Saturday 9 January 2010

Snow: what's not to like?

15st 4lb, 4.5 units. I have been trying to remember when snow ceased to be a source of childish delight and became a bloody nuisance. As a veteran of the Great Winter of 1963, I am of course able to assure Mrs H (born 1971) that This Is Nothing. Just as those who had been around in 1947 kept telling me at the time that 1963 was really nothing to write home about. Still, I can distinctly remember the Tyne freezing over and the fact that the snow finally disappeared from our street, after what seemed like months, only when the council came along and removed it with diggers and dumper trucks, forming it into a range of miniature mountains on the big patch of rough grass in the middle of the Fairways council estate, where it did not finally melt until the late Spring.

The most magical snowfall I can recall was one that came down heavily one Christmas Eve. I was quite a small boy and had gone to bed early after a grey day, excited about the presents that would be waiting for me under the tree in the morning, and was woken by a drunk weaving his way home at closing time singing “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas”. I have never forgotten the delight of seeing the street suddenly covered in deep snow. Other features of childhood that I remember less fondly include the frost making crazy patterns on the inside of the windows in my unheated bedroom; the glass of water I always kept on my bedside table occasionally freezing over; and having to wear thick woolly socks in bed, and a jersey over my pyjamas, and spread my overcoat over the bedclothes. It truly was Another World; my son will never believe it.

I definitely used to get excited about snow: but why, exactly? I had few friends, and never enjoyed snowball fights. Too bloody painful. I inherited a crap sledge that would not have performed respectably even if it had been pushed out on sheet ice with its runners coated in goose fat. I could never master the art of sliding on my feet; like roller skating it remained a closed book to me, and I always just ended up on my backside. Never a position I enjoyed, as I have always had an excessively high sense of my own dignity. One of my few points of difference with Mrs H is that they only have to show a clip of someone falling over on the telly, and she is reduced to helpless laughter, whereas I feel sorry for them.

My father used to concede that he liked snow up to a point because, under a respectable amount of it, our garden looked as good as any other in the street. But I have no recollection of him ever participating in any snow-related high jinks. My poor old mother was dragged out to help me build snowmen; she was surely a forerunner if not the model for the put-upon Mrs Timpson in Viz comic’s “Spoilt Bastard” strip.

So I once liked snow in principle, but cannot quite remember why. The first time I was conscious of it as a serious nuisance was on the day of the Use of English examination that used to be taken by Oxbridge candidates. It had snowed heavily enough for my father to offer me a lift into school, but the main roads proved to be gridlocked (quite an achievement, considering how few cars there were on them in 1971). As we slid all over the place on the back streets of West Jesmond, with time running out, I remember my father assuring me that I was worrying unnecessarily as clearly no-one would be able to make it into school and the exam would be cancelled. I arrived five or ten minutes late and sat the thing with soaking wet feet. Every other candidate had arrived on time, and most of them had travelled from much further afield. Odd. At least I passed.

Then there was the winter of 1979, or perhaps 1980, when I was traversing the streets of Wood Green in smooth-soled black leather City shoes and kept falling flat on my back on the icy pavements, with the metal hip flask full of whisky that was my latest affectation raising livid bruises as I repeatedly landed on it. That was definitely the end of any love I might once have felt for winter weather.

Now I am trying to recapture my original, childish excitement. Having had elderly parents myself, I want to avoid the mistakes of my own childhood and try to relate to my young son on his own level. Fortunately he is too small to appreciate that I have comprehensively failed to go out and build him the snowman I promised when the blizzard arrived on Tuesday. I have been too bloody lazy. Like father, like son in that respect, I fear. It would be nice, though, if I could stop myself from passing the genes on to yet another generation of idler. Or, failing that, if I could at least encourage him to enjoy idleness without feeling the guilt that always seems to spoil it for me.


CC said...

Hate to be a killjoy, as I know you relish a tasty rant, but in the time it took you to write this, you could have managed a small snowman for the
young son and heir.
I know.... none of my business. ;-)

Keith Hann said...

True. But not really a practical or at any rate attractive option at 10 in the evening, when I was doing the writing; or in the light of the fact that the snow is now melting and is flecked with mysterious black marks and regrettably more explicable contributions from The Dog. I blame the fact that I was made to do some work, for once, when the stuff was excitingly new and fresh earlier in the week. But only because I am, as ever, reluctant to blame myself.