I’ve gotten into the steampunk multiverse, and in my reading research—many of which seem to be the amateur-genuis-turns-private-detective genre—I’ve noticed how much beating up many of the gritty ones describe. In the funnier ones, there’s much description of the clothing and intrigue.
What they don’t describe is being cold.
Central heating did not become a feature of many houses until the 20th century. I remember well the day we had a floor furnace installed in our little house (1950s), instead of using a coal fire
This week, I’ve been cold. Turns out it was only a worn-out thermostat—a mere $40—which a friend installed for me. I was afraid that it might be a very expensive repair, and cash was tight. So for about a week, I was cold. Cold enough to wear gloves with the fingers cut out so that I could type. Cold enough to keep a kettle going for tea. Cold enough that even sleeping under two quilts, I woke up stiff from lying still in the warm spot in my bed.place. Granted, I wasn’t in the top 75% at that time, but the idea of being able to stand on a metal grate and get uncomfortably warm was wonderful.
This gives me more insight into the real 19th century. It was cold. There was more snow and ice than now, and global warming or not, it was colder then, winter and summer. People wore wool to keep warm. The many layers of clothing were not so much for propriety’s sake, but for warmth. Think of Bob Cratchet hunching over his desk, shivering as he wrote Scrooge’s accounts, as Scrooge railed about the use of coal. The little match girl freezing to death on Christmas Eve.
Of course, people moved around more, getting warm from physical exercise. The body adapts after a couple of weeks to the lower temperatures.
But after this week, I can see how a person’s productivity is decimated from being cold. It’s hard to concentrate when shivering. It’s hard to type when the fingertips are numb. It’s hard to think when what you want is to wrap those fingers around a cup of soup and curl up in Liza Doolittle’s enormous chair.
I can see why that most insidious virus is called a “common cold” as it spreads throughout the community, making us cold, and why we have the idea that getting cold will make us sick. I’ve read that exposure at 50 degrees can cause death by hypothermia. I don’t know how our great-great ancestors managed. Some of them didn’t.
Being cold is stressful, and it might be the last straw against an immune system already stressed from circumstances. I know my ribs are sore from sneezing.
If you are looking for something to be thankful for this season, be thankful for heating—not to mention the luxuries of a computer, electricity, and the interwebz. I am thankful to be warm with the thermostat at 68 degrees.