Advent 10: East Oxford Snow Day

IMG_6531Obligatory festive stomp to South Park. Remaining undergraduates have bought up Tesco’s baking trays for sledges; small dogs in dog-Barbours circle. One northern slope has been designated best for sledging; a husky howls and then barrels off into the flurry.

Subsequent festive stomp round the St Mary & St John Churchyard: lucky wife gets to join me on never-ending quest to locate grave of grocer’s wife who murdered entire family in 1909. Enormous teenage snowball fight develops on western side of graveyard.

IMG_6538Make chilly progress down Manzil Way. Pass the East Oxford Health Centre, surely the only health centre in Britain with its own kebab shop on the ground floor. Behind the mosque, the Asian Cultural Centre is running a Christmas Mina Bazaar which, although much incommoded by snow, includes many small Asian children in Christmas jumpers, colouring in pictures of festive trees and snowmen. For £1.50, eat enormous bowl of chana chaat; try to answer organisers’ question ‘Is it spicy enough?’ without tears. Promise to come back for the Women’s Festival in March. Downstairs, see the burned-out oven from Mrs Smith’s Oxford Community Soup Kitchen; the oven exploded some weeks ago after twenty-five years of service – for a video about Icolyn Smith’s soup kitchen, watch the video below.

Back on Cowley Road, one of the unclassifiable quasi-hardware stores is selling plastic sledges for £12 each. A slowly-cruising, very ancient car boasts a snowman on the actual bonnet. A boy in football-strip pyjamas has been locked out of his shared house, to the great joy of onlookers and indeed his housemates. A snow-plough gritting van zooms down the road towards Cowley centre, plough well above the ground and no grit spraying.

IMG_6539When we return to the front of the flats, a group of boys is building a snowman on a sledge, complete with hat and wine bottle. They are ecstatic to be noticed. The snowman’s name is Inigo, after a friend who is apparently ‘a bit of a wino’ and ‘has been to Siberia’. When I ask if they’re students (they are implausibly pink-cheeked and wholesome), they say ‘Yes’ and ‘Well, sort of’, then confess to being sixth-formers at a local school (the snowman’s name should indicate which). They pose with alacrity for photographs and would probably do so for hours.

Tomorrow it’s library times to read about severed heads and painted faces (oh yeah), but until then, enjoy a much more serene version of snow-based fun with this gorgeous song from the best Christmas film not to feature Muppets, White Christmas (1954): ‘Snow!’.

Advent Calendar Day 22: Snow!

English: Dry stone walls in the snow - on the ...
Dry stone walls in the snow – on the edge of Erringden Moor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Snow and Snow

 

by Ted Hughes
Snow is sometimes a she, a soft one.
Her kiss on your cheek, her finger on your sleeve
In early December, on a warm evening,
And you turn to meet her, saying “It”s snowing!”
But it is not. And nobody”s there.
Empty and calm is the air.

 

Sometimes the snow is a he, a sly one.
Weakly he signs the dry stone with a damp spot.
Waifish he floats and touches the pond and is not.
Treacherous-beggarly he falters, and taps at the window.
A little longer he clings to the grass-blade tip
Getting his grip.

 

Then how she leans, how furry foxwrap she nestles
The sky with her warm, and the earth with her softness.
How her lit crowding fairylands sink through the space-silence
To build her palace, till it twinkles in starlight—
Too frail for a foot
Or a crumb of soot.

 

Then how his muffled armies move in all night
And we wake and every road is blockaded
Every hill taken and every farm occupied
And the white glare of his tents is on the ceiling.
And all that dull blue day and on into the gloaming
We have to watch more coming.

 

Then everything in the rubbish-heaped world
Is a bridesmaid at her miracle.
Dunghills and crumbly dark old barns are bowed in the chapel of her sparkle.
The gruesome boggy cellars of the wood
Are a wedding of lace
Now taking place.

 

[Because my flat is the tiniest flat, most of my books – especially childhood books – are at home in Stratford-upon-Avon. This Hughes poem has been one of my favourites since I was little; it was in The Puffin Book of Christmas Poems (1990). I had quite a few children’s poetry anthologies; this was by far the best. It’s with me as I type. It may be out of print now but ebay certainly has copies…]

 

England in ‘cannot cope with snow’ shock II

Oxford is an enormous snowy deathtrap. I got three steps out of the house in wellingtons this morning, went back and changed into my hiking boots. At ten a.m., bizarrely, Oxford City Council had gritted ONE SIDE of the Cowley Road, but NOT Oxford High Street. It took me ten minutes to walk about a hundred yards. I was woken up by our Porter’s car spectacularly failing to start.

I & I suspect most of the British students my age have never seen snow like this in their own country. Everyone is racing about like tiny Victorian slum children taken to see the sea, while the Scandinavian, German & American students look on, bemused. They are quite used to what is, after all, less than a foot of snow, and don’t understand why we’re all so incredibly excited. Snowmen have been built in all three quads of my college (third quad has a snow-woman in a blue bikini!) and in front of the Rad Cam. Brasenose and Exeter are having an enormous snowball fight between Brasenose Lane and the Exeter Fellows’ Garden, and I can’t believe that sheet of pure white parchment kissing the ground of All Souls’ Quad is going to stay untouched by the end of the day. I, personally, am longing to risk rustication by dancing on it. Everybody, when they’re facing the huge swirling Gothicness of St Mary’s, the Meadows or the Botanical Gardens (the last has decided to bring out its heart-breaking beauty and turn into something from a Twelfth Night film set), feels happy. Oxford wears snow very well, and the city will only be this pretty again in Trinity, when the sky blazes and the stir-crazy feeling is even worse if you have to work (after all, snow has the downside of wet feet and raw hands; drowsing in a punt is one of the few human pleasures not to need a health warning). But then, you turn six inches away from the dreaming spires, look at the filthy black ooze pouring down the High Street, or see someone fall over, or fall over yourself, and you do – I’ll admit it – wonder exactly why we just can’t cope with snow.

No snow day for me; I’m in the Upper Cam, its chilly beauty unchanged by a bit of extra whiteness at the windows. It is, of course, bloody freezing, but at least the lights aren’t out. I wish everyone at Oxford at least one day like this during their degree-time; in the town proper, it looks a bit like nuclear fallout painted in brown and blinding-white, but around the university buildings, it feels like a strange second Christmas, cold and new.

Why my college can’t go and invade those swine at Corpus is beyond me. It’s what we do! Isn’t there a jolly frosty man/woman for us to behead? Isn’t there ice to be shoved down a Corpusian neck? When did my college get mature? My second year JCR President ordered everyone into Oriel Square for a snowfight, once. Mutter mutter, grumble moan wheeze..

England in ‘cannot cope with snow’ shock.

4.5 members of our seminar group (Sam, Michael, Lisa, Lisa’s-boyfriend-who-has-a-reader’s-card and myself) are in the Bodleian. Through the windows, we can see snow falling on the Rad Cam, the New Bodleian, and the colleges beyond Broad Street.

The power has gone out.

And, this morning, the age-old editor’s dilemma: do I send my reviewer to London in semi-blizzard conditions, knowing that the buses are delayed and there are at least fourteen closures/disruptions on the Underground?

Yes. Yes I do. (‘Look, you’re only doing Notting Hill to Sloane Square, and there are plenty of people you can stay with…’).

If she dies in a snowbank, I’m going to feel terrible (1,000 words!).

Oxfordshire Snow Linkspam

  • As ever, the meterological freakery that is Oxford gets BBC attention!
  • Carfax webcam; the dome in the top left corner is one we can see from our window.
  • Keble mathmo posts this beautiful picture of Pusey Quad. I haven’t been over to my college yet today (I’m in this evening), will try and get some photos.

Back to reading A Doll’s House (1879) (the only play I ever saw that made me worried I’d stand up and shout at the stage. I remember digging my nails into the armrests).