John Walsh: 'The garden looks as if it has been smothered by white supremacists'

Tales of the City
Click to follow

So, this is what it's like in the Siberian steppes, is it? I must say, I'm pleasantly surprised. I'd assumed Siberia would be both freezing and horrible, both white and wretched, both silent and forlorn. Dulwich under snow is freezing, white and silent, but there's nothing unpleasant about it. The garden looks as if it has been surreptitiously smothered by a superior force of white supremacists, and has now gone into a colossal fit of the sulks. The branches outside the window of my shed are weighed down with the stuff, necks bent to the ground like defeated horses. The leafless trees, holding globules of white in their long black fingers against a white sky, are like a monochrome installation at the White Cube gallery.

The clothes pegs on the washing-line, their reds and blues and yellows and greens enhanced to perfection by the surrounding whiteout, are freighted with tiny caterpillars of snow; so are the catkins, the buds and the smallest twigs. They all seem a little stunned by the turn of events – the heaviest snowfall in London in 20 years – and resigned to silent, indignant contemplation of the magic white stuff that arrived overnight to settle so insistently on their tiny backs.

It has been snowing all this morning, too, the flakes descending in a slow, dignified cascade, like communion wafers searching for the tongues of the faithful. The schools have closed, the No 3 bus has been taken by surprise, the suburban trains are knackered, the car is immobilised between two large punky snowmen and beneath eight inches of pristine Slush Puppy. The children are ecstatic, waking at all hours through the night to see the garden become more and more irradiated with spooky white light.

Snow humanises everyone. My son Max was biking home from a friend's on Sunday night when the first flakes began to settle on cars. He rode on the pavement, came up behind some walkers and asked to be allowed past. "Go into the road," he was told, crossly. "What, without a helmet?" he replied, "and on Christmas Eve?" Instantly, the walkers were all his mates, co-conspirators in a snow-brotherhood that goes back to childhood.

When it falls like this, you convince yourself that this is the snow you used to see when sledging on Box Hill aged five. OK, I never owned a sledge or went near Box Hill (it was overrun by Hell's Angels), but I still have some foolish notion in my memory bank that I had the Perfect Snow Experience when young, and nothing has ever matched up to it. I know it's not true, but I can hold the false memory in balance with this knowledge.

Which is why I was delighted to hear the Met Office warning that there was a "high risk of a severe weather event". A weather event! Not just some common-or-garden, run-of-the-mill weather, but an occasion, a meteorological divertissement, a climatic destination. It sounds like something you could book tickets for, bring friends to, read reviews about. If it were done well, you could buy the soundtrack and DVD to relive the best bits. Before it, there'd be a media briefing, and a celebrity ring-round to establish how Paris Hilton and Verne Troyer were planning to experience it. If it went well, you could book early for next year...

There is a literary precedent for Event Weather, of course. In Don DeLillo's White Noise, a cloud of poison gas escapes from a train yard, and, as it grows in menace, is successively dubbed by the papers "the feathery plume", "the black billowing cloud", and – when accompanied by helicopters and the media – "the airborne toxic event". Even a killer chemical spill can achieve celebrity in the States.

But weather events don't have to be negative. Even as one mocks the idea, you know it's going to happen soon, don't you? In the future, we'll be able to arrange weather events for ourselves, to call up sultry afternoons for romantic trysts in April, autumnal mists (with optional woodsmoke) for reflective walks in September, boiling Greek-style mornings for depressives who can't stand February any more. And if the children have been hanging around the house too long, I can order up an eight-inch snowfall in the West Dulwich area, just to amuse them.

Now that's that what I call a weather event. And I bet that, however often you did it, the No 3 bus would still be taken by surprise every time.

Comments