It's relatively mild here, only -9C
Saturday 09 January 2010
In this bout of interesting weather I am minded to recall a seriously deprived childhood.
Thirteen years of education in the often numbingly cold Scottish capital, whose harsh climate did for Robert Louis Stevenson's lungs, and not once in my recollection did we have a single day off to enjoy the snow. Schools stayed determinedly open, we all walked there, and teachers nurtured their haemorrhoids by sitting on the old cast-iron classroom radiators in their stout, damp tweeds.
Four hundred miles north of London the winter daylight is severely rationed, and by the time school was out the dark was already creeping in from the North Sea. Some people, in reviewing their lives, bemoan a lack of daredevil sex or Beluga caviar; I have not had my fair share of sledging.
I could make up for it now, domiciled only 35 miles north of London's Charing Cross under 6in of perfect Hertfordshire snow. Never have I seen so many tin trays out on the hillsides; the schools are closed, not because the kids can't get there. Oh no; snow is now a health and safety issue, and we can't have the little dears falling and hurting themselves. Their 4WD-driving parents might sue.
Snow ought to be a fun issue, at least for the young, and such huge swathes of the world never have the opportunity to marvel at its filigree beauty on tree branches or to frolic in its powdery softness.
We older folks are more wary; you get to a stage in life when you don't want to break anything. A friend slipped on the pavement this week, ripped his Achilles' tendon, and will be in plaster for 14 weeks; he can't even hobble down to the pub, where there is currently only one topic of conversation.
Yesterday we came close to congratulating ourselves of Hertfordshire's balmy climate. My garden thermometer had registered an overnight low of -9C when a village in Sutherland recorded -2C, only 5C above Britain's all-time record low set in Braemar, Aberdeenshire, in 1895 and 1982.
Braemar is a very cold place, where they snigger piteously whenever a flake and a half brings the South-east to a standstill. But even in Hertfordshire we have felt a bit Braemarish this week. I spent 45 minutes digging out my Swedish car, which ought to be used to such conditions. The distance from my front door in my deeply white side street to the clear, gritted bus route is 20 yards. It's been a long 20 yards this week, the first step in a journey to the supermarket a mile away, which is doing a roaring trade in panic-buying. You'd think there was a war on.
The Inuit language is said to have 76 different words to describe snow. English needs fewer: snow is handsome, sometimes inconvenient but equally fun, and it's our endlessly variable weather, after all, that helps to make us British. If only we weren't so namby-pamby about closing the schools.
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