Opinion

Anita Robinson: ‘Hygge' has spawned new market in cold-weather comfort dressing

Though the hearth was the heart of the home, the rest of the house was freezing
Though the hearth was the heart of the home, the rest of the house was freezing

OUTSIDE the window it's sleeting steadily. By four o'clock it's almost dark. The central heating thermostat is cranked up to maximum. I'm wearing a big sad sweater that went wrong in the wash over my ordinary clothes and warming my hands on a cup of hot coffee.

By pure coincidence I'm reading an article on that newly-fashionable phenomenon, `hygge', (no, I can't pronounce it properly either) - a Scandinavian concept meaning "a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment of well-being".

The pictures are seductive, portraying an idyllic scene of log fires, candlelight, textured cushions, shaggy rugs, furry throws and beautiful smiley people in knobbly jumpers, bobble hats and fingerless gloves quaffing mugs of steaming hot chocolate. This, we're led to believe is how Nordic races combat the effects of severe winters. Well, with their stripped floorboards, minimalist monochrome décor, distressed furniture and bits of twisted driftwood, no wonder they get clinically depressed, suicidal or murderous, if all those gloomy Scandi-noir television series are to be believed.

Winter always seems to take us by surprise here. Two centimetres of snow brings the province to a standstill. We've become a coul-rife breed of ashypets ruined by central heating. Those of us reared in the olden days recall hardihood of a degree that would kill the hothouse flowers we're bringing up now.

Though the hearth was the heart of the home, the rest of the house was freezing. The east wind off the river blew straight through our house, rippling the hall runner. We were foundered six months of the year. People of my vintage recall putting on more clothes going to bed on a winter's night than we'd wear in the street. I remember the clammy linen sheets, the scratchy Witney wool blankets, the candlewick bedspread topped with a slidey satin eiderdown.

With the weight of them all you could barely turn in the bed, yet the sole warm spot was the hot water bottle. No child wakes now, as I did, to find their breath hanging in the air, frost flowers on the inside of the window and putting their feet out onto ice-cold linoleum. Nor are they warned to "sit further from the fire or you'll measle your shins". The big claw-footed radiators in school were equally dangerous - "don't put your back against that radiator or you'll melt the marrow in your bones".

With the exception of coats, we were almost entirely handknitted. Mothers and aunties knitted or crocheted eternally, eyes and minds on other things and we, perforce, wore their bounty - jumpers, cardigans, scarves, mittens and terrible pointy-headed pixie hoods.

I don't think I had a `bought' a jumper till I was in double figures. Granny Millar, two doors down, knitted knee socks for every child in the street. There was nothing like the efficacy of pure wool to guard against the cold in your kidneys, pleurisy or a septic throat, (all fatal) and a superstitious horror of exposing skin and catching something. We spent all winter with nothing visible but knees and faces until Easter when the battle of the ankle-socks began.

Being a wee late one and delicate, I was always the last in the street to appear in them. High summer brought pretty dresses, invariably spoilt by a compulsory cardigan - "just in case".

Swaddled without and nourished within on a diet of soups, stews, casseroles and steamed puddings with hot custard we grew to maturity, greeting central heating, electric blankets, duvets and even temperatures in every room with alacrity, casting off our layers and cyphering about in tee-shirts. But when the evenings close in early and the mercury drops, the ingrained habits of childhood reassert themselves.

Hygge has spawned a whole new market in cold-weather comfort dressing - chunky oversized sweaters, cashmere lounging pants, silk thermal longjohns, a faux-fur gilet. Total £541 pounds. Take it from me, it can be just as effectively accessed in winceyette jammies, an elderly dressing gown and the duvet dragged off the spare room bed. How very reassuring to know that at no expense whatsoever I've been `hygge' all my life and never realised it.