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.


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