Winter brings many delights, not the least of which is the sound of the oil tanker rolling up, while we’re still abed. It lights flash beneath the windows, and as the driver crunches over the gravel with his headlamp and hosepipe, it is like being visited by an elephant that has drunk deep from the Forties oil field. Soon the tank is topped up, and a receipt put through the door, showing how many litres have been delivered.

These past few days, icy winds, sleet and snow have made us glad of the pre-Christmas refill. One day we will install a modern in-house monitor. In the meantime, gauging how fast we are going through it requires a trip into the great outdoors. Hunkering down, we pull out a pin in what looks like a chemist’s pipette and watch, heart sinking in synch with the oil level.

When we moved in, the sellers had left a note suggesting that we order more, as it was close to running out. New to oil, I panicked and arranged an emergency delivery, which arrived the next morning. It was just as well I did. The supply had fallen so low there was barely enough to grease the gate’s hinges.

At breakfast the other morning, as the boiler chugged away, keeping the kitchen warm as a toaster, I suggested Alan take a look and see how it was holding up. Neither of us enjoys this chore, but from his expression you’d think I’d asked him to empty a septic tank. Yet nobody could say he shirks hard work. A few days earlier, when the village was lightly snowed over, he headed out in an ear-flapped moleskin bunnet, bought in a legendary Viennese department store when he found himself underclad last December.

Since this cap remains firmly in place even in gale-force winds, I have now appropriated it. It looks particularly fetching when teamed with a facemask. When you take it off it leaves a line across the forehead, making it look as if you have had a lobotomy. The other afternoon, asking for directions to lentils in the supermarket, I felt sorry for the shelf-packer, confronted with such a vision. Shortly afterwards, a stranger cheerily greeted me and asked how I was doing, as if we were long lost friends. I was astonished that anyone could tell who or what lay beneath the protective gear, and it took a while to realise he was simply being sociable. Or else taking pity on a weirdo visiting from the backwoods.

That snowy morning, half an hour after Alan disappeared off up the street in search of gritting salt, he returned with the triumphant air of a mountaineer feared lost on the slopes. He was pushing a small trolley, somewhere between a mobility aid and a cement mixer. Brimful with salt, it was the property of a friend whose toolshed contains a trove of interesting things. The salt came from a bin to which Alan, and a handful of other privileged individuals, have the padlock combination. Traipsing around the village, doling it out as if it were gruel, he looked like a man born to work for the council. I followed in his wake, dipping a shovel into the mix and scattering it like Piers Ploughman sowing oats. As I write, the friend with the world class toolshed is repeating the process, once more turning ice to slush, for which the whole street is grateful.

Winter or summer, my balance is getting worse. I don’t need alcohol to stagger. I have even, on occasion, fallen flat on my back in good weather, as if the inner gyroscope has temporarily malfunctioned. What I would give to be a penguin. So I am always grateful to have firm ground beneath my feet. And even more right now, after a slither on black ice on the last afternoon of the year. Too busy talking to notice where I was going, I found myself falling, then sliding some distance on one knee, like an ice-skater proposing marriage. It was no worse than the sort of scrape three-year-olds cope with every day, but you forget how a graze can sting. And how difficult it is to find a plaster than survives the shower. I mention this only because my sister – after making sure I hadn’t hurt myself – said it would give me something to write about. I was reminded of Alan Bennett’s diary: “ME: I’ve had a heart bypass. THEM: Well, you’re a writer, that’s just what you need.”

Nobody else around here seems prone to wobbling, either on ice or under pressure. Neither bad weather nor lockdown deters the folk of Hoolet. Joggers, dog walkers and hikers head off regardless, bringing back tales of tricky paths and treacherous slopes and rare sightings of birds. Not to be outdone, we set out shortly after lunch at the weekend, when the sun was bright, only to run into sleety rain before we’d gone a hundred yards. Up in the woods there was no sound except rain hammering overhead. The only company was a tiny robin, who possibly we’d met before. And then we heard laughter. It was far off, but getting closer, and as we stepped out of the trees, we came upon neighbours, out for a Sunday afternoon walk together. It was a pleasure that everyone feared – and rightly – would soon be outlawed again.

Their high spirits were a glimmer of cheer in the heart, if not of darkness, then an all-encompassing gloom. No-one I know around here has yet had a date for a vaccination. Until then, like everywhere else, we wait. To pass the time between now and the all-clear, Hoolet will be out of doors as much as legally allowable, keeping healthy while doing everything possible not to end up in Borders General Hospital with a broken ankle.

The best defence against falling I ever saw was in my first few weeks here. It was snowing hard, and I was crossing the common when a small party emerged from the woods. Muffled against the cold, hidden behind their hoods, they were wearing snow shoes. Watching what felt like a scene from Narnia, I knew at once that we had landed on our feet.