The Colour of Snow

“What colour is snow?” The child had topaz coloured eyes and dimpled cheeks like punched dough.

“Well,” I looked down at him, puzzled, wondering if the cold had turned his head. Building snowmen on the field with thirty nine and ten year olds had pretty much turned mine, but I didn’t want to be rude.

“It’s white, isn’t it?” I replied, panting at the effort of rolling ‘snow arms’.

He threw his head back and laughed like a drain, “That’s what everyone says!” he crowed delightedly, “But it’s not, is it?”

I glanced around quickly, as if to check, and threw my arm out, narrowly missing some upturned children patiently rolling a ‘head’  “It is though, isn’t it?”

“No, no, it’s not!” He gestured around at the path , the field and the road beyond the trees, “Everyone says that ‘cos it looks it from the window. But, soon as you step on it, to check, like, it changes, ‘dunnit?”

I considered. The field stretched away, grey and slushy, covered with the footprints of children in snow-wear and shivering teachers. In the distance, a few trees netted the sky and a dog walker trudged, head-down, across the park dragging a recumbent hound (there ought to be a Winter Olympics for dogs, a kind of freestyle skidding).

“See!” he said. I realised he was standing next to me, hands on hips, following my gaze.

“What colour is it then?”

Sometimes white,” he insisted, “But sometimes dirty or brown or grey…but it’s still snow,” he added, with satisfaction, “And that’s all that counts.” With that, he emitted a fearsome yell and plunged into the ‘head-rolling group’ with such vigour that I had to intervene.

I remembered this when I was out walking yesterday. The area behind our house is a nature reserve and covered with winding paths, fences and trees. Further on, there’s a lake. We moved five weeks ago from London to Sussex so this is still exciting for us.


In some ways, country snow is like city snow – at night, lamp-eyed and quiet, a slab of silver on black. But, in daylight, there are things sticking up in it, mostly buildings and people. Here, there are more fences or bits of wood, or sheep.  There is slush too, and footprints and bottom prints of reluctant dogs. But the sky is different, somehow – wider and filled with movement as if the clouds have more space to dance.

When I go into the small town where we live, I always think, Where is everyone? The street is empty but when you go into the coffee shops they’re buzzing. It has everything you need really on the little high street – shops and cafes and a tiny independent cinema (one of the oldest in England). There’s a library and a bookshop and a fourteenth century church (with big nineteenth century bits) and a road called Pudding Cake Lane. When you get into your car and go somewhere else, there’s an actual place where the town stops, with fields or hills before you get to the next one. Amazing.

I wanted to move here to the country for lots of reasons. We had planned for it and hoped for it and prayed it would all work out, and it did. But strangely, this didn’t make it any easier when the big day came. I find it fascinating how we both long for and resist change, as if our arms reach out for the new while our legs brace themselves against each tiny hint of loss. But change brings loss, though it’s never quite as it seems. The friends I feared losing come down and stay so I get more quality time with them. The gorgeous children I worked with, or rather their generous teacher sends me photos to keep me connected. And there are children at our new church (who try not to look panicked when I bear down on them brightly). The house we rebuilt and treasured is lived in by friends, and our new one is light and spacious.There are no corner shops to buy emergency chocolate, but Tesco is walkable and open ’til midnight.

Also, although there aren’t many people sticking out of the snow, they are all friendly and they say things to you (while dragging their dogs – there are a lot of dogs) like “Morning!” or, “The weather!” or just roll their eyes (about the dogs). I would like a dog but my husband says, “Over my dead body” and I quite like my husband, so that’s the end of that.

I think God – or life, whatever you believe in. I choose God – has good plans for us. Sometimes they are drowned out by noise or pain or change that can cloak all colour in a blizzard of white, leaving us breathless and scared – an upturned palette. But there’ll be people sticking out of the snow to cheer us, messages in bibles and books to urge us on, and children to make us smile and remind us that things aren’t what they seem. And as those tiny steps tiptoe, hesitant, into the future, everything changes.

Like the colour of snow.



“The only way that we can live, is if we grow. The only way that we can grow is if we change. The only way that we can change is if we learn. The only way we can learn is if we are exposed. And the only way that we can become exposed is if we throw ourselves out into the open. Do it. Throw yourself.”
― C. Joy Bell

“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is and walk in it and you will find rest for your souls” The Bible , Jeremiah 6:16




Time-hingeing and the end of summer

We are having a bad day, the cat and I.  There are several reasons for this: the state of the world – Syrian children and the lunacy of politics (me); foxes in the garden (him); the blight on the runner beans and the infuriating speed of pigeons. Also, we’re both coming down off steroids. That may be a thing.

Today’s one of those time-hinge days. Summer’s at the wane.  Sunflowers nod to a listless breeze of dust and memory. In the bathroom, I’m humming that Joni Mitchell song. I do not like the slide into winter – the rain, the dark, the colds and asthma. They are not the worst things in the world to suffer but somehow a time-hinge day like today -fleeting sun, bronze light and shadows – fills me with dread and longing. To have summer over again, just this once.


Yesterday I read about the world’s oldest man who lives in Indonesia and is 145. 145!! Apparently he just wants to die. All of his children are dead as well as his 10 siblings and he now has great-great grandchildren. He’s had his own grave ready since he was a spring chicken,  of 121. Imagine having gone to all that effort and to still be here 24 years later. You could have travelled the world, studied for a degree or two, read the complete works of William Shakespeare and still have a few years left to put your feet up and do the crossword. (Note to self: Do not waste money on a grave until you know you’re dead.) He attributed his long life to one thing alone – patience. Imagine seeing 145 winters, 145 Christmasses, 145 New Year’s sales – you’d need patience…

We went to the coast to squeeze the juice out of the last day of summer.


The beach was half empty. The sun was steady, the water glistened. We sat above a tide mark of salt-crust seaweed, determined to store up gold for winter. Lying down, we literally sucked sunshine from the sky until we were plump and gasping. Then we had a cup of tea.

What is it about ‘the big, blue wet thing’? Why are we compelled to sit by it, stare at it, bathe in it, walk by it for hours on end? Watching the people around me, sleepy in that late afternoon echo-beach way, I decide it’s because it satisfies all of our senses. We love its colour, its texture, its smell and the curious rhythm of the waves. Of course we don’t taste it, but there’s a range of man-made add-ons here – chips, cups of tea, ice cream. wp-1472575870436.jpg

But there’s something else, something infinitely appealing about standing on the edge of an island looking out. Behind is land,  safety. Ahead is water, then a new place. When you get to the end of the land, you’ve come as far as you can without being somewhere else. And you can’t just drift into that. You have to get on a boat, or a plane or a train through a tunnel. You have to move.  I look out across the strip of water and I remember the old excitement I used to feel in my teens, hitching round Europe – the scent of adventure, the pull of the new. I hope I still have that when I’m 145.

Joni Mitchell is still singing*. The cat and I ignore her. We give one last sigh at the state of the world, and look down the moment at our lives. We say a polite goodbye to summer. Because when you get to the end, you’ve come as far as you can without being somewhere else.


*And the seasons they go round and round
And the painted ponies go up and down
We’re captive on the carousel of time
We can’t return we can only look
Behind from where we came
And go round and round and round
In the circle game


How do you age?

I know this sounds a bit  barmy but I think ageing has little to do with age. When you look in the mirror, who are you expecting to see? A child, a teenager, a young person making your way in the world? In other words, how old are you on the inside? I know children who are older than me. I once said to an eight year old, “Do you think trees can talk?” He regarded me with disdain , and replied, “I don’t think that’s a sensible question, do you Mrs Jenkins?” My lips twitched. Eight on the outside, fifty-eight inside. Actually I was reading an article recently,  documenting some research from Canada which shows that trees do communicate. So there you go, now-not-so-young William Double-Barrelled-Surname! Hope you are reading this…

I am finding the whole process of ageing faintly terrifying but also interesting. Some people give you the impression of eternal youth, not by the way they look, but by the way they laugh or hug trees or twinkle at you. Others are earth-wise and sceptical at the age of six. Is age a personality-thing as well as a years-thing? How to embrace the inside-age when it’s at odds with the outside one? Is ‘growing old gracefully’ even worth doing?

When I look in the mirror, I obviously don’t expect to see this: –wp-1469377186241.jpg

Or this: –wp-1471625046490.jpg

Or this: –wp-1469377242783.jpg

But I do expect to see something like this: –wp-1469377261705.jpg

What I actually see is this: –wp-1469392036387.jpg

And that’s on a good day. It’s usually more like this :-


Who is this version of me? She has my mother’s eyes, my father’s smile and hands like my grandmother. She uses an electric toothbrush, and wears sensible shoes. She no longer has much interest in partying  or shopping. She says to herself, like a character in a Barbara Pym novel, “The old blue velvet will have to do.” Except for old blue velvet, read ‘print frock with red wine on hem’. A Friday night treat is a book and a glass of Chardonnay. She reads obituaries. And yet…and yet. She spends all day with children. Many of her friends are younger than her. She still laughs at pooh and wee jokes.  People who take themselves too seriously bore her. She sniffs books. No, she inhales them…this explains why her nostrils are so large.
When I’m in someone else’s classroom and the teacher roars, “SIT DOWN!” to this day, I’m scrambling for a chair before a last-minute recovery and a self-conscious , “Ahem…yes! Sit down!” to the children in the room. I’ve been teaching for over 30 years but Miss Ainscoe with her mean little eyes and roary voice “Deborah! SIT DOWN!” is forever etched on my eight year old inside self. While my fifty-something outside self tries to remember that the things I say and the atmosphere I create in my classroom can, for some children, last a lifetime.

Does life, or our response to it, age us? I’ve had my share of ups and downs but I know people who have lived through unimaginable tragedy or cruelty at the hands of others and still have a hopeful, trusting view of things. They have not soured, they do not hate. They are ageing well. wp-1469387964249.jpg

Hopefully you and I will be a bit like our garden gate – a bit battered, a bit lurching but still standing, still hopeful we can offer something unique to the world.  And in our own way, perhaps, still beautiful (on a good day).

Forgive me if this post is a bit odd. It’s just that I want to explore the ageing thing, but no one will talk about it! (Is this the new taboo?) My mates say, ‘Stop it! You’ve nothing to moan about.’ Older friends say ‘Oh for goodness sake – just you wait!’ As for the young ones, they mumble things like, ‘You still  look great!’ while glancing with thinly disguised horror at my bat – wing arms. But this all misses the point. It’s not how others see you. It’s how you see yourself. And how you come to terms with the growing chasm between your inside and outside self.

So please tell me, how do you age?

Postscript – There are some insightful comments from readers below.  Please do read, and add your own thoughts if you wish. And thank you 🙂