Sunday, 5 February 2012

Winter chills.....

I like Saturday mornings. There is a rhythm and routine that I enjoy; the clunk of the letterbox as the morning newspapers arrive; tea and toast in bed; radio 2 on in the background. We linger, greedily scouring the various parts of the papers and reading out bits to each other, adding comments where appropriate. I always enjoy this start to the weekend.

This week was different however, my good lady is away visiting her Mum and I am alone. I busied myself with chores around the house, finally settling down with a late breakfast and a chance to read the newspapers. I was quite taken by a story about Richard Handl who was arrested for trying to split the atom on his cooker at home - I'm not making this up - apparently everything you need is readily available on ebay or in smoke detectors or antique luminous dial clocks. So this guy collected the various elements, mixed them up in a saucepan on his stove with sulphuric acid and beryllium - the neutrons that were emanating from this concoction were then gathered somehow into a test tube to be fired at a chunk of uranium sealed in a glass marble - He sent an email to the authorities just as a courtesy thing really, letting them know what he was up to and to make sure he wasn't breaking any laws. He was taken away in handcuffs. Apparently he's now studying to become a pharmacist. Great story!

It's been cold here. Freezing in fact. I just couldn't drum up the enthusiasm to venture out on the bike - which is the wrong attitude, especially with the idea of grinding up Mont Ventoux now a reality rather than a fantasy. So after a few drinks in the pub on Friday, Gary and I arranged to meet on Saturday afternoon and put a few miles into our legs.

There was the grey-rose light of a cold winters afternoon as we made our way through the lanes. We were both well wrapped - layers of vests, t-shirts, shirts, coats and fleeces - all very effective. I had expected to suffer, with the temperatures hovering at freezing point or just below. Gary had a particularly energetic burst of speed as we rode up the hill into Carlton village - he commented that his legs were still carrying some memory of the Land's End to John O'Groats ride - mine were suffering from Alzheimers.

Then it started to snow. We were expecting it - the forecast had been clear and precise - snow, and lots of it - today. Snow is one of the loveliest of all natural events. Lovelier than frost or winter moonlight and in England it comes seldom enough to be a rare joy - and, I think, never lingers long enough to be truly wearisome. It falls and performs its brief white miracle of transformation and vanishes again before the senses have grown used to the amazing whiteness. The beauty of the sky opening above the snow-lined trees and the eerie stillness of the quiet land. I am not talking about snow in towns or cities - this is not the most lovely winter phenomenon but probably the most depressing and hated - I am talking about snow which falls in the country, opening out in wonderful ways its distances, creating a feeling of great light and tranquil spaciousness. There is no stillness in the world like that of the world under snow. The stillness in summer is made up of an effect of sounds, many drowsy sounds like the warm monotonous moan of pigeons and the dreamy fluttering of thick leaves - sounds which send the air half to sleep and create a singing silence which is most tangible in the heart of warm summer afternoons. But the silence of snow is absolute - it’s the silence of death and suspense. It has a paralysing effect, deadening the wind, freezing the voices of birds. It is a silence that is completely tranquil and profound and most wonderful when the snow has finally ceased. And then sometimes, the fall of snow on snow, through the silence of snow, is the perfection of beauty, a paradox of silence and fluttering and dancing movement. These thoughts made my journey home more rewarding. I wasn't worried that by now I was thoroughly coated in a white, frosty layer or that my hands, legs and feet were feeling the chill - I was happy to be out there, in it and part of it.

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