I lived through a war, says Eilis O’Han­lon, so a bit of cold doesn’t faze me. And my kids will thank me. One day

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Life - - FIRST PERSON -

Win­ter may be com­ing in land. In Ire­land, it’s al­ready here. The cat wants to creep un­der the quilt each night, be­cause it’s too cold to lie on top of the bed.

If you wake in the mid­dle of the night, need­ing a trip to the bath­room, you just go back to sleep and hope for the best, be­cause it’s not worth risk­ing the frost­bite, and, any­way, you’d only dis­turb the afore­men­tioned cat. And be­sides, if you did have a lit­tle, erm, ac­ci­dent, then the warmth would be a wel­come relief, in more ways than one.

I could switch on the cen­tral heat­ing, but, well, how can I put this? Are you out of your tiny lit­tle mind? Of course I’m not go­ing to put on the cen­tral heat­ing un­less it’s ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary.

That costs money. Quite a lot of money, in my ex­pe­ri­ence. Reg­u­lar cen­tral heat­ing was one of the first things to go once the re­ces­sion started to bite, along with health in­sur­ance and satel­lite TV. Warmth is a dis­tant mem­ory now.

Se­cretly, I’m not even sure that I mind any more. Be­ing cold is char­ac­ter-build­ing.

That’s what I tell my chil­dren, re­gal­ing them with tales of my child­hood in Belfast, when we’d reg­u­larly wake with frost on the in­side of the win­dows, and the only thing more hor­ri­fy­ing than turn­ing on the hot tap in the bath­room to find freez­ing-cold wa­ter flow­ing onto your hands, was turn­ing on the hot tap to find hot wa­ter flow­ing — be­cause have you ever ex­pe­ri­enced any­thing like hot wa­ter on chilblained mitts in win­ter? No, of course you haven’t. You’re a wuss who grew up in a house that felt like a trop­i­cal is­land in win­ter. I didn’t. Ours re­ally was a cold house for Catholics, so cold that Eski­mos would have mar­velled at how we stood it. But I’m not sorry. It made a man of me. And I’m not even a man. That’s how char­ac­ter-build­ing it was.

My chil­dren are sub­jected to this speech reg­u­larly. It comes right af­ter the one that goes, “I grew up in the mid­dle of a war, you know, and you

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don’t hear me com­plain­ing when the lo­cal ve­gan store is out of co­conut oil.”

Yes, I re­ally do lay that guilt trip on them. I have no shame.

They’re still not con­vinced about the ben­e­fits of freez­ing to death, how­ever.

There’s only one way that they take af­ter me, as my daugh­ter dis­cov­ered when she went away to univer­sity.

Sud­denly, she re­alised that not ev­ery­one in the world sits watch­ing TV in a coat, with a blan­ket tucked around their knees to keep warm. That’s our reg­u­lar year-round rit­ual, save for those two weeks we jok­ingly call “sum­mer”.

It makes eco­nomic sense. Why pay to turn on a ra­di­a­tor, when you’ve got blan­kets that have al­ready been paid for? If the blan­ket isn’t enough, go for the quilt. Win­ter tog rat­ing, nat­u­rally.

It’s very com­fort­ing. Try it, if you don’t be­lieve me. You feel all co­cooned and safe, like a gender-stud­ies stu­dent who’s been told that she never has to hear any opin­ions that con­flict with her own ever again.

My daugh­ter soon dis­cov­ered that she missed this part of home life most of all, once she was in snug lodg­ings where fel­low stu­dents ac­tu­ally ex­pected to be able to feel their toes.

I should prob­a­bly have been in­sulted that she didn’t miss her par­ents fore­most, or her brother and sis­ter, or even the cats, but deep down, I was proud.

I knew that, even though she hadn’t had the priv­i­lege of grow­ing up in the mid­dle of a war, and so would never know the un­par­al­leled joy of feel­ing im­mensely su­pe­rior to peo­ple who didn’t, she’d still man­aged to ab­sorb some of that North­ern grit­ti­ness.

So in a way, I think I’m do­ing my chil­dren a favour by mak­ing them shiver. I’m giv­ing them a sliver of that doughty Belfast strength of char­ac­ter that made their mother such an in­cred­i­ble hu­man be­ing.

I’ll draw the line at tak­ing away their hot-wa­ter bot­tles, though. That would be far too cruel. To the cats. Kids are one thing, but you can’t ex­pect the cats to be cold as well. What kind of mon­ster do you think I am?

‘It made a man of me, and I’m not even a man. That’s how char­ac­ter­build­ing it was’

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