Sunday, February 3, 2013

(S)now you see them, (s)now you don't

Rhiwderin and the scene that greeted us from our bedroom window
What is it about fresh snowfall that persuades otherwise sedentary souls to brave the great outdoors and take to the streets in their boots and bobble hats?

The recent snow hit Rhiwderin overnight and we looked out on Friday morning to see our little village transformed into a winter wonderland of white rooftops and eerie quiet.  

‘Twas well into rush hour, but the scene was bizarre, not a vehicle was stirring, not even a car.

People walking alongside the River Ebbw
Despite the Tory rhetoric, there are some definite advantages to not being involved in gainful employment; one of them is removing the need to risk life and limb to reach an empty office ten miles away and spend the day emailing people who have made equally hair-raising journeys to their own place of work. Little actual work gets done, people arrive late and leave early, hoping to avoid a gruelling drive home in life-threatening conditions (but when your line manager refuses to embrace home-working, what alternative is there?).

In the UK – and despite considerable technological advances – a few centimetres of snow is still capable of changing everyday life beyond recognition. Roads close or become hazardous, supermarket shoppers act like it’s Christmas and most schools close, on health and safety grounds, at the first snowflake. And back to panic buying, why it is always milk and bread? Why not pasta and ready curries? That’s what most of us eat.

Me impersonating Marge in Fargo
However, the most noticeable change in snowy weather is the way it brings people out of their houses, gets families walking to the shops together, encourages teenagers out of bed, boosts the sense of community that modern life frequently lacks.

As per the norm when snow strikes, our car wasn’t going anywhere so Harri had to resign himself to a few days off work without pay (a new council policy).

All was not lost, however, as I persuaded him to venture outdoors for our first ‘non-professional’ walk of 2013. We’d barely left the house when we were talking to some young men pulling a sledge.

Bassaleg Road where, for once, people outnumber cars
Bassaleg Road wasn’t looking itself at all. Where was the constant stream of traffic, the convoy of articulated lorries taking a short-cut to and from the M4, the buses? 

We pushed ahead, amazed by the number of people everywhere. Laurel Drive – usually a pedestrian-free zone – had transformed itself into a busy thoroughfare as families trekked to the local store for those extra supplies of bread and milk. Fathers pulled sleighs loaded with their offspring, elderly people shuffled along, supported by relatives.  

It was the same in the side streets. Kids jostling for their turn on the toboggan, parents were shovelling snow off drives, snowmen being built, noisy snowball fights going on...

Everywhere I looked, people were walking and talking to one another.

Has Laurel Drive ever been this busy?
For a moment, I thought I’d been transported back to the 1970s, to a time when the entangled lives and concern for their neighbours portrayed by Coronation Street characters accurately reflected real life for those of us living in terraced housing.

All this good-natured camaraderie, this overt show of public spirit, it couldn’t last, could it? Sadly, not.

Within days, we’d all had enough. Heavy traffic once again dominated main roads, the lorry convoys were back and the human population retreated en masse to the security and privacy of our castles.

Roll on the next bout of snow… 

Junction 28's lovely old sign looks better still in the snow

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