shewhomust: (dandelion)
One day, I asked my Finnish teacher if it was true that her language had 30 different words for snow. She fixed me with her big, blinky eyes.

"No, you poor deluded fool," she sighed. "We Finns only have one word for ‘snow’. The trouble is, you English think that everything white that falls out of the sky is ‘snow’."

Jonathan Clements, Schoolgirl Milky Crisis


Similarly that cold wet stuff falling out of the sky right now cannot be rain, because the forecast told us that it would not rain north of Middlesbrough.

(I think I'd have noticed if they'd moved Middlesbrough.)
shewhomust: (dandelion)
We didn't try to go anywhere over the weekend: we'd laid in supplies at the Farmers' Market on Thursday, we had warmth and internets, the milk and the newspaper were delivered to our door (and the recycling collected from it, which was a surprise). So why go out in the cold and wet and blowy snow? [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler went out from time to time to clear the pavement in front of the house, and always seemed ready to come in again. But by yesterday (Monday) morning, even I was beginning to feel a bit shut in - and besides, there were things we wanted to do.

First was the swimming pool: not our default first-thing-in-the-morning visit but mid-afternoon, leaving home just before nightfall. The trick here is to get in between the school groups ending and the after-school classes starting, and we just about managed it, though the showers were filling with small people as we left. Swimming was more effort than it should have been, perhaps because I'd missed a week (combination of snow and stiff neck proving a deterrent); and the neck is not as fully cured as I'd thought, not painful but I was aware of it.

Then we hurled our swimming things in the back of the car with the spade and the broom which we'd brought along in case of emergency, and set off for Newcastle: not a pleasant drive, but since we had already driven down the hill from our front door to the main road, the worst was already behind us. The motorway was open and traffic was moving cautiously along it: not using all three lanes, admittedly, but there wasn't enough traffic to make this a problem. The snow covered the car park at Northumbria University thickly enough that it was a puzzle where the marked spaces were, but we found one, and arrived at about the same time as Bryan and Mary Talbot for Bryan's lecture on Grandville and the Anthropomorphic Tradition.

I have heard Bryan's talk on this subject before, but it's interesting enough to hear again, and anyway it grows and changes, gathering in new material as Bryan comes across it. So that was fine. It was a good audience: a sprinkling of university officials and civic dignitaries (mayors of both Newcastle and Gateshead), who seemed to be enjoying themselves, and plenty of intelligent questions afterwards. A few familiar faces, though not as many as there might have been if it hadn't been for the snow (best explanation for absence: "Sorry, can't make it, I've got to get a pony out of a pond.").

There was a buffet after, and a chance to talk to Bryan and Mary - mostly about their joint work, Dotter of Her Father's Eyes, and about the mad schedule of press interest provoked by winning the Costa biography prize, and the sort of questions interviewers ask; but also about some of the material in Bryan's lecture, and the Lakes International Comic Art Festival, and Angoulême, and absent friends... Then we drove Bryan and Mary back to Sunderland, where it was just beginning to snow seriously, and home.

The excursion wasn't without its tricky moments, but no disasters or even near, and it was well worth it - I had a great time. So this morning, when the sun was shining on the thick soft snow, I felt quite optimistic for a moment. Then the sky darkened, and the snow began to fall again.

Outed!

Dec. 4th, 2010 09:23 pm
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A quick update, because I have left the house on both of the last two days, and feel altogether more cheerful for it.

On Thursday we had tickets for the Dylan Project at the Sage, and had booked a meeting with a client on Tyneside at the end of the afternoon. So this was a motorised excursion, and it worked out, just about. The drive north was icier than it had been on Monday, but we reached our destination, and had a good meeting (cups of tea, biscuits, discussion of client's furure plans and other matters of varying levels of relevance). Then we collected a friend who was going to a different event at the Sage and crossed the river.

A winter welcome


The Sage is an amazing building, and looked wonderful in the snow. Their catering is less than wonderful. The band were - oh, well, they were what they were, which wasn't necessarily what I was looking for: every now and then something really worked (Ballad of a Thin Man interpreted as a really bad dream, for example), but mostly rocked out too loud and all at the same tempo for my taste. And the journey home was not pleasant at all: snow was lying on the motorway and more was falling, and the temperature dropping. We made it up the hill and lurched to a halt in the roadway just below our house, and it took two of us - a helpful neighbour with a little help from me - shoving from behind to get the car parked in anything like the right spot.

Yesterday there was a Christmas Fair in Durham and we walked - separately, each at our own pace - into town. I bought a couple of small Christmas presents, but the best part of the fair was the local food section in the cathedral cloisters. It was bitterly cold, but not as cold as it had been earlier. People were telling us that it had been -10°C and below when they came into Durham earlier that morning (only an hour or so before I'd left the house, thinking how pleasant it was in the sun). We were able to pick up some of the things we would normally have bought at the Farmers' Market, had we not missed it this month, and chat to the people we usually see there. I loaded my backpack and trudged home via the market place, and the market, but I just couldn't carry as much shopping as I would like. Never mind, we won't starve. And I was weary enough after my excursion to feel quite cheerful about spending today at home.

Today there has been a degree of thaw - I can see the road surface outside the house. Which is odd, because I've felt quite cold, and put on an extra jumper over my big jumper. And what will tomorrow bring? Will be get out to our lunch date? Only time will tell...

Tiddly-pom!

Dec. 1st, 2010 08:41 pm
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Icicles at my window


It has been snowing for most of the day. [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler went to his meeting at County Hall, but didn't take the car, and shopped on the way home, so we have vegetables. He wasn't able to post his package, though, because the post office had closed at 3.30. They didn't deliver any mail either, but it's possible that this was because no-one had written to us.

I finally organised myself to take some pictures (the most recent ones here), mostly from inside the window, though I did go out into the street, where the snow was so thick I felt reasonably confident about walking in it. But then it started to fall again, and it was wet and cold, so I came back indoors and watched Countdown. (I've finished the ironing).

There are three windows in my attic study. The two roof windows above my desk are thickly blanketed with snow, and haven't cleared all day (so the insulation must be adequate; it's not that cold in here). The icicles are by the dormer window that looks onto the street. They aren't very big, but it's their delicacy that appeals to me (especially the one on the left, which appears to be attached by the merest suggestion of ice to the snow above). The sky didn't look that dramatic at the time - or perhaps I was so fascinated by the icicles that I just didn't notice.
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We took the risk, and we went out yesterday evening: and since we had no major problems, we must have been brave rather than foolhardy. We packed shovels and sandwiches and changes of footwear and towels and went first to the pool (where we had a very pleasant quiet swim between five and six: but this is no indication that will always be a good time to choose) and then on to the Sage for a concert called 'Future Traditions', featuring the second year students of the folk music degree at Newcastle University.

This was a bit of a gamble, too, but it too paid off. About twenty young musicians (I got the impression this was the whole of the second year, including four Scandinavian exchange students) in shifting alliances (they'd clearly been encouraged to think of names for these bands, with varying degrees of success: the Cheesy Ones*, the Great Danes, the Soggy Peacocks...) to play one of two pieces each. All traditional, I think, or at least that mix of 'origin unknown', O'Carolan, Child ballads and nineteenth century parlour ballads and dance tunes, plus the odd 'a friend of ours wrote this'; mostly instrumental but with some impressive singing, too; lots of fiddles, some guitars, a variety of squeeze boxes - and a hammered dulcimer, very effectively used. Certainly we've seen support acts at the Sage who were less ready to perform in public (there's a rant about support acts just waiting to be written, but not tonight).

We were afraid that it would have continued to snow while we were at the Sage, and we'd have trouble getting home: and the road out of Durham up to the motorway had not been all that clear when we left. But if anything, the opposite had happened, the temperature was milder and the road clearer at ten than it had been at six. The only really tricky bit was the last few yards up the hill to our door, and even that we managed, more or less. I'd been prepared to park futher down the street and walk the last bit, but that wasn't necessary, we parked (albeit at an odd angle) outside our door.

This morning there was fresh snow lying on the doorstep, but only a sprinkling of round hard pellets. The thaw had reached the trees on the hillside behind us, too, which were all bare, greenish black instead of yesterday's monochrome. [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler went out to improve on his parking, and discovered that the winter isn't over yet: he got stranded in the middle of the road, and it took him and a neighbour over an hour of shoveling to achieve parallel parking. More snow has fallen since then, and what was wet has become icy. We decided not to go out this evening, and tomorrow's poetry launch has been cancelled (the publisher set out this morning from her home in darkest Northumberland to collect the books, got stuck, the 4X4 which came to her rescue got stuck too and it took a tractor to get her home again).

But the milk and the newspaper are still being delivered, today the post got through as well, we have heating and internet. Sooner or later we will have to shop (we've run out of onions). Who knows what tomorrow will bring?




*"We were trying to think of a name, and someone said 'The problem is, all the good names are taken, there's nothing left but the cheesy ones...'"
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By Thursday the snow was lying thick on the road, and we went nowhere. During the day on Friday it thawed a little, there was a clear track down the middle of the road and we drove down to the pool for an afternoon swim - which cheered me up immensely.

Just as well, because I haven't left the house since.

We had tickets for a Saturday evening concert at the Gala, and thought that we could probably walk there, if we allowed lots of time (I'm slow on ice); [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler went into town in the morning for a few essential supplies and reported optimistically. But the Gala rang to say John Kirkpatrick was stuck in Cambridge and the show was cancelled, which was a disappointment but not a huge surprise. We stayed home and watched In Bruges (recommended: funny, dark, sad, beautiful, unexpected).

Yesterday, more of the same. When the snow falls out of a grey sky, the world is hazy and monochrome; when it stops the sun comes out contrast returns: the hillside opposite is a tracery of black and white trees against blue sky.

And more snow overnight: there's a thick white bonnet on the lid of the compost bin (which was cleared yesterday to empty some compost); [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler has just stuck a ruler into the snow on top of the car, and reports a depth of 25 cm (since Friday afternoon, see above).

Will we make tonight's concert at the Sage, tomorrow's movie at the SIDE...? I doubt it.
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...is the recycling lorry coming up the hill. There is hope for this winter, after all...

First snow

Nov. 25th, 2010 11:15 am
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We have snow. Throughout yesterday there were flurries of cold wetness, solid enough to settle briefly on my attic window, and by early evening a thin layer on the street as well. We went out regardless: a client had promised us a cheque for collection at a poetry reading, which we intended to leave early because [livejournal.com profile] desperance had lured us away with promises of beef-stew-in-a-pumpkin. Traffic was heavy and slow, but we got there, first to the centre of town and then through snowier streets to our delicious dinner - and pretty with it, I wished I'd taken my camera (the pumpkin was dark gold and shiny, as if it had been lacquered). And, fortified by the inner glow of baked ginger pudding, made it home again, though the snow continued to fall and to settle.

There's been more snow overnight. The layer on the attic window is just slipping off, and the clouds are clearing, so there are patches of blue sky above me. Is this a good sign? I don't know. The recycling is still on the doorstep, but the large white van that was stuck across the width of the road has managed to extricate itself.

Last winter's snow started in mid-December; we're starting earlier this year.
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The thaw continues. I actually went into town yesterday - no, that's overstating it. But [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler took me into town yesterday, and I made my own way home. Net result: some necessary shopping (vegetables, fruit, caffeine, rather overdue birthday present!) and some unnecessary shopping (Unseen Academicals reduced to half price in the sale and therefore probably costing about the same as it would from Amazon), some fresh air and a sense of moderate achievement (walking back up the hill confirmed my reluctance to try walking down it).

Encouraged by this, we decided to take a step back towards normality, and go swimming first thing (for values of 'first thing' which do not involve setting the alarm clock and venturing out into the darkness. Wake up whenever we wake up, we reckoned, let the dawn pass and any overnight frost clear first, but then swim before breakfast). We were thwarted by the pool being closed all morning for a schools gala (yes, we should have noticed the warning signs, but we don't usually swim on Fridays). Went back to the pool this afternoon, and managed to swim, but it was very crowded. Net result: some wasted time, and a renewed determination to try Plan A next week - not agreeable, exactly, but no doubt good for me.

I have a virtual Valentine's gift! From Frank! (Shouldn't Valentine's gifts be anonymous? But the card with this gift says "Frank sends his love.") This came about because there was a challenge in [livejournal.com profile] news to comment saying what mysterious object was in the box, first 25 commenters to receive a gift, and since I was there, and it was obvious (what's in the box? Schrödinger's goat, of course), I commented. I've never received a virtual gift before (real money, virtual gift? I think not), so I'm quite pleased - but on the other hand, Valentine's already? It's not even Burns Night yet! (Since the gift is captioned 'Opens Feb 14' and the accompanying e-mail says that it will show on my profile page for the next two weeks, I may never find out whether the goat is or is not alive: which is, I suppose, as it should be).

And, oh, joy, the students return this weekend! A group of them were hovering around their car as we drove back from the pool. Picture, if you will, twilight, [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler driving very carefully on ice, trying to maintain enough momentum to keep going up the hill, and a young man wandering across in front of us, talking on the phone - wearing camouflage trousers in shades of white and grey. Death wish, surely?

Still no rubbish collection, but you can't have everything.
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..they drip onto the ground below and create a patch - and eventually a hummock - of ice.

I hadn't reckoned with this when I went out to shovel the snow off the back steps. It looked so loose and powdery, I thought it would be a straightforward task to dig a route through to the compost bin. But no, there is ice to be broken up first - and meanwhile the icicles were dripping down my neck. And then it started snowing again.

So I put out the crusts for the birds and came in again. Now the back door won't close properly.

Snow clearing: it's a lost art.
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[livejournal.com profile] poliphilo puts it well: "This white weather makes everything a little unreal - a little dreamlike - as if time itself had been frozen.".

Small tasks become large and complicated; yesterday's expedition to the pool (something we accomplish in summer before a late breakfast) occupied the whole afternoon. Not going out ought to give me plenty of extra time to get things done, but I don't seem to focus...

An article in yesterday's Guardian attributes to Vilhjalmur Stefansson the description of the Inuit strategy for dealing with a blizzard: find what shelter and comfort you can, whether by building an igloo or simply sitting with your back to the wind; move only as much as is necessary to keep from freezing, sleep if you can, wait it out. "A European, by contrast, will instinctively thrash on, building up a sweat with his exertions. As he exhausts himself, the sweat generated will turn to ice, which in all likelihood will kill him."

This ought to make me feel better about my current suspended animation; and it does, a little...
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Sunset at 3.30


I was, as you may have noticed, becoming extremely fractious; I also didn't sleep very well. This couldn't be allowed to continue.

So this afternoon we wrapped up well and put on walking boots and picked our way down the hill and to the swimming pool. It took rather a long time, partly because I am extremely unconfident on ice (not so bad on loose snow, but once it's packed hard, not so good) and partly because I had to keep stopping to take pictures. Also, walking on snow, like walking on the beach, gives a great work-out to some muscles that don't usually get worked so hard.

But we made it through to the pool, and we swam: I didn't do my full 40 lengths (1000m) because I had to stop with cramp (stopped once, worked it out, did another 10 and had to stop again. Fine now, after a hot shower) - but I've been swimming for the first time this year, and I did 30 lengths, and next time will be better. Surely...

Still not a happy bunny, but better, and grateful for the indulgence of my friends who are nice to me when I whine.
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This is how Twelfth Night ought to go - and for a happy few no doubt that's how it is, there will be Phantoms at the Phil and stories and dining in good company afterwards and a general sense that the Christmas festivities have been brought to a satisfactory close.

But not for us; after much muttering and reluctance, we decided not to risk the trip into Newcastle. I'm very disappointed: I'm tired of cancelling things and not going out or seeing people, and this is one I always look forward to. Almost as bad as missing the Phantoms is the not knowing whether we've made the right decision: perhaps we could have gone (and made our way home again) without mishap, and we're just being feeble?

But no-one is ever told what would have happened. The snow is still thick - and in places, thick on an under-sheet of ice - on our street, which is a steep hill. [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler and some of the neighbours try to keep the roadway clear and gritted, at least on the bend, but they have emptied the salt bin, and the snow keeps coming. If we could get the car to the bottom of the hill (and we probably could; though whether we could get it up the hill again on our return is more uncertain) the major roads are likely to have been cleared, though the radio keeps reporting that the motorway is closed because yet another lorry has jack-knifed* across it.

Or we could try public transport: but the train service (which is at the best of times not wonderful for coming back from Newcastle in the evening - we'd have to come straight home after the stories) has been very disrupted, with delays and cancellations. And although our house is on a level with the station, getting there involves going down a hill and back up another one, and I don't do downhill on ice. And the road up to the station hasn't been cleared, it seems.

So I think we've made the right decision. I don't have to like it, though.

I'm just whining at missing out on a treat; I am aware that in the great scheme of things, we are not at all badly off. We have heating and lighting, running water and internet. We have milk and newspaper deliveries. (There was no post today, but perhaps no-one has written to us today. It can happen). We have, admittedly, rather more rubbish than we should have, as the refuse collection and recycling is the one service that hasn't managed to cope, but we don't generate much rubbish these days, so we can live with it. The greater risk is that we may be lost under an avalanche of empty bottles.

The best thing I can do, I think, is go to bed with a book about life in the Arctic.



*I was wondering whether anyone ever used the word jack-knife nowadays without referring to the misdeeds of articulated lorries; and then someone actually asked me what a jack-knife is**, which I think confirms that they don't.

**I didn't, but I was willing to guess; it seems obvious that it's a pen-knife, or some such knife whose blade folds into the handle. I've just looked it up, and Chambers confirms this: a jack-knife is a large clasp knife (oh, thanks, that's really helpful), and a clasp knife is a knife whose blade folds into the handle.
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So much for optimism: our intention, yesterday, was to go out to the coast, walk on the beach and then go to an afternoon party. I was looking forward to both elements of this, and it seemed reasonable - surely the weather would be milder at the coast, and we could leave home late enough (and return early enough) to benefit from any day-time thaw. And the sun was shining. What could possibly go wrong?

Which was of course the cue for a phone call from our hosts: It's blowing a blizzard here, it'll probably reach you soon... And it did. So the furthest I have gone this weekend is the compost bin.

According to the stats on my userinfo page, this is the thousdandth post in this journal. I'd hate such a landmark to be so negative, so, turning my thoughts to travel, and summer, and a sea-coast, let's have a photograph from Iceland:

The port, Seyisfjrur


This is the port at Seyðisfjörður in the Eastern Fjords, which is where the Norröna, the Faroese ferry, docks once a week - and clearly today was the day, because as we drove up the winding corniche, all breathtaking scenery and sheer drops to the sea, we met more oncoming traffic than we had yet seen anywhere on Route 1.

The Eastern Fjords are the Land of the Long White Cloud. We woke to sunshine and drove down to the coast and into the mist, and at first thought we were just unlucky. But as we followed the road along the side of each inlet, then up over the shoulder into sunlight and back down, we could actually see how each long narrow valley contained its own even narrower, perfectly fitted cloud.

Tiddly-pom!

Jan. 1st, 2010 04:07 pm
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Snowman


We were invited by the chatelaine of Brancepeth Castle to her annual New Year's Day coffee and bread and cheese and make a contribution to charity if you feel like it. And first thing this morning we weren't sure, but the sun was shining and we thought we'd risk it. We arrived without mishap. The guests were gathered in the great hall, clustered around the fires burning one at each end of the room (with a Christmas tree reaching up to towards the ceiling in the middle), and we admired each other's boots and travels and courage. After a couple of hours, [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler pointed out more snow was falling, and we beat a hasty retreat (with a little help to get the car moving, but once we had a grip on fresh snow we were fine).

Having been out of the house, however briefly, leaves me feeling much more positive about the year!
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New Year's Day saw better weather: sunny, breezy, and, with a high of -24 degrees Fahrenheit, almost balmy. After an excellent breakfast of fat venison steaks, the men spent some hours at yet another spirited game of football. The snow was hard and slippery, and again the play­ers fell often, roaring and laughing and threatening each other with revenge. After dinner - hare, venison, and reindeer tongue, with a currant pudding for dessert - the non-drinker Rae served brandy. On the whole, he wrote, "I do not believe that a more happy company could have been found in America, large as it is. 'Tis true that an agree­able companion to join me in a glass of punch, to drink a health to absent friends, to speak of by-gone times and speculate on the future, might have made the evening pass more pleasantly, yet 1 was far from unhappy. To hear the merry joke, the hearty laugh and lively song among my men, was itself a course of much pleasure."

Fatal Passage, Ken McGoogan


Meanwhile, here in Durham, another couple of inches of snow have fallen, but the council has replenished the salt box, and we feel quite intrepid about risking the seven-mile journey to Brancepeth Castle.
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On the Sunday of our weekend in London, we visited [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler's family in Essex; all the expected pleasant family things, plus a surprise bomus walk in the snowy afternoon, at Warley Place - a local nature reserve which is not exactly 'natural', but one of the many sites where a country house has fallen into ruin and been abandoned. In the case of Warley Place, the last resident owner neglected the house in favour of the garden, planting trees and constructing an 'Alpine ravine' which survive alongside the walled garden and the ground plan of the house (the conservatory at one end, the ceramic tiled stairs leading down to - or was it from? - the kitchen at the other).

The door to the woodsAlthough the literature (and the information boards) tells you that the best time to visit is in the spring, it was a magical place in the snow, particularly in the golden evening light (between three and four o' clock; this was the day before the solstice) and I took lots of photos. It's also, in Essex terms, quite high up, and we could see CAnary Wharf floating in the apricot glow of the sunset.

The next day, [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler and I were at Canary Wharf itself, on our way to the National Maritime Museum, whose exhibition about the North West Passage I had read about in the summer and resolved to visit at the next opportunity. It's a long time since I've been to Greenwich, and it was tempting to wander off and explore the park and the Observatory and the river - but the exhibition was in its last days, while Greenwich itself endures. But first, a distraction: we had barely arrived at the museum (I was in the ladies', in fact) when I heard an announcement that there was about to be a short talk about Jack Cornwell somewhere upstairs, so we dashed off to hear that. Then we tried out both of the museum's cafés (recommended: soup downstairs, coffee and viennoiseries upstairs) - and then we were ready for the exhibition.

Too much information about the Northwest Passage exhibition )

By the time we had had enough of the museum, the snow was falling again, gently, wetly, out of a dark sky among the floodlit buildings of old Greenwhich and the silver balls strung across the street for Christmas. We headed for the pub, and by the time it had stopped, it was time to go and meet [livejournal.com profile] helenraven for dinner.

At this point, please imagine a key change. Hereafter it's all spending time with friends, sociable chat and sociable meals (hey, it's Chritmas: as Thea Gilmore says, "Faith, hope and gluttony") and snow gradually thawing, with the occasional cold night turning all the meltwater into a sheet of ice, just to stop us growing complacent. Happy to do, but not interesting to read about.
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The snow began to fall, and to settle, ten days ago, and we went bravely out to see THea Gilmore and her band on their Wintertide tour: promoting her Strange Communion album. I can't find anything on the net that gives a flavour of the evening, but here's the official video for the single, That'll be Christmas, one of the more mainstream songs. Picture instead the band in semi-Dickensian, semi-Cloudish garb, high hats and frock coats, Thea herself in a skirt festooned up to the knee; no orchestration but drums, fiddle (wonderful fiddle), guitar and above all that voice, rich and haunting. A concert staged like a mummers' play, and a fine start to the season.

On Friday we even more bravely drove down to London for the Bears' Carol Evening - though in fact the jorney wasn't too bad, since the main roads were quite clear and we were on main roads all the way. The carol evening was good, as ever: a chance to catch up with friends I haven't seen since last year, a chance to start the Christmas season with mulled wine and mince pies, but above all a chance to sing carols. We sing the same carols every year, though we are now up to three versions of While Shepherds Watched - this year we sang the version most of us had learned in school, as well as Cranbrook (Durham University discovers what we already knew; the Durham Times report has a scap of video) and Sweet Bells. I was distracted this year by the realisation of how very odd Down in Yon Forest is.

On Saturday we had agreed to drive the Bears - weather permitting - to GirlBear's brother's wedding in Bury Saint Edmunds; and weather did permit, although once we were clear of London it was surprising how thickly the snow was lying on the fields to either side of the road. But the sun shone, and it was a pleasure to sit back and enjoy the scenery ([livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler, as driver, may feel differently about it, and certainly the return trip was heavier going). While the Bears were at the wedding we looked round Bury. It's an attractive old market town, and I'd probably have got more out of exploring it if I hadn't had hopes of finding some last minute Christmas gifts - and been almost entirely disappointed in those hopes. There was a splending market, and if I'd been looking for vegetables and cheese and bread I'd have been very happy, but there were very few of the quirky individual shops which are invaluable at this time of year. Never mind; have a picture:

Cathedral sunset


That's enough for one helping; there will be more...
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If we had had any sense, we'd have turned for home - maybe not from Hiersac, once we'd stocked up on wine, but certainly when we had slithered into Angoulême along a road on which snow was settling, despite it being a major road. We should have turned for home then and there, while we could. But we were here for the festival, dammit, we thought we'd go to the festival, and we thought that would give the gritters time to get out, and make the roads passable again.

And I wanted to hear Enki Bilal )

The snow had continued to fall while we were in the subterranean lecture hall, and there was no sign of any attempt to clear it, or to grit the roads. The positive side of this was that the parking permit displayed on our windscreen, on which the period we had paid for had run out well before our return, was invisible under several inches of snow.

Other than that, it was bad news. We inched home over ice, taking nearly three hours to cover a distance that usually took less than one. It didn't seem like an exceptional fall of snow - France is a continental country, after all, surely they are accustomed to extremes of weather? And the traffic wasn't heavy, we weren't stuck behind abandoned cars (one of the major hasards in Britain). We couldn't quite work out whether the lack of reaction to the snow was because it was trivial, mundane, nothing to get excited about, or whether the roads were left untreated because it was so exceptional that there were no snow ploughs. A bunch of kids in the village of Petit Giget not only lacked the sense to keep well clear of the cars careening through on the icy road, but were actually throwing snowballs at them - they surely would not have survived into their teens if this were a regular occurrence? It was only after we were safely home that [livejournal.com profile] durham_rambler told me about the downhill where he had realised that he had the wheels locked hard right, and the car was still going straight ahead.

The following morning, Sunday, we abandoned any thought of going back into town, and took ourselves instead for a walk up the lane, across the fields to the neighbouring village of Bonnes. The snow was thick, soft and dry, a pleasure to walk through, not at all slippery. In the village, the café was open, and served us coffee, but apologised that the kitchen was closed: all their bookings for Sunday lunch had cancelled. It seemed disproportionate, a different world to the previous night's journey.

Another day on, and the snow was vanishing fast. On Monday we walked into Aubeterre along the Dronne, pursued by a pair of swans. We left the house in mist almost resolving into rain, but it cleared gradually, and by the time we climbed up the hill on which Aubeterre is perched, it was an effort in the warm sun. We walked home removing our jumpers, glad of a cool breeze, pausing to say bonjour to the man pruning his vines.

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