A little over a week ago London was under a foot of snow with a promise of more to come, and everyone and his/her dog cheerfully bunked off to go out and enjoy it. The extra snow failed to materialise here (though it did in other parts of the country) and what snow we had was gone all too soon, but the carnival atmosphere on that snowy hill won’t be forgotten by me in a hurry.
R and I walked to Parliament Hill on Hampstead Heath in a thick flurry of snow, visibility was poor and we didn’t get the hoped for view from there of the whole of London in its snowy blanket. Still, we did have the fun of playing together with strangers in the snow - snowball fights, screaming chaos on improvised sledges made from tea trays, dustbin lids, estate agents sighnboards and more than one bathtub sent hurtling down the slopes to rowdy shrieks and cheers. Anyway enough words, check out the film and pictures… there’s more to come.
Those of us on the chillier side of the world might find it hard to imagine the terrible events taking place in Australia. We are lucky that the worst so many of us are having to deal with right now is a little snow. Please, if you can, donate to the Red Cross Australian Bushfires Appeal.
All yesterday I kept coming to my computer to upload and share images of a snowy, festive London, and every time I tried my eye was caught by news of unfolding devastation in Australia. It seemed grossly inappropriate; I just couldn’t do it. Harrowing eye witness accounts of entire towns lost in a four storey conflagration made the British reaction to our own extreme weather event feel mortifying, almost laughably hobbit like – people complaining because they couldn’t get to work? Stamping their feet in indignation when our otherwise gentle climate throws a wobbly and we – horror of horrors – run out of grit for the roads? I do not mean to belittle the danger in our recent unusually heavy snow and rain (people have died here) but I’ve been observing our nations joyless reaction to the whiteout with a growing sense of disbelief. Actually, I’ll qualify that last remark by saying that every single “real” human being I’ve spoken to has loved the unaccustomed snow (the rain not so much) and the carnivalesque effect it has on human behaviour. The unfolding news in Australia has I hope given a new sense of perspective to politicians and press who enjoy the whipping up of shamefully petty discontent and anger to such futile and self serving effect.
I’m currently looking out of my window at swirling black rain clouds and hissing rain; the beauty of last week utterly vanished, we have a leaking roof in the kitchen and it’s so dark here I’m having to work with the light on. There’s no sign that the rain will let up any time this week, and right now it feels like it could easily go on forever. Right now however I’m also profoundly glad of these cold soaking conditions – my dreams have been scorching, acrid.
Ranting about climate change at this point is horribly tempting but then I’d be no better than the politicians and the press – hijacking real and terrible human suffering to pursue an agenda. Right now I just want to express my horror and sympathy to the Australian people, and to anyone with loved ones there.
At the start of the year, a week’s worth of sub zero temperatures accompanied by thick freezing fog transformed the Hampshire countryside around R’s parents. One short stroll in this uncanny landscape has to count as one of the most extraordinary walks I have ever taken anywhere.
The rolling contours of Hampshire’s giant industrially farmed fields still stubbled with the remains of last years crops had become a brittle confection, sugar dusted. Hedgerow branches hung furred with ice, which crackled and popped delicately if you touched it with your tongue. As we set off a flock of fieldfares whirled like bonfire ash, gleaning the frozen ground.
Visibility shifted – from ten yards to fifty then back to ten. At times the silent world rolled under my feet as would a treadmill, the landscape ahead not just invisible but wholly absent.
The bold silhouettes of my companions, sharp as cardboard cut-outs, faded to grainy photocopies then neatly dissolved into the white. All landmarks obliterated, the hard crackling ground under my feet became the only certain thing.
An occasional game crop – sunflowers or corn (left standing as fodder for Hampshire’s vast population of doomed pheasants) lent the landscape an almost apocalyptic air, frozen flower heads bent under rimes of frost an inch or more thick. For a moment I could picture refugees pouring through devastated frozen fields should a failing Gulf Stream plunge Britain into another ice age.
Crossing the empty fields felt like crossing a fog bound ocean, landmarks islanded in whiteness and fading in and out like ghosts. A spinney loomed out of the ground like a surfacing leviathan.
At our approach individual trees picked themselves out delicately in a lacy monochrome, sugared and perfect. Passing its edge the spinney now took on the aspect of a snow globe, and we the tiny people in it. A short detour among the trees revealed a world in negative – silver branches against a darker sky. White, silver, platinum, all in finer calibrations than you would ever suspect a human eye could see and way beyond the capabilities of my camera or my prose. Apart from the fieldfares at the beginning of our walk we didn’t see another moving thing, and the hedgerows were uncannily silent.
The fog began to clear, revealing a cheerless wintry sun hung in an opalescent sky. Colour seeped gently back into the landscape. At the end of our walk I paused to admire the sky while my small companion excitedly explained the complex world of Harry Potter. Everyone else seemed in a rush to get into the car, and I can’t blame them, but the sunset had me rooted to the spot.
To see the first set of my cold weather pictures, take a look at the previous blog post Through The Wardrobe. There will be more cold weather pictures soon!
When I went out to do my chores, the sky was spectacular. Against the deep viridian green of the sycamores the clouds were a startling, indescribable blue grey, lit from below by late afternoon sunshine. The sky had been sliced down the middle as if by a knife, dark and light; the other side was the sunny turquoise of summer skies everywhere. White clouds raced and boiled across the darker half, and the sky suddenly felt like what it is – a layer of skin. Our atmosphere, in constant motion like the delicate skin of a bubble is what the astronauts marvel at, incandescent and only millimetres thin from their point of view. From below, the vast depth of the sky and my insignificance beneath it was plain. The dark, heavy vapour became a high cathedral roof or the surface of the sea viewed from its depths, then a wave, its exquisite white horses racing to capture more of the blue.
As I was busy staring, no doubt with a particularly absent expression on my face, the wave broke. An almighty clap of thunder shook the air and the clouds fell to earth with a slap, sizzling rain liberating that summer thundery smell. No-one was prepared; grimacing people started the half-run that only the rained on do, hiding under sodden trees, holding pointless newspapers over their heads as the rain bounced back up at them from the pavement. A man in a thin t-shirt shouldered his tiny child, and the child laughed, shaking its drenched curls with glee.
It’s a stereotype that we Brits (and the English in particular) are prone to banging on about the weather in minute detail; I’m here to tell you that not only is this stereotype an accurate one, but that as I am nothing if not a product of the country I live in I feel compelled to join in.
The recent weather in London (and much of the British Isles) has been unusually worthy of comment – it’s been a late, cold and stormy spring with fearsome, sudden thunderstorms, flooding, blustery winds and barely a sunny day to leaven the gloom. This was followed by an unexpectedly glorious week of May sunshine, balmy enough to make “flaming June” fling down her parasol in a jealous sulk. Well now it’s all back to normal – colourless skies and a light, relentless drizzle. I love it.
The extremes we’ve been experiencing lately are not how I remember our spring or summer weather. Forgive the nostalgia, but the weather of my childhood was, on the whole, gentle and uneventful – some would say dull and mediocre. The picture to your left, taken today, sums up the typical quality of light as I remember it. Sun was fleeting and pleasant, occasionally hot enough to burn; rain was gentle and always to be expected. Breezes would spring up in Autumn – but gales? Once a decade perhaps, and never forgotten. We are the country famous for trains that stop running when autumn leaves fall, despite our having seen leaves falling every year at approximately the same time for thousands of years, and where heavy snow sees the country grind to a somewhat festive halt as everybody takes the day off to go tobogganing. What people in other countries would take for granted as good weather is enough of a novelty for us that we become notoriously skittish should the sun appear for more than an hour; we shed our clothes, inhibitions and dignity with heady abandon. Our weather is like pick-n-mix; you get a tiny little bit of everything and very, very occasionally something exciting. We don’t do extreme weather.
Except that more often these days, we are having to. We are left bewildered in the aftermath of mini hurricanes, dramatic, almost biblical floods followed by drought, crop failures, sun fierce enough to burn our pasty British skins within the hour. At last, thanks to global warming, we have weather worth gossiping about. Areas of land are to be given up to the sea, like pagan sacrifice, in the hopes of better flood defences. There are places where you might not get insurance on your home, because of the threat of flooding. More subtle but just as telling is the creep of malarial and other disease harbouring insects into southern Britain, and the slow inevitable drift of cold loving species forced further and further north, until what – they just fall off the map? I know that we are the lucky ones here on our temperate little islands – we have had no earthquake or cyclone to fell us in our thousands – and I am fervently greatful at times like this to live in such a kindly, comparatively stable climate. That is why I love our gently miserable summer drizzle. It is home, it is what I’m used to. Freakish weather – you can keep it.