So, last week the UK engaged battle with 'the Beast from the East' and the obligatory headlines about people stranded on motorways, flight cancellations and school closures filled up the newspapers. It would be easy to dismiss the British public as being a nation of 'weather whingers', but to do so would be to ignore the subtext. Rather like Hamlet's mother, I think we do 'protest too much' - a trait which belies a great joy in chaos and disruption because it gives us an excuse to escape the daily grind.
A change is as good as a rest is certainly an adage I have found myself agreeing with many a time, and it is certainly something which explains the secret joy of the snow day. I know a lot of people who secretly pray for the snow to start falling overnight, pray for the road ways and pavements to be dry and cold enough for it to settle, and pray to wake to a healthy covering of at least 3 inches. This isn't because they are lazy bastards who shy away from an honest day's work. It isn't because they want to get paid for a day sitting at home watching Homes Under the Hammer, either. So, exactly who are these people who whisper their prayers to the gods and godesses of winter?
In Fleet the roads were already treacherous by Wednesday evening. My car skidded and slid as I tentatively made my way down Beacon Hill in 3rd and 2nd gear. By Thursday morning, there was a glorious 6 inches of soft, powdery snow covering the garden and weighing down the daffodils. Great, I thought. Fantastic. Obviously, I was anxious of being forced to make a journey in it, until I heard that my workplace had decided to close. That news brought a new wave of excitement, because I wouldn't have to do my normal 3pm-9pm shift: a 'snow day'!
When my husband returned from work a little earlier than usual, I was itching to get out into the snow and to indulge in the unexpected time off I'd been given, so we wrapped up in our waterproofs, scarves, gloves and hats and left for a walk to the pub; something we can't normally do on a Thursday evening because I'm at work by the time he arrives home.
And what did we see out in the snow-covered streets and parks? Did we see a bunch of skyving good for nothings? No. We saw families, we saw children, we saw friends meeting up and couples walking hand in hand: it was busier outside than it would have been on a normal day! The parks were full and the pubs were filled to the brim with chatter and laughter by 3pm, as people, just like us, chose to celebrate their unexpected day off with an impromtu walk, bite to eat and a drink...or two. These were people enjoying the break in their usual routines to spend time together and to enjoy the unique challenges such weather brings. These are people who chose to walk because they couldn't drive and, in doing so, did something a little bit different to what they normally do.
The wonder of a snow day is that it puts you in a different mindframe. For example, we were due to drive to Birmingham on the Friday: I had a course to attend, so my husband and I decided to make it into a romantic weekend. Cat sitters had been arranged, the course and air B&B paid for, a football game booked and night at the theatre arranged and paid for. But the snow threated to render us £300 down if we couldn't get there. I was already £50 down from my missed shift. Much to the consternation of my mother, who was afraid we might die (sic), we decided to go ahead with the weekend we'd planned. The only time we had to deploy the shovel was to get into the drive of our air B&B.
Once snowed in in Brum, a magical thing happened: the worst of times became the best of times. Unable to drive, we walked an hour to the Indian restaurant my husband had researched and booked weeks before; on the way we helped push 8 cars up hills, assisted by locals. We arrived at the restaurant covered in snow, but utterly exhilarated. It was one of the best nights out we'd ever had! We crunched the hour home up the middle of empty, peaceful, white, deserted roads.
The next day, due to train cancellations and dangerous roads, the course I'd signed up to only had half its delegates. Did it ruin the day? Not at all - not only did we have 12 people's share of chocolate cookies and flapjacks to amongst 6 of us, we also had the opportunity to relax more and network with one another; we probably covered more than we would have on a normal day.
The disruption didn't end there: the restaurant we ate at that evening had lost the power to its heating and the ceiling had started to peel off- did it ruin the meal? No, we giggled the whole way through because we'd never eaten a burger indoors whilst wearing full winter gear! The snow-in made the trip to Brum. I don't think it would have been half the fun if the weather had been different. The unsual conditions made way for the need for problem solving; it made us do things differently; it made us see things differently.
Perhaps, partly, I'm describing that 'Blitz spirit' of which the British are so proud; however, I'm also drawing on the excitement I remember as a young girl in the 80s when we used to get a lot of power cuts and the opportunity that brought to go 'off piste' with the usual routine. It was pretty much always a disappointment when the power came back on. The day-to-day tyranny of working life, of making the mortgage payments, and cooking the dinner, can feel so rigid and intractable that it's too easy to forget that it is something we have a CHOICE about. These disruptions the snow days bring is a reminder of other options open to us. They bring out the innovative, adventurous inner child in us all who remembers another life before adulthood got in the way.
Start to bring disruption into your own tired rountine in small steps: turn the TV off for a night, play a board game you haven't played since you were young, change your hairstyle, have breakfast in bed, turn off the lights and have dinner by candlelight, walk somewhere you normally drive. Invite change into your life and embrace disruption to the usual status quo. Indulge that inner child for whom life was always an adventure.