskin coat.  Once free of the coat, it looked the same as if it had been sheared. I wanted that coat.  I craved that coat.  But there was nowhere to buy one in Britain and I probably couldn't afford it anyway if I did find one.  In Oz, I could buy sheepskin moccasins at the market but I was told "Skinny's" had gone bankrupt and with that went the only source of sheepskin coats I knew.  (On every visit to Melbourne, I go to the Queen Victoria Market and buy another pair of moccasins;  it is almost a ritual.)

 I'd acquired my first sheepskin mittens a.k.a. ugg gloves, when I was 10.   It was the mid-1970's and sheepskin gloves, mittens, coats and boots were all the rage.  (There were ugg boots and gloves long before Brian Smith trade marked the name in the USA.).    We always had sheepskin moccasin slippers

Throughout my early British winters, I wished for those mittens.  When I went home for my mum's funeral in 1994, they were one of the things I brought back in my hand luggage.  In winter, my hands were always cold.  The mittens were fine, but you had to take them off to do anything dexterous, such as turn the pages of a book or dig out your train pass. Inevitably, I spent a fortune on gloves, trying to find the magical pair that would keep my hands warm.  Finally, in about 1997, I scored a pair of sheepskin gloves.  They were (and are) wonderful.  I wore them until the stitching around the thumb gave out, then put them away until I could fix them, which I did last winter.

I also worked my way through multiple coats; always trying to find one warmer than the last.  It's really hard finding a cloth coat that the wind can't penetrate.  That took forever to achieve; eventually, I found a cashmere and wool blend, Cossack-style coat in a shop in Ealing.  Sadly, after 13 winters of being worn to work, it's beginning to die.  At the very least, the pure silk lining needs to be replaced.

The advent of the internet was a godsend for my cold feet.  I found a British company that made sheepskin products, Celtic Sheepskin.  I can't speak more highly of this company.  DH gave me a pair of their "Celt boots" for Christmas 4 or 5 years ago.  Another present was a pair of sheepskin slippers, which he gave me when my last pair of Aussie moccasins gave out.  Last year, I treated myself to a pair of their sheepskin lined walking boots; perfect for going to the football on cold winters days.  These are all my "sheep feet"; a wardrobe of sheepskin footwear, wonderful on cold winter's days when I need to go out or indoors when I don't want to turn up the central heating.

While I lust after their coats, in particular their toscana ones, I'd need to win the lottery to afford one.  Instead, I've had lucky charity shop finds.  Seven years ago, I found a cream, hooded, sheepskin car-coat.  Asking price, £12. The zip was broken and the pockets were full of rubbish. I pointed out the broken zip; they sold it to me for half price.  A replacement zip cost £5 and several hours of swearing.  Dry-cleaning was £35 (and I got complements for my zip replacement job from the drycleaner).  This is "the sheep", which I wear to football and for other freezing-cold-but-casual occasions.

Winter 2009, I scored another sheepskin coat in another charity shop!  This time, it was a slim-fitting, 3/4 length chocolate brown toscana coat. My hands shook as I paid them the £15 asking price, since I knew it'd retail for closer to £800 (I didn't tell them that).  It's shorter than I'd like (my legs get cold), but the only major downside is no pockets.   It's my other "wear to work" coat.

I've always had a daydream that, one day, I'd keep my own sheep.  Looking at the list of sheepskin products I have above, I think I've already got 2 or 3.  And these ones don't need feeding.  Or shearing.   :o)

- Pam (got 10 or 20 more sheep in the stash, but we won't go there today)

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