"Snow is lovely to look at, but awful to live in," I wrote, "It chills your bones and rots your shoes." I wrote that I was going to spend the next winter on a tropical island. Initially it had been a light-hearted joke, but I began to wonder if I could.
I checked out tropical islands. It had to be easy to reach, have mains electricity and telephones. It would help if English was spoken and it had banks. Eventually I settled on the Florida Keys, a chain of islands stretching into the Caribbean for 100 miles, and joined together by bridges and causeways so you can drive down them.
On January 6th 1987 I took flight, picked up a computer in Washington, and flew on to Key West, where I hired a car and drove out to Cudjoe Key, where I had rented a house for ten weeks. On my first night I saw bizarre pictures on TV of the big freeze that had hit London, with deep snowdrifts in the Mall, and the hands of Big Ben frozen. I had timed it perfectly.
Yes, it was warm. The average winter temperature there is about 18ºC at night and 23ºC by day. I worked a lot, completing the first draft of two books that were later published, but I also acquired a deep suntan and took time out to go deep sea fishing. Several friends flew out to visit while I was there, so I wasn't lonely.
I decided to spend New Years there from then on, and for many years I did, flying out in December and returning in January. I would spend New Year itself at an open air tiki bar, in shorts and sandals, watching on television the huddled crowds in New York City waiting for the ball to drop at midnight. I never quite avoided the British winter, but the Keys sunshine always recharged my batteries and made me readier to face it.