Saturday, 9 January 2010

The Big Snow, Leslie Wilson

Nobody else has done it yet, so I’m going to write about snow! And maybe a lot of you are sick of it by now – I have to admit the not being able to go to Waitrose, etc, is beginning to get a bit annoying, though my neighbour has a 4x4 truck and he’s promised to get us shopping – which is very nice of him. Thank you, Jon! His kids currently have our sledge, since we have no young at home to use it, and I hope they are enjoying it. However, it’s not they who are the authors of this quirky snowman and his igloo home, which I feel deserve display here! The children three doors down made them.

One difference between this Big Snow, so far, and 1963, as far as I’m concerned, is that there aren’t the sculpted drifts – though if the weather forecast’s correct we may well get them, and horrid wind-chill. I do remember them, meringue-topping dry stone walls when we drove out to toboggan in one of the Lake District dales, and that lovely cerulean blue sky which I’ve seen here in the last few days, which otherwise you’d only get in really cold countries. I can remember that headlong rush down the long field into the iciness of a drift, picking ourselves out, my brother and me, and setting off up again for another swoop!

I loved the landscape your eyes can travel over, and the sense of those spaces of white, and the danger of it – we always knew the landscape was dangerous. The sheep huddled in the shelter of the drystone walls, canny as they were, the hard weather could kill them. I remember a tarn frozen, it seemed, in the act of bucking in the wind, ice-waves all across it. My parents got out my father’s old army skis and used them till one of the leather straps broke, and Mum told me about the winters in the Riesengebirge/Krkonose Mountains in Lower Silesia, when the snow came up to the first floor of my great-grandfather’s house and she’d ski out of the bedroom window.

When we get up at night, David and I peer out at the garden in the sepia snow-light. In the first half of the night the solar tree-lights we put up for Christmas still hang in the rowan tree, glowing blue-white, then later they fade. Walking the dog this morning we looked at a pale-green sky separated from the blue by a swath of thick white cloud. Even down here in the Thames Valley the snow seems to stretch distances out, the fields of our dog-walking park seem much wider than they usually do, and the trees, cluttered with lumps of snow, all bright white and blue shadows, are utterly incredible. It’s like living somewhere else. Later the snow’s covered with pointy tiny diamonds of light; this afternoon the westering sun lit bars of light inside the fat icicles on that side of the house. Then there’s the salmon sunset light on the snow before the light fades into sepia again. Here's the house we look out at, being glamorous and like a Christmas card with clouds flocking the sky behind it.
I keep thinking, though, about the 1947 winter, when my mother and grandmother were living in a single room in Siegburg outside Cologne – lucky to get that – with no gas or electricity, since coal supplies had given out, and only newspaper in the windows. They had a tiny stove, but the room was icy. At night they put all the clothes on top of them on the single bed and huddled up together. They wore my grandfather’s military clothes, cut down and with all the insignia and braid cut off, and lived on turnips and bread bulked out with sawdust. Once a wild boar came out of the forest, crazed by hunger, and chased my grandmother down the main street. And all over Europe people were homeless or living in inadequate conditions and they died.

This makes me so grateful for our heating – but please, everyone, remember the homeless now – and the birds! They need our help. And – good news, I’ve just heard that Michelle Lovric’s power has come back! I’m so glad, Michelle.


Kathleen Jones said...

I too was snow-bound in the lake district in 1963 in an isolated farmhouse! I remember the frozen lakes - walking along roads level with the tops of the dry-stone walls - having helicopter drops of cattle feed. We were snowed in for four months and hundreds of sheep and cattle died in the drifts on the fells. Neighbours told tales of the 47 winter and having to burn furniture to keep warm. This isn't so bad, though where I am in Italy has had snow for the first time in more than sixty years.

Leslie Wilson said...

Four months! Gosh. We were able to get out - but we lived on Aynam Road, Kendal..that was the main traffic artery to the north till the M6 was built.

Book Maven said...

The water pipe to our utility room (in the garage) has frozen and we don't know if it will burst when the thaw comes.

So back to washing smalls by hand.And of course no cleaner since before Christmas. How trivial are these middle class discomforts compared to what our parents and grandparents lived through!

Like you I am grateful for modern comforts.

karen ball said...

Lesley, that story of your mum and grandmother in Siegburg is staggering.

michelle lovric said...

Dear Leslie
Yes, you are right, as well as eloquent: we are so lucky. And also rich and warm in friendship. Thank you so much for all your lovely words on Balaclava. Still limited internet access, but full gratitude turned up high.

Amanda Acton said...

Visitor from Nicola's party.

You're making me feel ever so grateful to be in the southern hemisphere. I spent a year in Canada not so long ago and.... BRRRRRR!

Kate B said...

A fellow party reveller!...and I am going to put my fire on. Right. Now!


Jo Franklin said...

Popping in from Nicola's and from a snowy London.

I'm enjoying the entertainment of Londoners trying to drive up the frozen ski jump that is my road. But getting a bit bored with the uncertainty as to whether my children will be going to school on Monday.

Miriam Halahmy said...

Great post Leslie and an excellent snippet of history. Pity they couldn't kill the boar and eat it! The kids round the corner from me did a beautiful pirate snowman with an eye patch and a little dog next to it. I took photos on my phone but they were rubbish! Roll on the thaw ( although not floods.)

Leslie Wilson said...

I think they'd have been in bliss if they'd been able to eat the boar, though probably there wasn't much meat on it. I wouldn't have wanted to tackle it. When we went to stay with my grandfather in Linz on the Rhein, we were very scared of boars. My mother told me a story of how one night my grandparents had gone out and she was alone in the house - which is even now isolated at the end of a long country lane, I went with David to look at it three years ago - and that night she heard a snuffling and groaning round the house, and something battered against the cellar door. She was really scared, and then the next morning they found where a wounded boar had lain and there was a slick of blood there. Of course the boar couldn't have got into the house, but I can see how scary it'd be, when you were all alone with just two sleeping tots.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Visiting from Nicola's blog, and thanks for visiting my blog, Elen. I wasn't sure if I'd get in on the "party" visits, since I'm in the U.S. and down low in the comments.

Loved your post. I'm following you now.