February Is The Cruelest Month

“April is the cruelest month” said T.S. Eliot, but having just spent February in Scotland for the first time in 27 years I would beg to differ. I had forgotten how relentlessly miserable the weather can get, what it’s like to be constantly cold and constantly rained upon under a glowering grey sky that gets dark far too early.

The grimness was especially pronounced on a trip I took to Edinburgh, where I set out to visit the handful of my old haunts that still exist. After first popping into Avalanche records where the owner half-apologized for the My Chemical Romance LPs on prominent display (“I get those in for the young people”) I set out on a quest to find Till’s Bookshop, where I used to browse the carefully curated selection of paperbacks in my university days. I found some real treasures there, Picador books from the 1980s when the imprint was a guarantee of quality, as well as out of print graphic novels by the French master Jean “Moebius” Giraud that now change hands for much more than I paid for them. 

Most memorable of all, Till’s had an open fireplace that would heat the shop during the winter. Maybe it was that memory, of being warm and surrounded by good books, that was calling me back in Scotland’s cruelest month.

However that warmth was still a thirty minute walk away when I realized that I was really, really cold in a way that I hadn’t felt in a long time. It was an icy, damp chill which I could not shake off. Of course, I have experienced much more extreme temperatures in Moscow, Saint Petersburg and Siberia, the conditions there are so brutal that you have no choice but to preemptively wrap up warm in self-defense, lest you die. The Scottish cold is more subtle: it starts slowly, and permits you to ignore it for a long time, until you realize that this was a feint and it has now sunk deep into your bones.

Admittedly, a major contributing factor to this all pervasive sense of cold is that Scottish people often refuse to dress appropriately for the weather. Indeed, when I was growing up it was a sign of weakness if you zipped up your jacket or wore a scarf. Men of honor exposed themselves to the elements, just as their Celtic warrior forebears had once charged into battle wearing nothing more than a coat of blue paint. Women, too, were unafraid of the ice or the rain. Little seemed to have changed: I saw plenty of lassies in low cut tops and short skirts enduring the cold and damp for the sake of beauty, while their hearty young swains advertised their toughness in football shirts, jeans and goose pimples. 

And at first I was just like them, walking up Cockburn Street (briefly visited by Vision and the Scarlet Witch in Avengers: Infinity War) with my jacket open and my head exposed to the rain, blindly obedient to the atavistic rituals of Scottish manhood. But then, all of a sudden, I felt a violent rebellion in my soul and it was as if my legs propelled me into the first souvenir shop I could find, and there I bought a woolly hat with the word SCOTLAND embroidered on it, above which a roaring lion rampant was stitched in yellow thread. Then I walked back out into the street and pulled it over my head and O my friends I have never felt so Texan as I did at that moment.

Read more at Thus Spake Daniel Kalder

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