Brass Monkeys

This week, the UK is in the grip of “the Beast from the East”: in other words, a weather front from Eastern Europe is bringing very low temperatures and some snow to our islands.  There is a funny and rather vulgar English expression to describe cold weather, which is: “It’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey”.  So people might say “It’s a bit brass monkeys” or even “There’s a brass monkey out there looking for a welder”.  It’s not clear where the expression came from – possibly statuettes of “three wise monkeys” sold to tourists in China,  but whatever the origin, it’s certainly brass monkey weather at the moment.

Londoners are feeble about snow.  A fall of just a few inches can bring the entire city to a standstill.   Everything stops working.  Trains, buses and tubes are cancelled.  Schools, shops and offices close.  This is not because the routes are blocked by snow.  It’s because Londoners treat snowfall as an unofficial public holiday, and stay at home.   At the first sign of even a flurry, they think “Great!  A day off!” and pull the duvet up round their ears.  People who do want to go to work, can’t, because the schools have closed and they have to take care of their kids. So the parks are full of stressed parents and their children, in a state of snow mania, tobogganing, building snowmen and having snowball fights as if their lives depended on it.  

Even workers who do go to their office, arrive several hours late, then spend the day exchanging tales of their heroic journey to work with the couple of colleagues who have also made it to their desks.  The country loses millions of pounds in man-hours for every snowy day.  

It’s not as if it doesn’t snow every winter at some point.  London is, after all the capital of a northern European nation.  In Moscow, Prague, even Paris, people don’t take a day off whenever the snow clouds gather.  They just put on some sensible clothing and go to work. When I was a child in Yorkshire and it snowed, we just got extra scarfs and wellingtons and walked to school.  So did the teachers, and even the caretaker who had to shovel the coke into the boiler to heat the building.  We never had a day off because of snow.  Londoners are wimps.  

Anyway, if it snows next week, I plan to put on a thermal vest, thermal leggings, extra woolly jumper, two scarves, a hat and … build a snowman in my garden!  It’s not that I’m a wimp, it’s just that the buses and trains won’t be running and the university will close and students and staff will all stay at home.  What else can I do?  Oh yes, I know – I’ll stay away from brass monkeys.


brass   – le laiton
welder –  le soudeur
standstill –  å l’arret
day off – jour de congé
flurry – bourrasque de neige

tobogganing  – faisant de la luge
man-hours – heures (de travail)
wellingtons – bottes de caoutchouc
caretaker – le gardien
wimps – des mauviettes

thermal vest – gilet thermique
thermal leggings – leggings thermiques
woolly jumper – pull en laine

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