It’s Not Easy Being Nesh
Are you nesh? I know I am. If you haven’t come across it before, ‘nesh’ is a word from Lancashire, Yorkshire and the Midlands usually applied to fragile lambs who would not survive on a cold, snowy hillside and must be brought into the farmhouse and placed in a box by the Aga until they are stronger. In this context, it’s simply an agricultural term.
When applied to humans, it comes laden with value judgments. To be nesh is to be one of those feeble people who always feels the cold, and who is a constant source of annoyance to more robust types like hearty Lancashire lad and Z Cars star Colin Welland, who dismisses the nesh as ‘buttoned-up shiverers’.
Nesh people are not in general keen on live sport, either as participants or spectators, since so many of them, in Britain at any rate, seem to involve standing or running around in the cold and rain. And as for swimming, as a fully paid-up member of the ‘dip-a-toe-in-and-squeal’ brigade, I have to disagree with Dame Barbara. The sea – nearly everywhere – is clearly far too cold, and even at the warmest swimming pool you have the icy trek from the water to the changing room.
I’ve always pitied Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, as she was partial to fresh air and insisted on having windows open, even in winter, which meant that flu was an occupational hazard among her staff. And let’s face it, when people talk of fresh air, they usually mean cold air. I have far more in common with a far less eminent Victorian, Charles Darwin’s eccentric niece, who, if she fancied she felt a bit of a chill on her ankle, would ring for a servant to come and drape a shawl over it. (So far I haven’t found anyone prepared to provide this sort of service for free.)
Nesh people are more suited to city life, where it’s always a few degrees warmer than in the surrounding countryside. The cold was one of the things that made feminist writer Joan Smith move back to the city: her feet became so frozen as she sat watching a horse show of some kind that she was obliged to remove all the contents from her handbag so she could put her feet in it. If you live in a big enough city, the tube is usually a reliable refuge from the bitterest cold – how I love going down into the tube on a winter’s day and feeling the blast of warm air rushing up at me. Eliza Dolittle would have loved it , and I feel Wouldn’t It Be Luverly sums up the nesh person’s aspirations admirably:
All I want is a room somewhere,
Far away from the cold night air.
Lots of coal making lots of heat,
Lots of chocolates for me to eat.
When I die, and if I go to Heaven, I’m hoping it will be to a nice comfortable box by a celestial Aga. (Though of course I could be destined for the eternally toasty fires of hell . . . )
In the meantime, here is a handy guide to whether you are nesh. If you agree with three of more of the following statements, it’s a pretty safe bet that you are.
- Your heart sinks when someone opens the window on the bus or tube.
- You look out for the source of heating in any room you enter and place yourself as near to it as possible.
- Fleece is your favourite fabric.
- Your window of opportunity for wearing summer clothes is about eight weeks (or non-existent if you work in an office).
- The inventor of the electric blanket should be as celebrated as Stephenson and James Dyson.