You can always tell when it’s springtime in Britain. First of all, the clocks go forward (as they did last night), leaving you with a dull, leaden, jet-lagged feeling and causing you to stumble stupidly around the streets like an extra in a low-budget zombie movie, as though someone had turned up gravity while you were asleep; and secondly it starts to snow.
Forgive me if I’ve told you this before – at my advanced age the memory starts to go – but snow made my twenty-first birthday party especially memorable (and yes, we’re talking about the previous century here). Well, it was memorable for the snow, plus the lesbian couple who had a blazing row when one of them tried to seduce a (male) guest in a side room, which rather broke things up with “most admir’d disorder” (Shakespeare). But that’s another story entirely. Ah, youth.
My birthday falls near the end of April, so no one was expecting a blizzard. But about 8 o’clock it began to pither, then quickly turned into a full-scale storm – big fat flakes that settled and soon turned everything white. The party was at my parents’ house which is out in the Northamptonshire countryside, all winding country roads, so after an hour or so the guests had to admit defeat and “shog off” (Shakespeare again, so it can’t be rude, can it?) or they’d have been stranded. By 10.30 they’d all gone, and I was left alone with the clearing up, Bob Dylan’s Slow Train Coming LP, and a magical, snow-filled night.
My parents live in a splendid old ex-public house which backs onto the Grand Union Canal, and I went out into the garden and walked over to the canal, cold wet snowflakes melting on my face and hair. The only light came from the back door, so by the time I reached the edge of the canal it was almost totally dark, just a faint yellow glow to pick out the drifting flakes, the only sound the irregular slap of water against the banks. I stood there for some minutes. The contrast between the profound stillness then and the empty noise of the party earlier couldn’t have been greater. I was only 21, the age when everything’s possible, and alternate futures radiate out ahead of you like spokes on a bicycle wheel.
I didn’t make any grand, life-changing decisions – I was fortunately saved from youthful portentousness by the cold snow running down the back of my neck – but I think that was the moment I decided I’d at least stop pretending I liked parties.
Meanwhile, halfway up the front of the gansey. Soon it will be time to decide when to start the neck, and what to do about the shoulders. But for now, time to get the thermals out – and wait for summer, since spring seems out of the question right now.