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.