The so-called ‘Beast from the East’ brought to the UK and Ireland sub-zero temperatures, travel chaos and…the wonderful gift of snow. When I looked out of my bedroom window one morning it was to behold a world transformed. Everything looked different. There is a purity, a beauty, and something truly magical about snow. There is a different sound as well: a sort of reverential hush. A snowfall also forces us to slow down (or to stop altogether), which may be no bad thing in a world where we seem to be in such a hurry such a lot of the time.
The freezing weather is no comfort to the increasing numbers of people sleeping rough in our cities, but for those of us lucky enough to have heated homes it is lovely to be able to curl up in the evening with a hot drink. And one of my great pleasures in winter is to sit and gaze at the flickering flames of a real fire. I was on my way to bed on the evening when the snow first fell. I knew I had to seize the moment, for Canterbury often misses out on the snow, so I got dressed again and trudged out towards the now-white slopes leading up to Kent University, which sits on a hill overlooking the town and the Cathedral. It was lovely to hear the excited shouts of groups of students throwing snowballs at each other.
Snow seems able to bring out the child in us: a playfulness and a joyful and exuberant energy that can be channeled into making snowmen or sledging down the nearest hill. I bumped into friends who were dragging their little boy on a sledge through the centre of Canterbury. “I love sledging”, he called out to me. “Oh, so do I”, I replied. Our three sledges remain stored at the back of the shed now that our own children have left home. How I used to love going with them (in the winters when we were blessed with snow) to a huge ‘crater’ nearby and seeing how many people we could squeeze onto one sledge and then all of us crashing in a heap at the bottom of the hill. In the absence of sledging I was been running down ungritted side roads near my house and seeing how far I could slide, and for a few seconds I imagined that I might be in the Winter Olympics! (who knows, we might in 20 years’ time, have ‘freestyle street skidding’ alongside curling and the half-pipe!).
The rail companies were doing their best to cope but on the train back from London one afternoon the guard announced rather ominously “East Kent is currently a no-go zone, and for those passengers wishing to go to Canterbury it is impossible to get there by train or bus. I advise you to get off at Ashford and wait for further announcements”! It’s 18 miles from Ashford to Canterbury and I had my fold-up commuter bike and I thought ‘why not, it’s an adventure’! An adventure it certainly was on country lanes thick with snow, and on one especially icy bend the wheels went from under me and I (and the bike) skidded several yards down the road. I got up, unhurt, and looked around at the snow-covered hills and breathed in the fresh, icy air and thought ‘what fun!’ I so often battle and rage against my immediate circumstance, be it extreme weather or a tricky personal situation, and wish it was different. For once I had resolved to accept the reality I found myself in, to go with it, and to actually enjoy it.
I made it home (with, by then, very cold feet!), and I gave thanks for my heated home, and I gave thanks for the snow. And I reflected that, as in so many situations we find ourselves in, if we can manage to befriend the beast, rather than battle against it, what simple yet profound treasure lies in store.