Tortoises, snowy fields and taking (dual) control – how to win at winter

Are you old enough to remember George, the Blue Peter tortoise? Winter, to me, meant George (who was thought to be 83 when he died in 2004, after 22 years on the show – 83!!), being placed reverentially in his cardboard box to hibernate. Shortly followed, of course, by the creation, week by week, of the Blue Peter Advent crown – a gaudy delight made of coathangers, gold tinsel, baubles and candles, it was less of a decoration and more of a double-deckered fire hazard. 

But back to George – kids’ TV’s luckiest star. Because he got to sleep through the entire winter, which is kind of my dream. My birthday’s in August, and I’m definitely a summer person – cold, wet weather, and plunging into darkness midway through the afternoon makes me want to curl up in a ball. On top of a radiator, preferably. But, as sleeping in a cardboard box for six months isn’t an option, you have to find things that make winter more cheering and fun. So, channelling my inner Maria for a dose of yuletide positivity, here are a few of my favourite things:

Walking in the snow. You’ve spent 20 minutes getting dressed to go out (how many layers of Uniqlo HeatTec are enough? Three, plus a top, a jumper, a massive coat, scarf, gloves, hat? Don’t forget an extra pair of socks. Oh, and HeatTec leggings under jeans, absolute lifesaver.) You are ready to leave the house. A HeatTec-clad Violet Beauregarde, post-Wonka gum, you manoeuvre your way sideways through the door. Outside, the air is so fresh it feels like someone’s cleaned it in the clouds and then pumped it back out. There are some tiny birds’ footprints scattered on the surface. Everything is unnaturally quiet. Until your wellies start crump-crump-crumping over the snow. That sound of fresh snow compacting as you tramp along makes you feel a bit triumphant. Your tracks across the field or along the pavement say, ‘winter, you won’t stop me’. Make yourself laugh by trying to run a bit through heavy snow (don’t really know why it’s funny, it just is). This is best if you also have a small to medium-sized dog who has never seen snow before, and bounces up and down in excited confusion, landing up to its ears in the wet stuff.

Chestnuts (preferably roasting on an open fire) We cheat a bit with this (we’ve been known to cook them in an Aga or the oven), but if you’re lucky enough to have a real fire, then improve sitting next to it in the depths of winter by cooking up some chestnuts. If you want to be fancy, roast them in a specific pan, for the full Dickensian feel. Is the best part burning your fingers on every single one as you try to get the charred skin off it? (To wait for it to cool is to concede defeat). Or maybe it’s dipping it in a bit of salt before you chomp into it? Either way, they’re pretty cheap and low fat/high fibre, if you’re feeling overwhelmed by stodgy winter comfort food, but still fancy – to quote Winnie the Pooh – a smackerel.

An electric blanket. If you don’t have an electric blanket in winter, you need to get one asap. There is nothing that beats getting into a warm bed – and having it at exactly the temperature you want it. A lie-in on freezing mornings with an electric blanket make you feel like you’re in a fantastic nest. Lots of the double bed versions have dual controls, so if your partner likes it hotter/colder then neither of you will have to stick a foot out of the bed.

Candles. When I lived in London, I once went to a Christmas party in a very posh bit of town. It was in a square and everyone had lit their houses and flats solely with candles. It was a magical sight – a mass of flickering lights shining out in the darkness. I love a selection of candles in mercury tealight holders, as well, of course, as our Cedar, Birch and Vetiver candle (for that winter walks vibe) and our Orange, Cinnamon and Clove, which is perfect for Christmas, but gives you a gorgeous warmth and spicy citrus hit whenever you light it.

The Danish concept of hygge, or being cosy, which has become massive over the last few years, features candlelight as a key feature; there’s something very calming about just staring at a candle, and it’s even better if it’s scenting the room and creating an atmosphere.

Bit of a specific one, but when I worked in the film industry, I became a BAFTA member. And being a member, you get to vote for the BAFTA awards. Which means the Academy send you a ton of DVDs to watch, which start arriving from about mid-November. Ie, just when you feel you don’t want to leave the house, you’ve got a huge array of potentially award-winning films to binge on, every single night. Everything you meant to see, but didn’t quite get around to (or the local cinema wasn’t showing it, because all ten screens were showing Avengers: Endgame back to back). The girls get a selection of animations that’ll see them through till the Spring; I get thrillers, horror, arthouse, comedies – the works. If you’re not in a position to score all this BAFTA bounty, then load up your favourites on Netflix, Sky or NowTV and hand yourself over to box-set oblivion. Or ask someone to treat you to a cinema membership as a Christmas present and aim to go and see all the awards contenders that come out around/just after Christmas.

So, fellow George-the-tortoises – you can have a lovely time in winter – and if all else fails, then keep reminding yourself that after 20th December, when it’s the solstice (the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere), every day is getting a tiny bit longer, leading you out of the darkness and cold towards the spring…