The White Stuff

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Doghouse Graphic by Amy the Ant

Waking up to scenery that can surely only excite very young children, hopeless romantics and PR people organising a festive 'Winter Wonderland Extravaganza', I am faced with choices, neither of which cause the spirits to soar.

Do I attempt an impossibly unpleasant journey into work, made even more unbearable by the unnatural bonhomie that will doubtlessly accompany it, as a Churchillian spirit of Dunkirk pervades the usually comforting anti social British commuter mentality, or do I just struggle to the local shop to replenish cigarette supplies and milk?

The latter will undoubtedly ruin a decent pair of boots but does have some reward; the former merely ruins the boots and will do little to improve my humour.

The arrival of snow fails to amuse.

The only thing that affords me a smile as I look at my Maldivian island wallpaper on the laptop is the thought that some people are attempting to get through the snow to a working airport, having paid a not inconsiderable sum for the privilege of going to play in more of the same, with a mountain backdrop.

I confess I am not attracted to sports that necessitate the putting on of clothes, nor does the idea of careering down a snow-covered mountain with planks of wood on my feet appeal. I hate queues, and snow apparel is not a good look for the vertically challenged, no matter how thin. Even the diminutive Kylie manages to resemble a Michelin X family member, albeit a pocket-sized distant cousin, when attired in a designer puffer jacket and Ugg boots.

The cynics out there are now saying 'Don't knock it till you've tried it!' I assure you broken-legged adrenalin junkies, tried it, I have. Three winters in Norway (where you have to ski to the shop for the milk and ciggies and they don't even bother with bonhomie), have convinced me that if I never see white stuff again, it will not be too soon.

I remember one Christmas spent on the slopes. An idyllic mountain cabin, well three actually, with a shared somewhat larger communal lodge complete with bar and log fire, four families sharing the white experience; and me, fourteen, short, mousey and hardly svelte, with a huge crush on a friend's older brother. Struggling into my black and white puffer look, (it was the sixties and Quant ruled supreme) you can imagine my mortification when I discovered that a) I didn't look like Twiggy and b) the first spot of puberty had decided to erupt!

Crossing from our cabin to the main lodge, I fought for oxygen as the hairs in my nostrils froze and stalactites formed on the drizzle of a receding cold.

The final nail in my romantic coffin was the arrival of 'Janey': tall and dark, and of model proportions. To make matters worse, the outfit she wore was pale blue without an insulating roll in sight.

Needless to say the object of my affections barely cast an acned glance in my direction as he chased down the slopes after the svelte black swan (OK, pale blue but to me she was Odile) while I crossed my planks of wood on the nursery slopes, attempting to snow plough with all the sophistication of Robert Maxwell trying to get back into an inflatable.

The evenings were worse. Not for me the cool glass of gin and tonic that 'Janey' swirled glamorously in her slim, blood-red nailed fingers, no, my reward was alcohol-free Egg Nogg, a drink dreamed up by sadists; its sole purpose to add fuel to teenage pustules.

No, winter sports are not for me, amend: snow and cold are not for me. As I look into the garden and see shrubs and trees no longer elegantly draped, as a minor thaw causes the snow to clump in unattractive blobs on miserable branches, ensuring the fauna now resembles evil statues from a Stephen King novel, as I look at the cat despairing of ever eating again... he knows I will not play the hero for anyone, even if Tesco is within walking distance, as I contemplate throwing myself under the Gatwick Express… foolish idea it won't be running fast enough to do any serious damage, I consider the deceit of literature.

No matter how many furs she had on Lara must have hated that Landau, and Dickens has a lot to answer for.

A very Southern Nanouk explores

Half an hour of back-breaking shovelling, cutting a channel wide enough to get the Ugg boots down, and clearing the 18 inches of snow off the cars, the neighbour comes back in for a cup of tea.

Work, realising that I have enough to do at home to justify my paltry pay check, has suspended email bombardment, but I know I have to get out there and suffer; well the cat has to eat (I can pretend to be that Oates character who wandered away from Scott) and rosemary and basil roll-ups don't have quite the same kick as a Silk Cut.

Apologies to anti smokers, reformed smokers, non smokers and anyone else who feels like judging my lifestyle. From my view of the glass house I certainly wouldn't throw stones.

Determined to share this adventure, I decide the car will be my happy travelling companion. Never having experienced snow before, I am confident she will be supportive and embrace the exercise with enthusiasm. Wrong! Car is worse than a reluctant teenager facing SATS, refusing point blank to start, and when eventually cajoled into to life, does so with as much huffing and puffing as a seasoned emphysema sufferer. Her tyres have no handle on anything, except perhaps our combined fear, sending us in every direction bar the one we are intent on (do you think I could send her back under the Trade Descriptions Act? Aren't cars supposed to work in all weathers?)

Eventually we make the high street and park. Not on a yellow line. Actually almost certainly on a double, but as nothing bar the black gunge known as sludge is visible on the road, I think I would have a pretty good case in court even if there was a traffic warden vindictive enough to be out in it.

The wind is icy. Teenagers are out on the pavement throwing snowballs, turning the high street into a war zone, and little children with frozen smiles grin through gritted teeth, their pushchairs offering little protection from the noxious blast.

First stop: the dry cleaners. My bargain white winter coat has proved to be not quite the anticipated buy of the year, as the dry cleaning bills have now overtaken the sale price tag, and once again it more closely resembles the colour of sludge than snow.

Dry cleaners is closed.

Not daft that man.

Next stop: supermarket, open of course, nothing could deter the profits of stock exchange-quoted commerce. Cat food – yes, milk – yes, two packets of triple chocolate finest cookies, definitely yes.

Having once been the proud owner of a shop in the village and therefore known to a few of the locals, a shopping trip to the supermarket is not without hazards, most involving some kind of social intercourse.

Kate, the artist, bags me at the cigarette counter.

'Isn't it mesmerisingly beautiful?' she breathes.

Unconvinced that 'mesmerisingly' is a word found in the Oxford English dictionary but nevertheless impressed by her literary creativity, and unsure as to whether she is referring to the layout of the cigarettes or the placement of the lottery machine, I remain smilingly silent.

'It's such a shame that the wind is so strong' she continues 'you can't just stand and appreciate the beauty.'

Stand and appreciate the beauty?

So far on this unwanted trip, I have managed to avoid death by snowball, had my eyes almost forced from their sockets by a frozen blast of icicle shards and discovered that the dry cleaner is of a vastly superior intellect to me, and she wants me to stand and appreciate the beauty?

Why, because it's white do we find it so attractive?

In the desert, when the wind whips up a storm do they say…

'Oh let's make some sand balls and throw them at each other!'

Would we find it amusing if a friend turned on the hose in sub zero temperatures and cried...

'Got you! Got you!'

The media tells us that people love the snow and it is bringing communities together (back to that Churchillian spirit).

Somewhere in Siberia...

'Buon Journo Vladimir, Great snow this morning n'est pas?' says Boris as he thumps him on the back and continues his jolly walk through the Gulag.

Hmm methinks not; novelty possibly. Perhaps I am 'Bah Humbug', but for now I shall enjoy the decadence of the triple chocolate chip cookies and attempt to hibernate until spring.

Falling snowflakes.

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