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Patrington & Withernsea, Week 9: 11 December

Scotland, as the old saying goes, has only two seasons: winter and Christmas. As it’s still two weeks till Christmas, by a process of elimination it must be winter. That’s one clue; the other is the 74 mph winds, followed by freezing temperatures and snow. Still, as they used to say in the First World War to cheer themselves up: you shouldn’t have joined if you can’t take a joke.

We survived Storm Caroline, more or less. The trellis holding up the clematis was ripped from the wall, but at least the wall’s still there. (It could have been worse: one of the neighbourhood chimney pots is now perched at an alarming angle, like a top hat worn by an Edwardian rake.) The storm was so bad that even the local Tesco’s had to close owing to structural damage. They say civilisation is only three meals from collapse, and I’d already whittled a sharp point on my walking stick in case I had to bring down an antelope to survive, but luckily the store reopened. (Just as well—that was a rather tricky three hours, there.) Now Caithness is draped snugly in a duvet of snow, and shimmering in the bruised, eerie yellow-greyness of light reflected off snow.

Sunrise that morning

One winter nearly twenty years ago in Wales I was driving the road from Rhayader to Aberystwyth. It was early morning after a heavy snowfall, and the gritters hadn’t come out. As I rounded a sharp bend the car skidded and spun in the middle of the road. I was helpless, acutely aware that on one side was a wall of rock, and on the other a sheer drop of thirty metres or so, with just a flimsy wooden barrier along the verge. When I recall it now I seem to have gone through several rotations in slow motion, though it must only have been one or two. But it was long enough for me to realise that I might die, and it was a fifty-fifty chance (wall … drop …. wall … drop …). Then the roulette wheel of fate reached a decision, time caught up with me and I was slammed into the rock wall. I turned what was left of the car round and limped home, passing the gritter along the way. It cost me £995 in repairs, and I was happy to pay, given the alternative.

There’s a great poem by Philip Larkin called “Wires”, ostensibly about how young steers are always pushing boundaries until they run up against the “muscle shredding violence” of the electric fence. It ends with this lethal couplet: “Young steers become old cattle from that day / Electric limits to their widest senses“. After my close encounter with the rock wall on the road to Aberystwyth I became old cattle on snow.

Well. It’s perfect weather for lighting the fire, putting a wax cylinder on the phonograph, and knitting a gansey—which is, of course, what I’ve been doing. So much so, in fact, that I have almost finished: just the cuff to go, which I should get done by mid-week. Thoughts are already turning to the next project—probably something light after all this dark navy: in fact, I’m dreaming of a white (aran/natural) Christmas… 

8 comments to Patrington & Withernsea, Week 9: 11 December

  • Annie

    All’s right with the world. It is a rare pleasure to receive your posts almost every Monday morning before my sun comes up. Tell me: Is there another book in the offing? And a stunning gansey there!

  • meg

    older ad greyer perhaps after the fourth revolution twixt wall and drop…..I too am thinking in shades of white/cream/softness of snow/ I have a beautiful button that is calling to m[‘as they do]waiting for me to knit it a place to exist…it has a small painted bird upon it….

    xxxxhappy Christmas to you and yours

    • Gordon

      Hi Meg, the winters up here can be punishing, can’t they? It reminds me of Wendy Cope’s haiku:

      The leaves have fallen
      And the snow has fallen and
      Soon my hair also…..

      Twenty years ago that seemed quite amusing. Now I see it was a prophecy…

  • Dave

    Hello Gordon,

    We too have a dose of the white stuff – cars with white sponge cake rooves tiptoeing gingerly on shiny black roads telling lies about puddles that aren’t there.

    My brother and his family, over from Oz, admiring the tracery of the trees and the majestic lines of the Presselies on the horizon while I grouch and grumble feel they have timed it to perfection.

    I don’t envy you the winds – nasty bitey stuff in this weather. Fortunately, we are still and calm.

    • Gordon

      Hi Dave, yes I saw that Wales had been well and truly dumped on—I’m sure you got more than we. It’s turned to ice, so people everywhere are walking gingerly, as if they were crossing Niagara Falls on a tightrope. And yes, Australians may be better at cricket and barbecues and talking without moving your lips than we are, but they don’t have snow!

      Keep calm and, as it were, carry on…

  • Judit M. /Finland

    Hello Gordon,
    May I suggest you the icebug shoes? I have these shoes since years here in Finland and they are the best on icy roads.
    Look here :https://www.amazon.co.uk/Icebug/pages/2448137031
    Regards !

  • Gordon

    Hello Judit, those look good, thanks for the tip! Definitely easier than my previous plan of trading St Bernard dogs to supply brandy in Caithness.

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