I'm in Australia. It's New Years Eve here already and the world is burning. Or at least, parts of Australia are.
I ought to be in Woodford, at the Festival. I'm not. I'm in Melbourne, convalescing from flu and bronchitis. The last time I got sick like this was three years ago, landing in Queensland, on my way to the Woodford Festival. Which I also missed, because I was ill. I'm starting to suspect it's actually long haul plane flights I'm not good at.
I've written so many New Year's wishes here...
I think today I'll put something else up instead. Here in Australia bush fires are forcing people into the sea, forcing towns to be evacuated. There's loss of life, human and animal. Loss of property, too.
Meanwhile, in the Northern Hemisphere, it's winter. And it's going to be a hard winter for a lot of people.
A month ago I wrote a poem.
This poem began with asking people on Twitter what “warmth” made them think of. Thousands of people replied. I was planning to write a story, but a poem felt a better way of including all the different thoughts and points of view and memories.
And I read their responses, and then wrote this:
What You Need to be Warm.
A baked potato of a winter's night to wrap your hands around or burn your mouth.
A blanket knitted by your mother's cunning fingers. Or your grandmother's.
A smile, a touch, trust, as you walk in from the snow
or return to it, the tips of your ears pricked pink and frozen.
The tink tink tink of iron radiators waking in an old house.
To surface from dreams in a bed, burrowed beneath blankets and comforters,
the change of state from cold to warm is all that matters, and you think
just one more minute snuggled here before you face the chill. Just one.
Places we slept as children: they warm us in the memory.
We travel to an inside from the outside. To the orange flames of the fireplace
or the wood burning in the stove. Breath-ice on the inside of windows,
to be scratched off with a fingernail, melted with a whole hand.
Frost on the ground that stays in the shadows, waiting for us.
Wear a scarf. Wear a coat. Wear a sweater. Wear socks. Wear thick gloves.
An infant as she sleeps between us. A tumble of dogs,
a kindle of cats and kittens. Come inside. You're safe now.
A kettle boiling at the stove. Your family or friends are there. They smile.
Cocoa or chocolate, tea or coffee, soup or toddy, what you know you need.
A heat exchange, they give it to you, you take the mug
and start to thaw. While outside, for some of us, the journey began
as we walked away from our grandparents' houses
away from the places we knew as children: changes of state and state and state,
to stumble across a stony desert, or to brave the deep waters,
while food and friends, home, a bed, even a blanket become just memories.
Sometimes it only takes a stranger, in a dark place,
to hold out a badly-knitted scarf, to offer a kind word, to say
we have the right to be here, to make us warm in the coldest season.
You have the right to be here.
I wrote it for UNHCR, who had it made into a scarf. We did it to raise awareness of the plight of Syrian refugees who are facing winter and need help. For UNHCR's Winter Emergency Appeal. There's a website: https://www.unhcr.org/belowzero/
Go and look.
It's a warm scarf, too.
And I hope in the year to come you won't burn. And I hope you won't freeze. I hope you and your family will be safe, and walk freely in the world and that the place you live, if you have one, will be there when you get back. I hope that, for all of us, in the year ahead, kindness will prevail and that gentleness and humanity and forgiveness will be there for us if and when we need them.
And may your New Year be happy, and may you be happy in it. I hope you make something in the year to come you've always dreamed of making, and didn't know if you could or not. But I bet you can. And I'm sure you will.