Friday, 18 March 2011

Try to be Hard in the Cold, and You May Well End up Stiff, Instead

Recently, the usually pampered lives of professional soccer players have seen the banning of snood scarves, particularly popular with immigrant players from warm countries in British or European winter weather. Moreover, there has been some nostalgic harping on about how much tougher players used to be when they did not dress so warmly.

I doubt that, myself. There is a tradition in the colder parts of England that only weaklings are “nesh”, or sensitive to cold, but those who would challenge the might of the weather with courage alone often end up paying the highest price. The UK sees a five figure surplus mortality over the summer months each winter. Yet most of Europe has harsher winters without this effect.

So, why? Because everywhere else, they respect the cold and dress against it. Even without actually developing hypothermia, the thickened blood, restricted circulation and impaired breathing of the thoroughly chilled impose heavy and adverse loads on the body, that can escalate underlying problems from the trivial to the fatal.

But apart from the health hazards, that are probably minimal to professional athletes in their prime, there is the performance loading that sub-lethal hypothermia brings. Getting severely cold not only saps strength but dulls mental performance too: It slows reactions and little by little turns common sense to a pseudo-drunken irrationality. Far from pouring scorn on those wise enough to try to avoid or mitigate these problems, the bravely cold should learn and imitate. My employer recently added snoods to the kit they issue us for working in the cold, and they work.

We cannot go on heating our homes quite as lavishly as we have been doing in the last quarter-century, but we need to be sensible about keeping ourselves warm, indoors and out. Half a million or so Britons sacrificed to misplaced pride in their toughness every decade is far too high a toll. A footballer in a snood is not a big cissy, he is the future, one large step ahead of his detractors and a fine example to follow. This ill-considered reaction should be rescinded, and soon.

As a lot of my two dozen or so readers are political types, there is another angle worth mentioning: Although I started by considering elite professional sportsmen, the real damage from cold weather is borne mainly by the old and infirm. However tight welfare gets in a crashed economy, the next most important thing to sufficient food to provide for the needy is the means or access to at least one warm room. Save in high summer, fuel is an essential, not a luxury in Britain's climate.