The wisemen had predicted it but still the people, unbelieving, turned their faces upwards, in contemplation of the black velvet night sky. The stars twinkled like fireflies in the glacial air, harbingers of the extraordinary events to come. Then, suddenly, as if a divine conjuror had waved his magic wand, it began. Just one frosted crystal at first and then another and another and soon the air was full of gleaming white flakes, dancing and careening on the breeze. Babes-in-arms gurgled with delight, pointing their chubby fingers at this unaccustomed sight while couples, arms entwined around each other, stood at windows, drinking in the pleasure of this spectacular moment. Snow was falling on London at last.
By the time a watery sun rose above the Great Wen, a mantle of snow, inches thick, consumed the city. Drifts enveloped the gardens, a counterpane of smooth, creamy whiteness, like the frosted icing on a wedding cake. It was a February Monday, apparently the dreariest of days, and this visitation, though forecast to the last flake by the Met Office, had predictably caught the authorities unprepared. Buses were cravenly withdrawn, rail services capitulated to the icy conditions and schools, fearful of the ‘ealth and Safety implications, hastily shut their doors. The rush hour was stilled under that overwhelming snowy silence. You felt again the crunch of crystals underfoot and your breath hung in the eerie stillness of a traditional winter’s day.
But, lo what befell that February afternoon? Dads. Released from the salt-mines of the City where stalked the phantom of financial failure, reconnected with their children. Families reunited spontaneously and headed for the parks and for the commons where snowmen were constructed and snowballs exchanged. Digital cameras snapped continuously as twentysomethings who’d never witnessed the stilling of the bustle of a great city, recorded this rare event for posterity. There was an unmistakeable air of gaiety abroad. The snow, like a steam engine or Christmas morning, is an enduring symbol of childhood and families that February day, felt again the bonds of kinship. For a few hours, the Credit Crunch was reduced to a nibble and financial meltdown cooled under the weight of the best kind of white powder.
Every poet and every hack songwriter hymns the joys of spring and the coming of the summer. Here are only a few examples.
You are my sunshine my only sunshine.
You make me happy, when skies are grey.
You are the sunshine of my life.
The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Any More.
Sunshine and blue skies are the meteorological equivalent of true love and perfect happiness. The rain, by contrast, is compared to the tears that flow over heartbreak and unrequited passion. The autumn was rewarded by an Ode from Keats but Shakespeare lamented that “summer’s lease has all too short a stay” when comparing his beloved to a summer’s day. Thomas Hood gloomily enunciated the onset of winter.
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no breeze
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds
Yet for some of us, the poets and the lyricists are deluded. April is indeed the cruellest month because it gives advance notice of the sweat-strewn horrors of the summer to come. John Sebastian of 60s group The Lovin’ Spoonful spoke for many of us when he declared in the band’s 1966 hit, Summer in the City:
Hot town, summer in the city
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn’t it a pity
Doesn’t seem to be a shadow in the city
The sight of the sun, that evil, buttery, gaseous ball spreading its blazing tentacles across a cloudless sky is truly horrific to those of us who long for cooler seasons, when the city’s night air is not heavy with humidity, thick with the stench of discarded takeaways and unwashed bodies and cheap scent.
Heat addles the brain: it induces languor and lethargy. Cold is bracing, challenging with a purity that is far superior to the corrupting, enervating heat of the summer sun. It is surely cool to be cool. And the winter is full of delights. A real fire is an inexpressible pleasure. Watch a dog or a cat sit, gazing at the flames. Not only are they basking in the warmth as their distant ancestors did when approaching that first camp-fire. But some kind of elemental wisdom glows in both the embers and in the eyes of Fido or Tiddles. It’s as if the mystery of life itself is contained in the flickering and the muttering of the fire. No wonder we sent our Christmas wish-list up the chimney to Toyland; no wonder Santa Claus makes his entrance in the opposite direction. A fire is truly the invention of the Gods: no wonder Prometheus felt impelled to steal it.
And could there be sweeter music than the harmony of wind and rain? In winter storms especially, when the wind, working itself up into a fury, hurls the raindrops against the windows, we feel even more secure despite the thrumming of the water on the panes. In quieter moments, a thin filigree of raindrops is caught in the golden glow of a street-lamp. a gentle rain falls upon the glistening pavements, gathering and gurgling in the gutters.
Foolish people refer to the “the cold and the wet”, apparently oblivious to the fact that winter rain is borne in on the mild south-westerlies. If it’s cold in the winter, it means high pressure from the north and east and cheeks and noses glowing from the frosty air. It’s as exhilarating and refreshing as a yomp along the sea-shore when you’re buffeted by the sea-breezes and the wind roars its rage in your ears.
Of course, the winter dark strikes at our most primitive emotions. From our earliest consciousness, the dark is mysterious, sinister, the home of unknown terrors ready to attack. Black is the colour of villainy and our dark side is where evil lurks, ready to lure us to sin. Yet we should embrace the dark. Behind closed curtains, we sleep in the winter under layers of darkness, cocooned in our womb-like state. And we awake much more refreshed than after a summer night’s sweltering pitch and toss under the duvet.
Silence seems to unnerve the modern generation. They sit glumly quivering to the sounds being pumped into their ears by their iPods. Yet silence is part of the appeal of winter, the silence of nature sleeping, the austere beauty of bare branches silhouetted against the midwinter grey sky from which all colour has been bleached and the silence of a mist, stealing through the air like a ghost. The silence of a winter’s afternoon is thrilling: it’s as if the world is holding its breath, the only sound the cawing of distant rooks on a shrunken tree.
So let’s draw the curtains against the encroaching dark, stoke up the fire and dream A Midwinter Night’s Dream instead.
By the Iceman (aka Al Senter).