2 Jan 2010


I grew up in Far North Queensland. Which is so far north it requires capital letters. The temperature in summer can get up to 40­­° Celsius and even in winter it doesn't get much lower than about 17°. Humidity stays around the 60/70% mark all year. So it's pretty warm and sticky most of the time, but particularly at Christmas time. Traditionally my family don't do cooked lunch, it's ham and potato salad and sparkling apple juice, then sit around trying not to sweat.

I don't like hot weather. I don't like having to reveal that much skin to anyone but my partner and I don't like wearing shoes with a no-sock requirement. I like trainers. And boots. The sandal and flip flop require a pedicure and inevitably cause blisters while you're wearing them in. I hate blisters.

I moved to the UK in part to get away from the hot weather. That and the lack of culture, artistic merit and availability of tickets to arena concerts (yes, yes I know, topic for another post). But mostly for the weather. Unlike most English people, I like the weather here. I like the rain (unless I'm required to walk long distances in a direction opposite to home), I like clouds and I like the temperature no higher than 22 degrees. While I don't really enjoy the early darkness six months of the year brings, British Summer Time means it's sometimes light at 9.30 at night. Which is awesome.

Phone-0008However, I'm not convinced about snow. The first time I saw snow (actual snow falling from the sky, as opposed to sitting in frozen lumps on the side of a mountain) I was in New York on holiday. I was travelling on my own (though I was staying with my brother in Brooklyn, he had to work all week) and I had just finished looking at treasures in the Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum on Madison Avenue. I was collecting my coat from the cloakroom at the front entrance and looked out through the glass door to see tiny white fluffy things floating around in the air. It took me a minute to realise what it was, and I think I must have been standing there looking amazed because the large black security guard at the door stepped forward and asked me if I was okay. I said I was, I'd just never seen snow before. He was amused in the way that I'd only ever seen New York characters on television amused - he laughed out loud and announced to the couple who were leaving the museum behind me that I'd never seen snow! They smiled in that kindly patronising way that New Yorkers do and stepped past me, putting up their umbrellas as they left.

I had an umbrella with me (my first overseas trip, I had EVERYTHING with me), but I wasn't going to miss out on my DSCN2933first snow - I walked back up to Central Park, gazing around at the snowflakes with an expression not unlike Jeff Bridges' in Starman and trying to catch them on my hand and my tongue. That night it snowed enough to make the pavements slippery and give mailboxes and railings snow cone hats (though CNN would have you believe that a blizzard was on its way). I ventured forth into freezing sleet (this time with my umbrella, can't tell you what a difference it made), thanking my sensible hiking books and diligent shop keepers with grit bins for stopping the worst of the pavement slipping and then realised why snow in an urban environment is not necessarily a wondrous thing. Once the city heats up the snow enough to ice over, everything is slippery. If the snow stays as snow it's fine, you can plough through drifts in waterproof boots and the soles will grip as they should and so long as you don't try and rush, you'll get where you're going without falling over. When it's icy, chances of arriving at your destination without a soggy bum are slim to none.

I hate falling over. I hated falling over as a kid, the embarrassment, the pain and the indignity at not being able to maintain a simple thing like balance. I was always the last one to make it back to the beach when we were rock-climbing, I never let go of the railing on my few attempts at roller skating and I don't even like stepping into a wet bathtub without having a two-handed grip on something that can't break. I hated it as a kid, but now in my late 30s, and weighing considerably more than I did at 14, there's a lot more of me to land on my knee, elbow or my substantial behind.

DSCN2946 So here is my quandary. I love to watch the snow. I love to see the white feathers swirling, floating, piling up on tree branches. I love the way it sits on top of post boxes and window sills, the icing sugar on sponge cake look of roofs and lone trails of footprints (human and canine) through pristine parkland. I like seeing kids (and grownups) making rude snowmen and chucking lumps of it at each other, I like the way that dogs are ridiculously excited by it and zoom around, nose to the ice, trying to figure it out, as if they've never seen it before. It's still a marvellous magical phenomenon to me, and I get completely snap-happy.

I also hate the snow. I hate slipping and catching myself before I hit the ground almost as much as P1030252aactually falling down. I hate having to leave extra time to get to the station in the morning, I hate having to remember spare socks and hoping that my boots will hold up to their waterproof bargain and my toes won't be wrinkled and cold when I get to the office. I hate the messy slippery slush left behind after several thousand pedestrians have traipsed through the snow on their way to work, much earlier than me. I hate the way the UK's transport system breaks down when more than an inch of powder lands on the train tracks, roads and airports. Just before Christmas there was an unexpected snowfall about 4 o'clock in the afternoon, a good two inches landed on London with a 'whoomp' and all vehicular transport ceased to function.

P1030253Trains were delayed, cancelled, gave up and went back to their train duvets in their train sheds. Traffic banked up as cars slipped and skidded on roads (hills were impossible) unless they'd managed to get in behind the frantically-deployed army of grit lorries. Buses stopped in case they slid on the road or crashed into shop fronts at three miles per hour, killing everyone on board and spoiling Christmas displays. We got to our next-to-local train station, waited for a bus in the snow only to be told they'd all stopped, then gave up and walked home. It's normally a 30 minute stroll over a grassy heath and along not-unpleasant shop-lined streets, but it took us nearly an hour plodding along in our hiking boots (I exceeded the limits of their waterproofness at about 40 minutes). I held onto my chap's arm with a vice-like grip, paranoid about ice patches and spent the entire walk with my eyes on the ground, placing my feet in a steady, stomping fashion like so many snow-shoed Eskimos before me.

P1030209aOf course later, in my contrary way, I was taking photos from the window of our flat, watching in wonder at the swirling flurries and wondering how long the road surface would stay coated in the snowy frosting before a car (or a grit lorry) came along to destroy the illusion.

I think snow is a bit like action films where the hero beats up the baddie/alien/volcano with an array of heavy artillery, staggering triumphantly through bloody noses, broken ribs and bullet wounds. I like to watch, but faced with actually getting physically involved, I'd rather stay in with a cup of coffee and biscuit if it's all the same.