FROM the days of walking to primary school I hated the snow, but it never prevented me from doing anything.
Back then we would mark out a football pitch, cutting lines into the white covering, and have a kick-around. Schools still opened, people tottered along the ice to the shops, sports would take place and the older ones talked of walking miles into work.
My brother and I would be sent off to school, a journey which involved attempting to avoid a barrage of ferociously hurled snow(ice)balls, the ones hitting their target bouncing off increasingly reddening ears. There was always someone who would stuff a load down the back of your jumper too.
One day in my eagerness to leave the playground I sprinted out of the school gates onto the cobbles of the street outside, losing my footing at enough of a pace to fly through the air before striking the ground head first. A teacher came out to pick me up, but instead of offering sympathy laid into me for being stupid enough to leg it at full tilt down an icy slope. Fair enough, I suppose.
The Monday after my nan died in December 1981 the snow was above knee high (a bit lower for my brother who despite being two years younger was already taller) and we trudged over to our secondary school, only to be told to wait in a freezing hall until eventually it was decided we may as well go home as no-one else much had turned up.
I remember feeling the bite of the cold, which I swallowed along with the tears caused by the pain of losing a third grandparent in three years. The hills surrounding the vast Aire Valley were completely white and had rarely looked so beautiful, but to me that day they felt inhospitable, hostile even. Sometimes, when I go back, they still do, but then everything that is beautiful about nature has its nasty side.
The first joy snow brought me I have mentioned before as being when our headmaster fell on the ice of the River Neva in then Leningrad, cracking his fake Russian hatted fat bonce on the frozen water and rolling perilously close (but not close enough) to a hole dug out by a brave local (nutter) who had ventured out for a January dip.
The sun was out that day but, if memory serves right, it was still minus ten. It’s a long train ride away from St Petersburg, but how do they cope in the badlands of Siberia with temperatures around -35 this time of year? The make-up of people in these places must be a world away from that of us soft Brits, for whom the inconvenience of a couple of inches of snow/ice these days brings our lives to a halt.
I thought of all these moments as I walked down the hill to work through the snow of December 29, the 17th anniversary of my father’s death and remembered watching him play football in such conditions, orange ball and all. It was what happened back then. Things went ahead, remained open, people didn’t give in. The “stay safe” mantra wasn’t applied to everything you did.
Maybe the comforts weren’t the same and we had less reason or excuse to simply look out of the window and decide we weren’t going out. Maybe Covid, home working and long-term furlough will make that change even more extreme as people become used to not leaving home or interacting.
Modern day avoidance of risk — prevalent in all walks of society — surely means we miss out on a hell of a lot of memories. But maybe now people don’t accept a touch of adversity or chance makes the good even better.