Yesterday began like any other day.
Except that we knew it was coming. The snow had begun to collect and glower in the sky the day before, blotting out the sun, blanketing the people of the Shires in twittering expectation.Phil had come home with dire warnings about the train system. It would be on an emergency timetable, he said. Maddie could have one heck of a job getting home from her school in the nearest market town.
And we all waited.
The day dawned with clear roads. No-one could quite believe anything was going to happen. I called Maddie’s school, though, and told them she would not be in: for if what they said was coming, really was – how would we get her safely home? The school secretary sounded stern.
But I was unrepentant.
“Where’s the 15cm of snow then?” a friend trumpeted on Facebook.
About eight in the morning it began: an icing-sugar-sprinkling which dusted the pavements, like a ravenous woman toying with her food. And then she got serious. From nowhere a great, deep, silent carpet of snow appeared.
A delighted Felix tramped through the white to get to school. The dog’s tail was high; I have never got to the bottom of why he loves the snow. Can it really be as much fun if it masks the smells? Yet everything was a terrier adventure as I unhitched him from the lamp-post outside the school and headed for the forest. Everything must be snuffed rapturously and marked with doggy efficiency. The Forest Marshall was on patrol.
Everywhere we trod, no-one had trod before.
The forest was picture book white and I could not help wondering, as I crossed the tabletop of the iron ago fort, what it must have been like for those watching snow fall in ancient mud roundhouses when they were the chief form of dwelling in our part of the world.
Those were the days when animals formed part of the heating system.
We cleared Granny’s path, Maddie and I shifting snow and sprinkling salt, and then the news came: her school was closing at 12, Felix’s at 1. School was out and the snow was falling, remorselessly. The roads which had been speeding along just an hour before were slowed to slushy submission.
At lunch it was still falling. I put on my bag-lady warmest coat, Phil’s fur hat and wellies, cutting a strange figure pottering down to school to claim my son.
And once the children were home and lunched the whole town came out to play. Breughel-scenes abounded: muffled scarfed snowball-augmenters worked in industrious teams; I glanced up at one point to see a very small toddler sitting solemnly atop a sledge being pulled along the pavement. Toboggoners were seeking out the hills for thrills and spills.
And by four, the snow was thinning. All through the afternoon I had found Maddie standing at windows, pondering the utter change with a quiet, understated joy. Everything was changed, changed utterly.
And I said: let’s go down to the mansion. And we got on our coats and hats and scarves and gloves and wellies and headed out of the door and through a glistening white Hobbit-like suburbia to the great old house around the corner.
We arrived at twilight and marvelled at the British ability to party given the slightest excuse. The air was full of festive sounds. One mother was telling her friend: “This is better than Christmas!”. The lights of the old house fell on snow etched topiary and knot gardens and a great vast glistening field surrounded by darkening, white, woods.
“Let’s go and see if the lake is frozen!” exclaimed Felix. And, of course, it was.
He spent copious time hurling snowballs at it.
But the woods stood silently. All days must end, as must this one.
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”