house of happy

Life adventures in prose and verse. Explorations of places, people and words. Stories and fun.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Scots Christmas Two - The Big Freeze

An appetiser on the Climate Change Menu, enter the Big Freeze. We arrived in London a few days before Christmas, and found the nation under a blanket of snow. Quite exceptional, a whole train journey across the UK and no dark patches on the horizon, no sighting of tarmac or black field or muddy path. Everything looked still and simple, restored to innocence. Snow had erased all the clutter of progress and muffled the din.

It was great but, surely, it couldn't last.

It did. It snowed more, and then snow became ice, and then ice was covered by more snow. I could write this ten times and then smother it in metaphors and still I won't be able to convey how sublime it all became, how magical.

But what to do with it?

First there was the igloo. Really, Moona and Nikita's idea and an architectural feat, this wonder-of-the-glen provided much joyous labour, thrills and frissons (thank you volunteers, willing-or-not), picnic and event site (very nearly hosted weddings and book fairs), shelter (for those brave and foolish enough to actually sleep in it...), photo-shoot background and much trivial conversation.

Then there was all that walking, the roads being often closed to any vehicles more sophisticated than a sledge. We walked to Traquair, Traquair walked to us, or we met half-way and then walked some more, in whatever direction the wind blew. On one such walk, out to meet five children, I passed seven sheep, three deer and a hare. They stood in the snow, still and dazed. If dinner could be so puzzlingly close, yet so hard to get under that burning ice, so far, they didn't seem to care how close a clumsy human stepped. The hare loped away at the last minute, raising a silent flurry of snow. Silence so deep that I could hear the children from a mile off. When we finally met, our eyebrows were white, our lips blue and if there had once been toes, we'd long forgotten how they felt.

Thank goodness for baths and fires. And charades. We had some epic charades marathons. We made lists upon lists of devilish clues and then ran and flapped about, purred and roared and generally went mad trying to convey them to enthusiastic but misguided teams. Watch out, enemies: things like “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” and “Risk” remain un-mimed...

Every now and again, there was a scurry about shelves and larders, counting eggs and bags of flour, measuring rations and planning meals. The supermarket was suddenly inaccessible, too far, and at the height of the blizzard, also empty as people bought supplies for an entire winter. I had never thought I'd see an empty shelf in a Scottish supermarket, but there. They now know (a little of) how I grew up.

We took trips to the hens' houses daily, and broke the ice in their water bowls, and scattered seeds in the snow. Amazingly, there were always eggs in their nests, what complete, clucking heroes, pretty much keeping us in pancakes for the duration.

If anything, the Freeze was a gentle reminder (for now) that we are only one small step from a more rustic, rudimentary way of life. As water pipes froze and burst, as supermarkets emptied, as roads became paths and paths became fields, we found ourselves living very different lives. Chop wood, keep fires going, build igloos. Collect eggs, make bread, eat simple meals. Play in the snow all day, then play games in candlelight.

Frankly, who needs more? The Freeze stopped cars and trains and planes and we were lucky to stay a little longer. In fact we didn't want to leave at all.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Scots Christmas One - Getting There

We went to Scotland for Christmas. For the longest time, it was just a topic to discuss-and-drop, like taxes or tai-kwon-do or growing pigs. It was understood that the wind in our (mostly rhetoric) sails came from the strongest possible principle: Christmas is about being with Loved Ones, at Home. Since our home here consists of three windswept granite walls, any hope of applying the principle is somewhat premature.

It was also widely accepted that we were going to Scotland By Car and With Dog. The trip across Europe was going to be long and lovely. What made it long? Ehm, 2700 km (about 1700 miles) and the fact that we were going to stop and stay with everyone we knew along the way. What made it lovely? All those Stories we had, on Ipod and CD. Possibly also the Dog, by being Cute.

Thus planning, some three days before the journey we realised that a) we were going to miss Christmas and b) we might have had to leave Scotland before the New Year, just to make it back in time... The road was going to be icy, the car was going to be cold.

This is fast becoming a blog about 'transport across Europe'. The car was ruled out. We tried the train.

You want a train ticket from Portugal to Scotland? Brace yourself. You need to deal with four different rail agencies, in four countries. You must not be surprised if it costs twice the price of flying, and takes four times longer. You might have to cross the odd border on foot. You might not make some connections. Finally, if travelling in winter, the Channel Tunnel might freeze up, together with all the trains it contains at that random moment. In which case you'll need to hang your stocking right there and send a telex to Santa before settling down to hibernate. The questions are why why and why.

We tried the ferry: forget it. Most stop for the winter. We found one sailing from Bilbao to Portsmouth. We would have had to pay a small fortune for the dubious 2-day long pleasure of floating through the stormy Bay of Biscay. The ship was going to produce more pollution than a small fleet of planes. We may have still missed Christmas, given the long arctic journey.

We flew. We left the Dog with Friends. May the Carbon Gods (and the Dog) forgive us.

Friday, 15 January 2010

New Year Resolution Number Five

To write more stories: I wonder, will it go to the New Year Resolutions' Bin, along with the others? ...the chocolate, the early rising, daily yoga, neat admin?... Up in smoke already.

But as long as I don't let January trickle away, maybe there's some hope for this one - a weekly blog, that's all. Or shall we say fortnightly? Since I haven't yet figured out what to write, here's what I won't write:

One. I won't write about Copenhagen. The word alone produces that very particular wave of alarm and nausea that slams into your plexus when you realise that, say, you've triggered an avalanche with your carefree yodelling. Oh and you're in its path. Or when you're canoeing along a raging river and you glimpse the fallen tree trunk...

It can only get better, you may quip. Wrong, friends and Romans, it gets much worse, when for example you read comments on Copenhagen issued by that particular political and social abomination bred in the U.S., the Far Right Fellow. “Why” - this creature might at any point muse with moronic intensity - “should we reduce our emissions? Our emissions, our SUVs, our thousand Christmas lights, our MacDonalds, our commuter flights, our chemical fruit and veg and ham and spam – they're all our RIGHTS!” “There's no climate change, it's a conspiracy” - and here it will triumphantly conclude - “in order to increase our taxes!”

Wow. And if that's not blood-boiling, toe-curling, apoplexy-inducing enough, wait: the Far is bound to feel the need to tell us what he thinks about Evolution ('didn't happen, a conspiracy as well', blah. Note to self: can Evolution be turned into a tax issue? Or an election issue?) It has to be said, I have an problem with evolution myself, when such a specimen is allowed to appear and, in some habitats, thrive.

Two. I won't write about Avatar because I haven't seen it and – on purely phonetic grounds – I loathe the word. I made the mistake to share this with Kira, and now she chants A-Va-Tar-A-Va-Tar in the kitchen every time I cook and every time she's not singing THAT Katie Perry song.

Three. I won't write about THAT Katie Perry song.

Four. I won't write about Portugal while it's raining. The way it looks right now, Portugal won't get a mention for a long long time.

Five. I won't write about the dog going on heat TWICE in two months. What's she trying to prove? (note to self: can this have something to do with Evolution?)

Six. I won't write about the fact that it's raining in the children's bedroom, and all the walls are black. I don't care. We've all moved into the living room downstairs, where it's warm and where we can annoy each other much more effectively.

Seven. I won't write about that other little thing.

I know, apart from point seven, I've already written about all that stuff. There's more coming soon. Watch this space.