[caption id="attachment_37507" align="aligncenter" width="400"] Just goes to snow that you can have too much of a good thing…[/caption]
A couple of pieces about snow in March…
It’s just not very ‘egg’citing
Although I’m sure I will remember the first few months of 2013 for many other things (the food poisoning fiasco of Mansfield Ball, certainly) I have no doubt that it will remain forever lodged in my memory as the time during which I switched from the mindset of an excitable child at the sight of snow to the world (and weather) weary grumbling attitude adopted by most of my peers.
Of course, the first snowfall of the year generally results in excitement all round and across all years. The inevitable snowballing activities will be taken up with vigour as students stumble out of libraries at their own risk. The 9am lecture cancellation causes you to gaze gratefully out at the natural world wreaking gentle havoc on the timetable at your faculty. Even the Christmas jumpers we’d regretfully stowed away for another year can be donned triumphantly for what we assume will be a final hurrah, and the excuse for the experimental outing of the woolly hat/earmuffs/edgy-scarf-hat-item-we’re-not-quite-sure-about is grabbed by a large proportion of the student body.
We mournfully watch the snow turn to mush and before we know it normality is restored… Or so we thought. The second time a snowy situation befalls us, the consensus of approval tends to be distinctly split between the genuine snow lovers and those who were only in it for the novelty or being able to use it to formulate an elaborate excuse for being late for a tutorial or missing it all together. Nevertheless the slippery streets, at this stage, are still being used to capture the perfectly generic new cover photo by those who missed the first opportunity, and the charm of spotting a snowman in the middle of a quad will still bring a smile to most of our faces.
However there comes a time, and this time is now, when even those who fully appreciate the many delightful effects snow brings with it, run out of enthusiasm for the stuff. The funny anecdotes about how many times you managed to fall over on your walk to dinner turn into explanations to the college nurse over your twisted ankle. Despite doing so at an embarrassingly slow pace, the world around you has adapted to these ‘adverse weather conditions’ and you are required to adapt with it by leaving everywhere twenty minutes earlier than you normally would in preparation for having to negotiate a particularly icy bit of pavement. Yes that’s right; you have to walk while your bike is left in the racks with all the others, wondering what it is they all did wrong.
So this is the timeline that has played out this year and caused me, and I’m sure many others, to lose some of their childlike spirit of embracing extreme forms of weather – although I’m sure it could be restored by a freak March heat wave. As we approach the Easter weekend I think it is fair to say that snow has already made its persistent and recurring mark on 2013. Let’s just hope the weather gods consider the practicalities of organising an Easter Egg Hunt in these conditions and save the rest of the snow for Christmas morning, which is the one way that all this shivering might be worth it…
[caption id="attachment_37508" align="aligncenter" width="450"] With that view everything would be all white…[/caption]
National Fail and a free drink
“Ladies and Gentlemen, apologies again for the delay. This is due to the adverse weather conditions. As you have been waiting for so long, you are entitled to a free cup of tea or coffee. The hot drinks trolley is located in the front carriage of the train.” The whole train laughed. The entire train was overcrowded, because the last two trains had been cancelled. In any case, any attempt to claim our free hot drink of choice would have resulted in a stampede. No one had any desire to be trampled underfoot for the sake of a cup of own brand tea with UHT milk and sensibly stayed put. So what had caused this well meaning but ultimately naïve train conductor to offer us a drink? What was the reason that my train was delayed for an hour and a half in the first place?
You already know the answer to these questions. Even if it isn’t snowing where you live, your Facebook news feed will undoubtedly be filling up with pretty pictures of winter wonderlands, images of snow shaped into inappropriate objects and comments expressing indignation that the sky has the audacity to snow in March. Every other post will be a remark about how someone’s garden looks like Narnia, or how the snow reminds them of Christmas, as if they think that they are the only ones to have had that thought and feel the need to share it with the world. We have a national fascination with snow, which is understandable given it only appears a few times each year, normally around the festive period. It conjures up images of children playing, of friends and family coming together, of good food and hot drinks beside an open fire. But it’s also a massive inconvenience. It is not the snow that is annoying, but rather the inability of those in positions of responsibility to deal with the challenges it poses. If it rains, we put up our hoods or umbrellas and carry on as before. If it snows, everything screeches to a halt. The attitude of the train companies is typical. We knew it was going to snow yet did nothing about it, and now our services are in meltdown. Don’t worry though, have a free cup of tea. It is apparently even acceptable for George Osborne to blame bad economic performance on the snow, giving him a convenient scapegoat.
The reality is that as we continue to merrily pump emissions into the atmosphere, these severe weather conditions are only going to get worse. We in Britain should count ourselves lucky that compared to other parts of the world we have gotten off relatively lightly, although widespread flooding in recent years should serve as a warning that we will not immune from the effects of a changing climate. A sensible debate needs to be had about the future of our infrastructure, and in particular public transport, in order to prevent the scenes witnessed over the past few days from being repeated every time it snows. If we want people to use public transport as an alternative to driving cars then investment is needed in train and bus services to ensure they are reliable, efficient and able to handle the extra capacity. The bulk of this investment needs to come not from the government but from the private train companies which receive large sums of money from the taxpayers, raise prices year on year and make large profits from travellers. It is in the interests of everyone, including private providers of public transport, to ensure that in the long term Britain has a transport system which can withstand extreme weather conditions. It is time to stop using the snow as an excuse not to do anything, and time to use it as a reason to be proactive and push for change.
Senior members of Oxfordshire County Council have criticised the national Met Office for not giving the county sufficient warning of heavy snowfall.
The wave of snow on Saturday night, which hit at the end of a week where students sitting early Prelims had stayed behind, was tackled by the council later than it usually would be due to the perceived lack of information.
According to Rodney Rose, the deputy leader of the council, the chaos caused several crashes and could lead to a review of an agreement the council has with the Met Office.
“We weren’t totally caught out, we have sensors in the roads all over the county and at 05:00 they showed a drop in temperature so we started salting at that point,” Mr Rose added.
The Met Office claimed that sufficient warning was given before the event, as an alert was released for parts of the county overnight followed by one covering the whole of Oxfordshire by Saturday morning.
However, this did not appear to be enough to stop dangerous road conditions in the areas near the city, with residents in the town of Woodstock reporting roads going ungritted.
Despite the county council’s concern, not all Oxford students away for the Easter vacation appeared to be worried.
“I wish I was still in Oxford, as the snow is fun and pretty and it is the only justifiable excuse to crack out my ski boots and fur hat during term time”, said one fresher at Queen’s.
PHOTO / Ben Haveron
A country house in winter is something which brings to mind a rather romantic picture. But the glittering frosts always come later than expected, and are always accompanied with such an unanticipated, biting bitterness from the cold that the crystals fade half-forgotten on the dull brown leaves.
The cold inside the house staunches conversation. It pales the expressions of the face, tightens the lips and turns the mind to brooding. Like mammals hibernating in winter, the inhabitants wrap themselves up in their own bodies and allow their thoughts to become their sole occupation.
Even books were not a particular distraction. The library was too large to be efficiently heated, and whereas in summer one would happily seat oneself near a window, allowing the eyes to stray from page to garden and back again; in winter there was no choice but to huddle away from the grey daylight near the fire, and wonder that the fingers would not warm above a certain numbness by turning the pages, seeking a long desired yet long forsaken departure from that place.
The lady’s brow puckered with concentration, until eventually she tired of fighting the cold and ceased to wade through the book in her hands, turning her mind back to her present time, to reconcile herself with her surroundings.
Snow is always recalled as a childhood novelty, the anticipation fading with every passing year. One notices the dirtiness, the mud and slush, the way it pushes people further into themselves.[Ilana1] Its presence was now the recollection of an old acquaintance; the fragmented impressions fell gently out of the air and collected silently on the plane of her memory, silently and softly, behind her puckered brow.
Snow had at that time renewed anticipation in her. It was not exactly the snow itself, but the childish joy she felt kindled within her at the sight of it, that had seemed to promise a further renewal of innocent, untroubled bliss. But this was of course a misguided ideal.
It seems strange that snow should call forth recollections. Its silence and its whiteness seem to cover everything with a blankness, obliterating and beautifying, painting a white backdrop for experience. It falls carelessly, arbitrarily, without intention, independent of the woman huddled by the fire.
The freedom of her mind grew beyond the walls that held it. While her wilting body curled itself towards the fire in the growing darkness, her memory grew beyond her like a shadow – everywhere in the library, where shadows lay, lay memories too.
Unbid they stirred. The slumbering memories were folded in and around the pages of the books, nestled in dust and shadow. So peacefully slumbering it seemed a shame that they should flutter awake and separate themselves from the pages they nested in. Better that the books and the memories should lie silently together in the darkness, like lovers, who lie contentedly folded body in body, mind in mind in sleep, for in waking they open their eyes to see other eyes staring back at them, to feel another skin in contact with theirs. The faded border that was the outline of their bodies once again solidifies, the fluid edges of their existences no longer overlap, but freeze and become brittle; they fracture apart like ice.
The dawn sharpens the horizon and separates the earth from the sky, though in the night they would have happily believed they were one and whole.
Every ghost has its origins in a body.
PHOTO / terren in Virginia
Reaching one arm from the bathroom window, Mary watches snowflakes lighting on the fine, raised hairs of her skin: they perch for a moment in perilous, lacy wetness before retracting into even more miniscule droplets. The fan rasps its endless breath.
Last night, with the shape of her own breath above her in the silent air, she watched electric lighting coat the underside of every branch with white and brilliant fur. Beside a gnarled trunk a snowman drooped, slumping in submission to the heavy, downward pull of mud. One stone eye and a carrot nose lay buried in the slush; one branched arm was leaning on a soggy heap of earth, the other stretching higher in the gloom- some crazy yoga pose.
A girl stood in the path ahead, catching snowflakes. Dark, soft hair fell against the darker sheen of her jacket, and a cone of light held her where she stood, alone and entirely absorbed in the dancing, swift descent of snow, rising on her toes to catch bright flakes with one extended hand.
Sour lighting leaked from the kitchen window. It crept past Mary’s shoulders from behind, cast a ghostly glow along the belly of the branches, and oozed across the mottled flesh of trees; the crunch of slush and gravel grated in her stomach with each step. A raspy sigh of wind churned the snowflakes overhead, like ashes sucked into a chimney’s throat – stale breath that moans and gasps above a long-dead fire – and Mary saw a sudden vision of her doll: of graying hair she’d braided in the attic, dust motes swirling in cracks of bleached light, little knuckles mottled pink around the knobs of bone. A tangle of protruding veins had crept along her skin like long, blue worms – If I move my fingers, I can make them wriggle – like a spider with a missing leg. She had laid the baby with its empty, staring eyes into a box, shut the wooden lid, and left it sleeping there among the stale smell of books with yellow pages.
Ahead, the set flakes spin white spirals around her arms. “They’re snowflakes,” she said. “You can catch them, look! They’re snowflakes… like in the movies.” So Mary stood and caught them, collecting water drops in rows along the creases of her palm, each flake a forest with a thousand tangled branches. The space between her eyebrows ached from peering; a smile hung tightly from her ears – “Oh! They’re so beautiful.” The girl’s delighted exclamation hovered in their cloud of mingled breath and danced for just a moment with the flakes, drifting slowly dowm, where it tingled in the fringes of cold air around her collar. Mary blinks away the feathered prick of thickly clumping clusters on her eyelids; her palm shone rosy.
Leaning out the window, she watches tendrils twist around her fingers as the steam pours past her shoulders, settling over branches, a cloak of misty gauze; water sputters in the shower like someone sucking on a straw. The snowman has lost its head in the grass, one arm stretched high, the other curving under to the mud – a bow to death, an execution – and branches tremble overhead with silent, mossy laughter, holding back a faded sky. She pulls the window almost shut, leaving one last sliver of cold air, and stands among a torrent of dancing droplets, tracing with one fingertip the clash of temperatures that lingers on her skin.
PHOTO / biggertree
Now, I’ve never met God, and I’m sure he’s a nice enough bloke, but what on earth made Him think it was a good idea to invent snow? He must have sat down in His meteorological planning committee, with the Angel Gabriel and Michael Fish, looked at some rain, and thought, ‘You know what? It just doesn’t make enough people slip over and break their ankles. Let’s make it colder, more irritating and more lethal to the elderly.’ At which point, the Angel Gabriel (whom I imagine as a heavenly version of Agony Lad) probably remarked: ‘Banter!’ But, I digress.
Snow lures us into a false sense of security. Like the baby Charlie in the YouTube video, it seems friendly, harmless. So, we rush outside, abandoning the warmth and comfort of our rooms. And then it bites our finger. Or, more properly, soaks us to the skin, destroys our possessions, hurls us to the floor, breaks our bones and gives us pneumonia. Why does snow exercise this control over us? No other atmospheric condition does. We don’t run out into rainstorms, or try to get struck by lightning. If it were raining meteors, you wouldn’t think, ‘I know, let’s sprint blindly outside and try to catch one in my mouth!’
So why snow? ‘Oh, it looks pretty,’ I hear you say. Poison dart frogs look pretty, but I wouldn’t want them falling from the sky. And what about the snow hangover; a city caked in filthy slush, dotted with eviscerated snowmen – is that picturesque?
The point is that snow is a bit like a mad axe murderer with a lisp, in that it’s dangerous, but also quite annoying. Snowballs, for instance. Somehow, the act of compacting snow produces a chemical reaction that turns a ball of fluff into a lump of concrete. Being hit by a snowball is like being hit by a depleted uranium anti-tank round.
Even the act of walking becomes a Herculean feat. No footwear is appropriate. Normal shoes just dissolve, whilst proper boots make you like a train-spotting child-abductor. And have you ever tried combining snow with alcohol? Frankly, you’d be safer combining a steak knife with your femoral artery. A night out clubbing in this weather will end in one of three ways. 1) You will freeze to death in the queue. 2) You will freeze to death on the way home. 3) You will be eaten by a wolf. Yes, that’s right. Snow equals wolves, as proved by the documentaries Frozen Planet and The Day After Tomorrow.
I was tempted to conclude with a niveous pun, such as ‘Snow: it’s snow joke.’ But something more direct is necessary. Snow: it will annoy you. And then it will kill you. And then your body will be eaten by wolves.
–PHOTO/ Toby Ord