snow day, late 2000s

Buggy tracks. Spindrift blowing off the roofs. Silhouette of a labrador dog hauling the silhouette of a woman across Grove Road, detail from a Lowry of the West London suburbs. Meanwhile the van from Bathrooms At Source–a constant visitor to this pleasant street–ploughs its way responsibly towards the river, first-responder to the morning’s soft catastrophe. Everything is so hushed as he makes his way down! In Barnes, bathroom commerce, second only in religion to kitchen commerce, must go on. He’s closely followed by Bespoke Carpentry.

Bigger flakes fall thick & slow. It has the feel of a phase-change. Everything goes quieter. The air seems fractionally darker. Spaces gain depth. The houses over the road recede but become somehow more solid, more delineated. The light complicates & recomplicates itself, reflecting from the surfaces of every falling flake. Nothing will be the same after this. The phenomenology of this snow is that it is the real thing, which exists only in your earliest memories of snow & puts all your ideas to shame for good. I won’t pretend not to be elated. It is the most tranquil, the most mystical time; the most transient however long it lasts. Snow falling at the end of the short winter afternoon. A bird, its grey silhouette vague & busy, is making heavy weather of it fifty or sixty feet up, tail flared, wings fluttering, slow progress. I can’t know how that feels, but if this fall continues I’ll wait for dark, pick up my head-torch and jog through the woods. By then, they’ll be woods, not just a few acres of dissected scrub in an upscale suburb. They’ll be endless.

The best snow I ever saw from a window was at Ferihegy airport, Budapest, in February 1991: but the best snow I was ever in fell during a long winter when I was sixteen or seventeen years old. I remember struggling for miles along unlit Warwickshire lanes under very bright stars, between fluted tongues, volutes and gargoyles of snow where the wind forced spindrift through the gaps in the hedges. Some of these structures had begun to shift like dunes, or elongate themselves across the verges and into the lane. I was elated, moment by moment, very aware of myself as being alive in this landscape. My toes and fingers were numb. My breath was in front of me.

I’ve inherited one of those liquid crystal thermometer cards British Gas distributes to pensioners. It’s installed near the desk. At the moment it doesn’t even say, “You are at risk of dying of hypothermia, you silly old fool! Put on more clothes! Turn up the heating you can’t afford! Eat some of that good high-calorific horse meat!” It is registering below that. In fact it is registering below the scale. The room is so cold that the pensioner thermometer can’t even patronise me. If I was a proper old person I’d be in the shit now. I’d have to spend two hours convincing the emergency services to come out (not including the means test); then, having failed, get myself into a taxi anyway & go die of neglect on a trolley in a packed annex somewhere off the semi-decommissioned National Health Service, while volunteer health workers struggled through their workload towards me. I’m glad not to have the bother of that, obviously: but I’ve already defaulted to a cup of tea and a pair of dayglo orange duvet slippers from Spain and suddenly I feel a bit privileged to be able to turn up the heating.