Do you hate cold mornings as much as I do? Maybe Finland has the answer – Laura Waddell

Finland’s saunas appear to help them find their inner ‘sisu’ to keep winter chills at bay

The most dreaded task of the day being scheduled at the start of proceedings might be considered by some to be a blessing. A perspective so optimistic hinges on the ‘over and done with’ rationale; it’s only upwards from there on out. The productivity argument, as preached by LinkedIn prophets, is that diving straight into a challenge diminishes it and makes it less daunting. Tackling the weightiest task first thing, when freshest of mind, then unburdens the afternoon. In theory.

You can see from my workings I’ve turned this thing over, trying to find the happy angle. A few weeks ago, I wrote with all the cheer of October about laying clothes out in advance. Was I ever so upbeat? Was I ever… so warm? A few degrees lower on the weather report and I am now of the view there is no positive mindset that makes it any easier to take the first step into a brand new, freezing cold, Scottish winter morning, now the autumn leaf show is over and the puddles are icing over white at the edges. It must simply be braced for.

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Chit-chat about the darker nights has made me come to realise the worst part of my day, every day, is a specific time zone. Very specific: post-final snooze alarm, pre-thermal layering. I can just about deal with it being dark before I leave the office, but it’s this brief segment of the morning that gets me. I dread the night before that sliver of time between the body being under the duvet and the body being under the showerhead. I don’t know which fragment, in the mental tableau of icy silver scenes, is worse: the dash down the hall, disrobing in these temperatures, or towelling dry in them. It is, all of a sudden, a rush of cold air, and the cold air is touching me.

Fins like Leena and Bo Stahl are particularly fond of warming saunas (Picture: Olivier Morin/AFP via Getty Images)Fins like Leena and Bo Stahl are particularly fond of warming saunas (Picture: Olivier Morin/AFP via Getty Images)
Fins like Leena and Bo Stahl are particularly fond of warming saunas (Picture: Olivier Morin/AFP via Getty Images)

It’s not a problem on leisure days, with time to run a bath – one of the greatest luxuries of winter weekends is warming up gradually in a tub of hot water. The pink comes back into my skin. The heat seems to seep inside, radiating a glow that lasts while getting dressed. How much more civilised and humane, in comparison with shivering out of the shower in a rush to get socks on your feet before the cold bites them. Oprah Winfrey reportedly has a bathtub made in the shape of her body. If I were a rich lady, that would be my idea of living right too. But alas, on weekdays, the working woman has no time for such niceties: there is a day to plunge into, elements to be exposed to.

The moment itself is pure physical recoil but the anticipation of cold mornings is a significant mental block to getting up and out. Taking a big bite out of a work task first thing is its own satisfaction; the discomfort of toe to floor on a cold morning can only be endured. Offputting, to say the least, when the first instinctual perception of the day upon waking is that it is something to be avoided. At this time of year, I fantasise, frequently, about cancelling all outside obligations (such as work) until spring and living life from bed, like the blanket-wrapped grandparents of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (the 1971 version, naturally), or hibernating through winter, as Tove Jansson’s Moomins did. They woke up from time to time, of course, to have adventures, and witness the stark beauty of deep snowfall, as in 1948’s Finn Family Moomintroll.

‘“One grey morning, the first snow began to fall in Moomin Valley. It fell softly and quietly, and in a few hours everything was white. Moomintroll stood on his doorstep and watched the valley nestle beneath its winter blanket. ‘Tonight,’ he thought, ‘we shall settle down for our long winter’s sleep.’ (All Moomintrolls go to sleep about November. This is a good idea, too, if you don’t like the cold and the long winter darkness.) Shutting the door behind him, Moomintroll stole in to his mother and said: ‘The snow has come!’”

Around here, just as the page turns on November, the mornings are merely cold, damp, and dark, not beautifully coated and muted by snowfall. I’d happily hibernate until such times. Wake me up when we get there, and I’ll pop out to have a look.

Pulling on tights by the radiator, there is no expectation of a sweeping white vista outside but leaf mulch on wet, grey pavements: hazardous, slippy, bleurgh. Still, once out, my breath silvery ahead of me, I notice Glasgow wearing its elegant winter wardrobe and can’t help but admire it.

Many tenements look never better than when wet. A wash of water highlights the natural gradient range of blonde sandstone: honey, straw, gold, apricot. Mineral glints in the bricks pop against a dense, charcoal-grey sky. It’s a gorgeous palette. But neither the beauty of these fresh starts, nor the bribe of a coffee-for-the-commute, minimises the pain of having to get out of a warm bed. I’d just simply rather not.

Stoics would advise me to simply accept a matter I cannot change. The Finns have a word, ‘sisu’, which roughly translates to inner strength and will. They also, notably, have a sauna culture – heating up thoroughly, through to the bones, in a wooden cabin at the end of a working day – that makes cold starts more bearable. But beyond fiddling with the thermostat, in the end, all I really can do is jump up screaming into the cold, then into the shower, then into the work of the day.



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