I’m off to an Arctic playing field...I may be some time

11th March 2016 at 00:00

Neatly folded at the bottom of my underwear drawer are three thermal vests with matching long johns. They are made from a blend of cotton and polyester that has been double brushed for extra warmth. If Bruce Willis were to wear them, with bulges in all the right places and a few bloodstains, they might even look sexy. I have it on good authority that they don’t look sexy on me.

Not that it matters, because I bought them for functional, not aesthetic, reasons. A trip to Reykjavik last winter was not without its disappointments. A long drive through darkness and blizzards failed to reveal the atmospheric wonders of the Northern Lights, while a five-hour search for whales on a heaving North Atlantic came to naught but mal de mer. On a more positive note, my underwear remained faithful unto the (not so) bitter end.

Of course, personal insulation came at a price. My coat, designed for polar explorers, wasn’t cheap. Neither were my double-lined corduroy trousers and merino wool base layers. To minimise the risk of frostbite, I also acquired snow-proof hiking boots, a quilted woolly hat with ear flaps, waterproof gloves, a face mask to stop my nose freezing up and a flask for carrying emergency rations of whisky.

Given that I own enough cold weather gear to survive an expedition to the South Pole, it seems ridiculous that I should be freezing my extremities off at the furthest corner of our school playing field in a shirt and jacket. The bitter truth is that I forgot today is the day that we are saving the planet by planting a billion saplings.

Looking around, it’s clear I’m not the only one who isn’t suitably adapted to being outdoors in late February. Several equally under-dressed children are trying to out-shiver me. The only difference is their suffering is a product of an interminable winter of austerity, whereas mine is simply down to forgetfulness.

“If we d-die of hypo-th-thermia at least we’ll know we helped to make the world a better p-place to live,” I tell Angelica. But the notion of self-sacrifice is cold comfort to someone huddled inside a cheap pink bomber jacket.

Her only desire is to stop planting stupid trees and go inside again. This sentiment is reinforced by an icy blast of wind that cuts like a knife and hurries me into a decision.

“M-much as I am enjoying p-playing my part in saving the planet, we have a s-safe-guarding issue,” I explain to a colleague. “S-some of the children [not to mention a member of staff] are in immediate d-danger of hypothermia.”

After a brief negotiation, my offer to take Angelica and half-a-dozen other inappropriately clad children back into school is accepted.

In class, we pass the time waiting for our core body temperatures to normalise by watching an educational video. It shows how animals have adapted to life in the polar regions.

The lesson is that only those creatures equipped for the harsh sub-zero temperatures of winter have any hope of surviving. The weak, the ill-adapted and the plain forgetful will simply perish.

Steve Eddison teaches at Arbourthorne Community Primary School in Sheffield

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