Winter weekend

Winter weekend

Friends come to stay. We set out to walk along the river. Footsteps matching. Talking. Grey skies ease to blue by early afternoon. Snatches of sun. Chill wind. 

The river is busy. Eights of rowers slide past, sleek white craft, oars dipping, rising, spooning the water in unison. Let’s hear it for the girls. Can’t help but hear the girls! Coxes shriek instructions. Crews respond. Nervous birds take flight. Ducks tread water near the edge, unbothered. Seen it all before. The river is high from rainy days upstream. Brown, glossy, swift. The towpath busy with walkers, runners, bike riders, young and old, footballers with muddied knees, toddlers with runny noses, dogs sniffing the verge and one another. We are deep in conversations that entwine or diverge, intense as we share stories then quiet as we drift somewhere private. 

The first day of February. Not yet spring. Not yet winter. Strange season of damp and grey. Brief interludes of bright and sharp. I love the sunny days when the ground is hard, the light clear, the sky so evenly-hued you’d think someone had sprayed paint on it, the air swirling white on people’s breaths as they walk past, hands thrust far into pockets, chins buried deep in scarves. Winter days like that make me feel normality has returned. 

I contemplate my notion of normality. The average of my span of years.  Many winters were not like this.  I lived further north through Edinburgh winters. The pond over the wall froze over every year. Grown-ups got their skates out. We children slid around in sturdy boots with zips up the front or wellies padded out with woollen socks. It always snowed. My father lifted the sledge off the nail where it hung above his old motorbike in the garden shed. Rubbed the blades clean and smooth. Clambered over the wall to join the other children on the far side of the pond. Racing down the hill. Woollen hats pulled over ears. Mittens damp, caked with pimples of snow. Holding on in joy and terror, the sledge sweeping down to land on the solid edge of the pond. Muffled voices in chill air. Scraping of blade on ice. Gazing at the smooth arcs my parents carved as they drifted hand-in-hand around a glassy ground of crystal white. 

The Glasgow winters were less cold. But still wrapped in woollies and boots. The Aberdeen ones were bitter. Hands turning white inside sheepskin mittens. Wind peeling off the North Sea to chafe the skin. I feel the cold more now but yearn for it too. Do mothers tell their children about Jack Frost these days? Or only mothers much further north? Everybody loves the clear bright days when the world looks clean. And hopeful. The hopefulness has an edge now. Desperate edge. Helps bolster an imagined time when seasons will be real again and the chaos will recede beneath a long, hard frost. 

We stop for eggs and coffee. Return home past Hampton Court. Daffodils already tall, buds ready to burst. So soon. Bushy Park. Hoof prints on the grassy path. Regiment of gulls by the pond neatly filed facing the same way. Bare, beautiful trees arranged against the sky. Mistletoe clinging to high branches. None of us knows if the mistletoe or the tree come off best. Our friend captures images to share and reminisce. 

They leave in the morning. We wave goodbye. It’s mild again. Grey. Almost spring. Though we mutter to one another, maybe a cold snap will come. Maybe it will. Let’s hope.

  • Hilary Sunman
    Posted at 15:05h, 03 February Reply

    Too true! you didn’t have to be up north for cold winters! After moved to London in the early ’70s from East Anglia it was much less cold than there, but it did snow, every winter. Even last year there was snow in January- but this year nothing.

  • Sarah Fordyce
    Posted at 09:32h, 20 February Reply

    Lovely writing, as always, so evocative. And also worrying, with the sense that the cold winters were not just up North but in the past.

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