Issue 252: 2020 10 22: Outdoor ‘Hygge’

22 October 2020

Outdoor Hygge

English style.

By Lynda Goetz

Have the Brits taken leave of their senses?  (Well, we know they have, but Covid-19 madness is not confined to this country).  I refer to the current mania for pretending that it is in any way comfortable to sit around outside during an English winter.  Apparently there has been a massive increase this autumn in people buying patio heaters, pizza ovens, chimeneas and fire-pits.  (Guardian)  Now, I have nothing against any of these items (indeed I own a completely unused fire-pit bought for a wedding party which was supposed to have taken place in June), my concern is that people might honestly believe they can use these things over the winter in the UK as a way around bans on indoor socialising.

As a keen skier, I am the first to enjoy lunch outside on a crisp, cold day, sitting with a view of snow-covered mountains and the sun shining out of a clear blue sky.  True, one might need to eat that bowl of soup or plate of steak frites with a little more alacrity than usual, for fear of it otherwise being half-cold by the end, but it is nevertheless an enjoyable experience.  If one has the money and is prepared to spend time eating rather than skiing, the experience can be super luxurious in some resorts with comfy sheepskins on the seats, extra blankets and so on.  It can even be possible to eat breakfast outside if you are prepared to wait until about 10am when the sun is warm enough.

However, the idea that it might be possible to reproduce this experience in the UK is surely deluded?  Have those who have contributed to the autumn surge in such purchases as fire pits really considered our climate?  England (Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland also; they may have devolved governments but they don’t have devolved weather as far as I am aware) on paper does not have such a cold climate in the winter as many continental countries.  What we do have is a very damp and humid climate.  This, combined with wind chill factor, can make temperatures above freezing feel far colder than anything encountered in countries where the actual temperature is far lower.  Dry cold does not feel as bone-chilling as the damp cold which we get on this small island.

Autumn gazebo with plants

Thus, feature articles on preparing your home for a cosy al fresco autumn in national newspapers (see also Guardian article above) which attempt to convince us of the delights of outdoor hyyge, Scandinavian style, are really difficult to take seriously.  A summer gazebo, they try to convince us, can be turned into an autumn and winter outdoor cosy space quite easily; just add a few cosy sheepskins, some blankets or throws, some festoon lighting, a chiminea and hey presto a Covid-friendly winter space for outdoor entertaining.  Perhaps these writers have in fact been living in Scandinavia or Switzerland for the last few winters.  They haven’t, for damn sure, been spending time in the UK, unless it was in some sort of Eden project-style dome (you can actually get these for the garden, although I’m not sure if they’d meet the Covid legislation definition of ‘outdoors’).

Autumn and winter in the UK may be relatively mild in terms of temperatures, but as anybody who actually lives and spends time here during those months knows, it is frequently wet and often windy.  All the pizza ovens, chimeneas and patio heaters (I thought they were very eco unfriendly, but then again so is PPE) in the world are not going to be able to compensate for the permanent drizzle or howling gale blowing rain and creating massive drafts in your lightweight gazebo.  If you don’t even own one of these, then you can absolutely forget it!  The Inuit may have a huge number of different words to describe snow, but unsurprisingly, we have a fair few in English to describe rain; drizzle, mizzle, shower, squall, deluge, downpour etc.  In this country if it’s not raining it’s pouring and if it’s not pouring then it’s quite likely for us to have days and days of endless grey skies and drizzle.  This is not weather conducive to ‘cosy outdoor living’.

Fire pit or pond?

As for fire pits, wonderful as they are, where are those who live in cities supposed to obtain, let alone store, the huge amounts of wood they burn?  My experience of buying wood in cities is that it tends to come in plastic netting bags and consists of a few softwood logs that will have become ash before you have even finished the aperitif, let alone eaten dinner and drunk coffee.  If you live in the country, this problem may be more easily resolved, but the winds are likely to be stronger (fewer buildings around to protect you) and certainly in the West Country the rain is far too heavy to find sitting in a damp gazebo in a howling gale in any way appealing – however many patio heaters, pizza ovens and fire pits you have garnered.  In fact, if you live in the country, the answer is probably to forget the gazebo, the fire pit, the sheepskins and pizza ovens and instead, put on your Barbour, build a large bonfire in a field with a few tree trunks to sit on around it, cook some sausages, soup and jacket potatoes for ‘eats’ and add a few fireworks by way of entertainment.  It’s called bonfire night or Guy Fawkes’ night and has been a tradition in this country for a few hundred years now.  Social distancing is easy and you can keep moving around a large source of warmth, which even keeps the drizzle at bay.

If you live in a town, this is obviously not a solution and I really wish you joy of the Scandinavian idea.  I would just suggest that you move country (no, not to the country) to enjoy it.  Quarantine on return?  Not a problem, particularly if you are retired, or are Tony Blair.  Otherwise, maybe just resign yourself to the fact that British winters are designed to be spent indoors, unless you are taking exercise, appropriately dressed.



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