Snow in May? Just go with the flow

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The Independent Online
It is about 5am, on Tuesday. I have woken up early, for some inexplicable reason. But I never wake up early. So why have I woken up early on 6 May at 5am?

No matter.

To get myself back to sleep, I try to think of something to worry about, and for some reason I think of my son's project at school. This term his class is doing "rivers" as their project. They are learning all they can about rivers, and how these vast bodies of water begin life as small springs in the mountains and end up as major sources of the salaries of directors of water companies ...

As we live beside a River Avon, I feel my nine-year-old may already know something about rivers, so I asked him the other day what he knew about the River Avon.

He said he knew that Avon was the Welsh word for river, and that River Avon just means "River River", which was pretty impressive, until I realised that he got this from me and that it is the only thing he knows about the River Avon, so I have tried to increase his river knowledge by taking him to the Claverton Pumping Station. This is an installation on the Avon near Bath which pumps water 40 feet up into the Kennet and Avon Canal from the River Avon, and the extraordinary thing about the pumping station is that it uses only the force of the river to drive the pump. No other motive power - no engine, no fuel - was ever envisaged, apart from the huge water mill-wheel which to this day can be driven by the weight of water to fill the canal.

It is a wonderful sight.

Even my son was quite impressed by the size of the wheel, though rather more impressed by the range of souvenirs and sweets on sale.

It is at this point that a cockerel crows very close by. This explains why I have woken up, and started worrying about rivers. I have been woken by the cockerel.

But this is strange in itself, as there is no cockerel living within a mile of our home, so I go to the window to look out and to my amazement there is a jug of milk on the window sill covered in snow.

In a flash I wake up. I am not at home at all. I am staying at the West Arms at Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog in North Wales, where we have gone on Bank Holiday Monday to visit my step-mother. There is a jug of milk on the window sill because my wife likes to keep some fresh milk cool for the morning cup of tea and had put it out the night before. The milk is covered with snow because it is snowing hard.

We have also come here - clever, this - to visit the nearby Pistyll Rhaiadr, which is the tallest waterfall in Britain.

Why is this clever?

Because my son is doing a project on rivers.

Meanwhile, it is snowing thickly. On 6 May 1997, at 6am. When my son wakes up and sees it, he gets dressed quickly and drags me outside to have a snow fight, as if he has never seen snow before in his life. Well, he has seen snow before, on odd occasions, but there are plenty of others about that have never seen snow before. There are lambs in the field up the road who are saying to their mothers, "What is this horrible-tasting white stuff?" There is a pair of pheasants in the field looking pretty puzzled. And there is, even more oddly, a swallow sitting on the telephone line outside the West Arms, clearly saying to himself: "I left Egypt for THIS?"

It is 6 May, on a bright morning in North Wales, five months after Christmas, days after the fall of the Tory government, and I am up to my knees in snow in a field rolling a huge snowball with my son. What has gone wrong?

My son clearly thinks that nothing has gone wrong, because he forms a large snowball like a baker taking a lump of dough and aims it somewhere in my direction and flukily hits the area between my chin and my collar.

"Now, that is very interesting, Adam," I tell him. "You see, it explains how rivers form. That snowball will melt in the warmth of my body, and it will flow down my clothes joining with other melted snowballs until it forms a small stream which will flow out on the ground and finally make its way down to the sea, and do you know what that means?"

"No," says my son. "What does it mean?"

"It means you are doomed to death by snowball!" I cry, advancing on him with as many snowballs as I can hold, watched by a slightly puzzled group of sheep and pheasants.

Later we find that the track to Pistyll Rhaiadr is probably too slushy to risk, so we never do get to see the highest waterfall in Britain and go and see my step-mother instead and we learn nothing about rivers from her, but I would like to put it on record that on 6 May 1997 I had to scrape snow off a jug of milk to get a cup of tea.

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