Snow Bother

Opening up my browser this morning, I see that Britain is ‘braced for Arctic blizzards’. This is standard journalese for ‘There will be some snow.’ Quite why this is so surprising or alarming, I do not know, especially given the climate zone in which we live. There seems to be some duty to set off an alarm bell at the hint of the first flake. I always suspect a ghoulish interest on the part of newspaper editors, who will soon report the fatalities caused when lorries have slewed off the road, and pensioners, deprived of a coal allowance by a cruel government agency, have solidified in their front rooms. Somewhere a freak icicle is waiting to drop through the brains of an innocent bystander (strictly, under-stander), thereby keeping the daily papers in business. Any visitor from (say) Canada must gawp in amazement at the fuss the British headlines make.

Now, as it happens, I don’t like snow very much. White, cold, not (in my book) scenic in the least. I like the mild and lashing rain of autumn or early spring best of all (hot summer days induce in me a torpor I could do without). But living in the South-West – and oh for the North-East again – we don’t suffer much from snow, anyway. I can only think of two occasions in the last twelve years in rural Devon when I have found myself on roads so icy as to be dangerous. Unfortunately, on both occasions, I was on the ‘back road’ to the village, and by the time I realised that I was on a hill covered in sheet ice, I had already committed myself. I let the car lurch from one side of the road, skating gently, all the way down. And the point is that I got home – I wasn’t left stranded.

However, there was once an incident of snow, heavy snow, in the South-West, in 1977. A freak snow-fall in late March cut off Exeter (where I worked) from the outlying villages (where I lived). It was sufficiently unusual as to make the front pages of the national press, where someone was pictured ski-ing down the town’s high street. The effect upon Exonians (and Devonians in general) was quite remarkable. They came out in force to look, as if an alien space-ship had landed. They didn’t loot the shops, but they certainly fortified their larders (did they still have larders then? Probably). They wore a delightedly gormless expression (my students, whose college was closed for a week, were still talking about it some months later).

And yet I, coming from only 400 miles further north, was quite used to it. At school in the 1960s, snow was a regular event, and tobogganing considered a happy sport. My father even built me a toboggan, out of thick plywood and aluminium, which made it super-fast, so super-fast in fact that I fell off and hurt myself. This is doubtless one deep-seated reason why I hate snow (I also have a lousy aim with a snowball).

So: Arctic blizzards for us today, then. These national calamities are brought to us by the same newscasters who have a positive obsession with there being a ‘White Christmas’. Bing Crosby has a lot to answer for. Ever since ‘Holiday Inn’ and all the subsequent films in which he sang this Irving Berlin ditty, Britain has been under the delusion that Christmas ought to come with snow. Most of the news bulletins in mid-December give the meteorologists an extra minute, time enough to say, in a mournful tone, ‘Not much chance of a White Christmas.’ People actually bet on it (the bookies must make a fortune).

One hopes that the same blithely literal interpretation of a popular song does not affect the cliff-visitors in Kent, and that they are not out looking for bluebirds by the sheer chalky drops near Dover, since they (the bluebirds) are the fiction of another American songsmith. Logically, the song meant that we’d lose the war, since Vera Lynn was belting out an impossibility.

Will the Arctic blizzards ever disappear? Tomorrow, just you wait and see.

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