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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Why freezing winters warm my heart

Snow is falling all over Britain and over much of continental Europe too. Good!

Here’s my piece on why Britain would be a much better place if we had more traditional winters, from the Sunday Express.

DON'T fret over the inconvenience caused by arctic conditions. NEIL CLARK says a return to truly cold, old-fashioned winters, and the beautiful frosty landscapes they create, would make Britain a far better place.

I have a confession to make. Over the past few weeks I have fallen in love again with an old childhood sweetheart, a sweetheart who possesses great beauty and enormous charm, who is thrilling, exciting and quite magical. My wife doesn’t have to worry, though, for the subject of my affection is not another woman but a season: the traditional British winter.

There are some for whom the decidedly old-fashioned snowy, icy weather we have been experiencing recently has been most unwelcome but I am not one of them and neither was author George Gissing. He wrote: “honest winter, snow-clad and with the frosted beard I can welcome not uncordially.” I merely wish that every winter could be like this one, with regular heavy snowfalls and plenty of cold, frosty mornings. If that were the case, then I believe Britain would be a much better place in which to live.

If you were stranded on a snow-blocked road over the festive period, or one of the thousands of Eurostar passengers who had to endure long waits due to the breakdown of trains, then I’m sure you’ll be shaking your head in disagreement.

It is precisely because cold, snowy weather has been so infrequent in Britain in recent years, however, that it causes such havoc and disruption when it does arrive.
If traditional British winters did return, we’d all be better prepared and could enjoy the benefits of “honest winter” without any of the downsides. Our cars would be routinely fitted with winter tyres, our trains with miniature snow ploughs and our councils would have no excuse not to grit the roads on a regular basis. We need only look at Norway to see how a modern European country can function perfectly normally in winter.

Then there are the psychological benefits that a return to proper winters would bring. It is good for our mental health that every season is different. It makes life more interesting and provides us with a natural rhythm. In the past 20 years, the seasons here seem to have merged into one, with mild, wet weather predominating for 12 months of the year. Winter has been reduced to a slightly colder version of autumn, with snow and heavy frosts becoming increasingly rare. In some parts of the country during the Nineties and Noughties, a generation of children grew up not knowing the pleasures of building a snowman, sledging or snowball fights.

Cold winter weather is the perfect antidepressant. Go for a good walk on a crisp winter’s morning, when the temperature is hovering around 0C, and your breath “to heaven like vapour goes” and you come back feeling glad to be alive. do the same thing when it’s raining and the temperature is around 12C and you don’t get anywhere near the same buzz. Freezing weather is also a lot healthier for us, killing off all the nasty bugs and germs that thrive in mild, wet winters and make our lives such a misery.

I am lucky enough to remember the classic snowy winters of the early and late Seventies and early Eighties. I remember the sense of wonder of leaving a cinema with my mother during Christmas 1970 and finding that it was snowing heavily as we stepped outside. I can recall the epic snowball fights my friends and I had in the winter of 1979. They called that one the Winter of Discontent but it certainly wasn’t if you were a 12-year-old schoolboy.

My love affair with honest winter was rekindled when I moved to work abroad in the Nineties, first to Switzerland and then to Hungary.

There was one particular occasion I recall in Budapest, when it snowed heavily from Friday morning to late Saturday evening, turning the city, beautiful at the best of times, into a magical winter wonderland.

Since returning to live in Britain 10 years ago, my wife and I have pined for the sort of winters that we both experienced as children. Our spirits soar when we hear that a cold front is on its way, with the chance of snow or frosty conditions. All too often the snow fails to materialise but when it does it never fails to thrill. For a few days before Christmas our back garden was covered in a light blanket of snow but the scene was made even more beautiful by two days of hard frosts and freezing fog. Forget Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo, the greatest artists of all time for my money are Mr Snow and Mr Ice, with their ability to transform even the most unremarkable landscape into a work of unbelievable beauty. You don’t even have to go to an art gallery to see their work.

The return of proper, traditional winters would help restore a little bit of magic to our lives. Globalisation has undoubtedly made Britain a less colourful, less magical place to live over the past 20 or 30 years. Our towns and cities, previously so distinct from each other, are dominated by the same chain stores. The same few football teams win all the trophies. Regional differences in dress have all but disappeared. Life has in many ways become boringly standardised and sanitised.

Snow and ice remind us of times when things were very different. So here’s to a new decade of some honest winter weather.


Gregor said...

Very nice article Neil, I entirely agree. Incidentally, there is a beautiful Turkish film called Uzak set in an Istanbul winter. The photography is really stunning.

I find it curious that the cinema of modern Britain could not make such a film (I sometimes wonder if a computer program generates the ideas for British films). All we hear about is how awful the snow is and how much it costs the British economy. It makes me think of Henry Wotton's comment on people who 'know the price of everything and the value of nothing'. Britain is far wealthier than Turkey, yet it seems that our culture is in some regards poorer.

Czarny Kot said...

It's a shame i'm not in the UK to see it for myself. My mum says it's the snowiest winter since '81.

Apparently there are people skiing and snowboarding down Dean Street in Newcastle!

From a distance it is hard to know whether the travel chaos has been caused by the sheer severity of the conditions or by incompetence.

It is very snowy here in Poland yet the country is still running..

Robin Carmody said...

I am finding this to my cost at the moment: I love winter landscapes (there's a Robyn Hitchcock song called "Winter Love" which fits perfectly, off 'I Often Dream of Trains'), I've loathed the last however many "global warming winters" (especially 06/07 which was grotesque), I like the sense of adventure and excitement fine ... *but* snow is a wonderful *idea* as long as it doesn't happen the very weekend you're supposed to be going to something very special in London and you're desperately worried about the trains.

To answer Czarny Kot's question, I think it has something to do with the general inability of British management to plan for emergencies, coupled with the power of health & safety (which has forced several football matches to be postponed when heated pitches were perfectly adequate) - as in almost every other field, we lurch from one extreme to another: I don't want football matches played on ice rinks and the worst excesses of "mustn't grumble" and "the Blitz spirit" back, but we've jumped to this equally excessive fear of any kind of risk ... there must, surely, be a happy medium.

jack said...

On Thursday January 7th it was freezing outside I would say the coldest January ever.

Can't say I am enjoying the snow apart from Christmas as I have had a sore throat and neck since New Year’s Eve.

Still don't believe in global warming though. What about HAARP technology?

The missile defence system incorporated it into the system as Brzezinski in his book 70’s book Between Two Ages theorises technological advances means in the future governments will be to modify and control the weather.

Perhaps the strange halos over Moscow, Romania and China are calibration tests for this system.

Why else would they push for a multi-billion dollar global missile defence system that they will never use for actual defence?

@Neil Clark

Do you know the real reason behind the 56 revolt in Hungary?

Good Counterpunch article about the Berlin Wall and the real reason behind it.

The more a read from un-biased source who cite things like the archives the picture of Communism although still bad is very different from what we are told by the mass media and main line historians especially the Stalin era. I did kind of wonder if Stalin ruled with a reign of terror and allegedly killed 20 million people including deliberate famines then why there was such a strong Soviet resistance where I think 60% of the forces where non-Russian.

Professor Grover Furr has done some interesting research and basically lays out from what I understand 2 factions national Communism developing and base in one country represented by Stalin and international Communism (Trotskyism)represented by Khrushchev of using Russia as a base like the Taliban in Afghanistan to launch perpetual revolutionary wars.
Worth mentioning most of the Neocons and there senior supporters like Soros, Milliband and Kouchner were former Trotskyite Marxists.

And there is questions regarding some of the documents entered into the archive possibly being forgeries during the 80’s.

DBC Reed said...

Robin is quite right.Everybody says the British just can't cope with a bit of cold weather when it is as usual,the management and the ruling-class (much the same thing) who can't cope with anything.
You don't hear much from the blog standard leave it to the private sector brigade in this kind of situation do you?They're the first to demand more grit on the roads,organised by local authorities .How exactly would the private sector be of any use in this situation? The utter reliance on the public sector becomes more obvious when the schools shut:the private sector cannot cope with people staying off work to look after kids and cannot provide cheap child care ,let alone a form of care where the children are taught something, not at affordable price levels.