Lots of wind and rain today, rain being blown hard, the sort of rain that seems to be in your face whichever direction you are travelling in.
Went into town with the kids to do various dull things, like go to the bank to pay the bills, and pick up some firelighters ready for a turn on the railway next week - being February, I will probably want to get the stove going. The regular busker who only seems to play Nirvana and Green Day was in the Podium again, and as usual The Child Who Likes Fairies approved: “Like it music!” She has started introducing herself to other children when playing.
The temperature was minus 4 when I left the house today: not cold by global standards, but cold by my standards. When I left work to come home again it had risen to plus 3, but most of the buildings around, especially the big dull office buildings, had roofs still covered in rough, powdery frost.
The rest of the country has snow, apparently, and we have drizzle. I consoled myself by thinking that, by 10am, everything elsewhere was slushy and grey.
I took the children up to the Ponds, and back home again. It’s not the most exciting walk: straight and tree-lined. On the way back I passed a family with the dad telling a young girl: “steam trains used to come up here.”
Today, we were up in Worcestershire; and as we drove home down the dark motorway, we watched rockets flying up into the sky, from all the towns and villages along the way. Strensham, Tewkesbury; Gloucester and Stonehouse.
Back at Symbolic Towers, we have a tiny little pocket garden, almost all of it rather flammable. Now, if you read the instructions on a box of fireworks, you’re supposed to leave more space between firework and buildings, firework and burnables, firework and yourself, than we ever have any chance of having behind our house.*
Despite that, when we got home, we went through to the back of the house and stood out in the garden, the air damp and smoky, and listened to the sound of Bonfire Night. Living in a city, the dark evening was a constant bubble of crackles and bangs, deep bass thumps and high-pitched, tense rattles. Every now and then the sky would flash; every now and then there would be a rocket close enough to see. We stood out, until it got too cold, stood still, sniffed the burning in the air and listened to the noises of the fireworks. The noises of winter starting.
* Of course, the same applies to the vast majority of gardens, because you’re supposed to leave a huge amount of space for safety. But that doesn’t really alter the fact that, if we were to try setting off a rocket from our little patch of land, we – and the garden – would end up rather singed.
All that snowy weather we’ve been having – almost all gone now, apart from the enormous pile of snow cleared from the office car park – reminded me of the holiday we took a couple of years back, to Rīga, Latvia. “Make sure you wrap up warmly,” said The Mother. “Get proper thermals. Lots and lots of layers.” “You’ll need to take sunglasses, too,” said Dad, “or you’ll get snow-blindness.”
All of which we ignored, fortunately, because we’d have looked bloody silly. Rīga in February was not too dissimilar from Britain in February, being grey, damp, and largely snow-free; it shouldn’t really have been surprising, because it’s on about the same latitude as Dundee. We took plenty of photos; but for some reason they never appeared on here.*
* Unlike the above anecdote about the snow-blindness, etc, which definitely has.
Ah, snow. You can’t beat it for sending people a bit mad and panicked. Yesterday the roads were gridlocked for half an hour at lunch time, because of the number of people who rushed home at the fall of the first flake. Last night, the news was full of dire warnings. Don’t travel if you don’t have to. Stock up your car. Make sure you take a shovel, blankets, a flask of tea, a flask of soup, sandwiches, cakes, a propane stove, three woolly jumpers and the complete works of Proust, because you never know when you might get stuck. Make sure you have a propane stove and not a butane one because, as all hardy campers know, the boiling point of butane at standard pressure is only around freezing, so in cold weather butane stoves get sluggish, give up and go to sleep.
I was particularly impressed, though, by the words of one of the local police spokesmen interviewed on last night’s news. “If you wake up in the morning and your car’s all frosted up,” I’m fairly sure he said, “you should get up 30 or 45 minutes early and make sure it’s completely defrosted before you set off.” It took me a minute to spot the flaw in the statement – assuming I’m not misremembering what he actually said. I think it’s a pretty good plan, though.
Another day with no morning bus services, and the roads gridlocked. I walked K to work, taking the camera with me, and watched a lorry get stuck on the hilly part of Bedminster Road. Trying to get towards Ashton, it stopped in a queue of traffic, then realised it couldn’t get started again without risking sliding back down the hill. It sat there, impotent, with its hazard lights flashing, as everyone else tried to drive round either side of it.
And then, I nearly broke a leg trying to take photos of the local station. Slipping at the top of the stairs, I grabbed the handrail frantically as my feet disappeared from underneath me. Best to stick to taking photos from the bridge, I thought.
At least the train that came was – to a train geek – quite an interesting one. 2D04, from Taunton to Bristol, one of the services on the Taunton-Bristol-Cardiff route that runs with retro 1970s carriages restored to their original condition, although the engines are rather newer.
And finally: I’m sure it says in the Bible that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. Before we went to bed last night, we looked out of the window to see it snowing again, the street covered in a fresh pristine carpet. We couldn’t resist getting dressed again, and going out for another walk with the camera.
Incidentally – while the weather is still cold and the snow is deep again – I should point out that, on this day in 1978, the weather was pretty much the same as it is today. “Country in grip of freeze” all over the papers, and that sort of thing.
The reason I know this is: my mother kept all the press cuttings about it, so she could stick them in her New Baby Book.
The other big thing in the news which she saved clippings of, oddly enough, was: Grimsby workers getting rather upset about foreigners taking their livelihoods away. Back then it was fishermen, who hadn’t quite given up their hopes of fishing in Icelandic territorial waters, even though the main Cod Wars had been over for a few years. Today, of course, it’s oil workers who are going back to work, presumably satisfied that their rather vague demands* have been catered for; the fish industry now sticks to breadcrumbing and battering other people’s fish. This is only a rough guess, based on anecdotal evidence, but I’d say that most of the people working in fish-related jobs in Grimsby are migrant workers – largely, as I said before, because they’re the people who apply for factory-line jobs nowadays.
* An awful lot of the strikers interviewed on TV didn’t seem awfully sure what their demands even were, or what it would take to get them back to work. “We’re sending a message to Gordon Brown, that someone will have to do something?” “What will they have to do?” “Um … well, I dunno, but someone is going to have to do something“
We didn’t think that this part of the country got much snowfall. Indeed, compared to elsewhere, it didn’t; and it was late, when it started. But by yesterday lunchtime it was coming down thickly, although not so thickly that I was dissuaded from wrapping up in hat and gloves and going down the street with the camera, hastily pulling it out from under my coat to take a shot and shoving it back away before too much snow melted on it. This morning, still, there was the telltale glow from behind the curtains.
The night is drawing in, as I draft this post.* The sky is darkening, and the lamps are lit, to brighten the house and drive back the winter darkness. It’s a time to light candles, and fires, and stare into their hearts. We still have a visceral response to fire, glowing embers and flickering, crackling flames.
As we stare at it, though, the world turns. The world turns, and after today, ice gives way to fire again. It might take time for the darkness to lift and long days to return; but the world will turn, and everything will come around in its cycle. As it does every year. That doesn’t mean, though, that today isn’t time to light a candle and huddle round it, fighting back the dark.
* which was a few days ago, now; and when this post appeared online it was morning. But it’s a better way to open than: “The night is drawing in … well, it was at 4pm on Friday”