Monday, 2 February 2009

More Snow Chaos

This time the snow was a bit more serious: last night we had what was officially the most snow in South East England for 18 years, and even here in the extreme South things slid to a halt. I actually walked to work -- something I always mean to do, but the time is so tight getting kids up and out of the door to school that I rarely do.

These guys finally have a reason to look so pissed off

The problem with England is that severe weather is infrequent enough that the local government and transport authorities don't feel it is worth the investment to prepare for a once in 18 year event. Consequently, no-one can ever find the spade or remember where they stashed that bag of grit. It's always chaos. But that's part of the fun: just a few inches of snow overnight and all the schools have to close because the teachers can't get across town.

Walking to work was entertaining. An unbelievable number of people were attempting to drive to work. I watched in disbelief as a car came at moderate speed round the corner that turns onto the steep descent into our valley, braked hard, lost control, and carouselled down the hill, fetching up with a crunch against the kerb halfway down. In such circumstances I always hear the withering scorn of my father, who had driven temperamental army trucks and motorbikes through mud, sand, snow and occasional shellfire.

I walked across The Common, the great green wedge that extends trees and open scrub and grass right into the centre of town. As always, the fresh snow was very pretty. And, as always, I spent far too much time photographing it. Even though I know it's pointless, I can't help it. It's like the first few days on holiday: you spend your time re-inventing every cliché anyone ever made about the place -- it's fun to do, but so dull to review later on. Did I really take that?

After all, what am I going to do with them? Precisely because the weather is so unusual these days, they never fit in anywhere -- and they're rarely even distinctive enough to serve as Christmas cards. I simply don't see enough snow to get past the obvious. They might as well be palm tree silhouettes on a Caribbean beach, for any contribution they might make to any of my ongoing photographic projects.

I found the only way to use the snow was to revisit the familiar places, and not be sidetracked by novelties. This familiar view, for example, grounded me back in reality, and I finally stopped photographing the snow, and started photographing the place. There's a big difference.

The best thing, though, was watching the shrieking delight of our substantial population of overseas students from countries where snow never falls, transformed into eight-year olds by the magic white stuff. And I don't think they were bothered by thoughts of "What will I do with this picture?" as they posed for each other's cameras in front of snow covered trees.

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