Wednesday, January 26, 2011

This is something that’s been batting around in my head for the past few days, probably because of the snow we’ve been getting here. It’s not what I’d consider a life changing event, or something that I always remember, but it does pop back into memory now and then, and I have no trouble remembering it clearly when it does.

I’m not sure how long ago I’m remembering this from, I was about seven or eight, I’d guess. Old enough to walk home from school on my own, or at least old enough back then when no-one was concerned about vans full of paedophiles cruising the streets.

Between the street I grew up on and the street behind us, there was a narrow alley; this seems to be a standard thing between terraced streets that back onto each other; at least I’ve never seen any in England that don’t. Even houses around here in the US seem to have something similar, though UK alleys (or ‘backs’, as they were known round our way) seem to involve more brick walls and privet hedges, and less chain link fences. And more dogshit, as I recall, though dogshit in general seems to be in decline in the wild.


Anyhow, I digress. This back ‘lane’ was pretty much the standard walk home. At this point in time, people in Yorkshire were still pretty lairy of using their front doors. These portals were reserved for any members of royalty that might visit, and everyone else came in through the back door. I’ve no idea why this was, or why people only opened them for births, weddings and funerals, but I know our own front door, until it was replaced with one of those uPVC monstrosities so popular in the 1980s, would have been a challenge to open, the dust in the locks and frame probably welded it shut.


So, I was walking up the back lane, heading home. It was dark, and it was snowing quite heavily, heavier flakes than I’ve seen since, even the godawful weather they get here in Missouri. It was that calm kind of snow, though, the kind where there’s absolutely no wind behind it whatsoever. The kind of snow where it’s actually pleasant to be out in, where it’s only just started to fall so you’re not wading through it up to your shins, and it’s not actually cold enough to be a pain in the arse.


I say there was no wind, but that was the odd thing; the snow wasn’t falling straight down. I don’t know if it was some weird eddy or current in the air down that alley, but the snow was coming along it in a gentle swirling corkscrew movement. It was like walking down a tunnel of swirling flakes, each one clearly visible from the ambient streetlight behind the houses. Even more oddly, hardly any of it was hitting me, as if I was in the eye of some extraordinarily docile hurricane. This whole scene lasted the two or three hundred yards I walked to our back gate, and I remember being as awestruck as it’s possible to get when you’re that age. In fact, I suspect it’s the first time any sort of natural phenomenon had impressed me to that degree.


And then I more or less forgot about for thirty years, until it was time to find something to put in a blog entry.


I’ve lived in a variety of places since then, and I’ve been out walking in the snow many times since (usually not by choice), but even in the same alley, in the same conditions, I’ve never seen snow behave like that again. As memories go, I know it’s not terribly spectacular, and the BBC could probably recreate the scene on a budget of ten quid, but it clearly made something of an impression on single-digit-years me. And I still think of it fondly now and then today. It was probably one of the few moment of actual, literal stillness in my life I can recall, a time and place where everything else was still bustling about gently, but where I was, absolutely nothing was happening.


Or this could just be the point where I’m crossing the line into pretentiousness, so I think we’ll call it a day.


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