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.

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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.

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“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

 

 

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Prayer, Advent and Latin Verbs


Call me sad but I loved Latin verbs. At an all-girls school, stuffed with hormones and self-obsession (I levelled out but have recently declined again – for obvious reasons), Latin verbs were immensely comforting. Like the shipping forecast , there was a predictability, a rhythmic quality to the conjugations that soothed you, suspended time and made you acutely aware of the moment. To this day if I start reciting, “amo, amas, amat…” my senses are filled with memory – the smell of wax on polished wood, pink blotting paper. and on the floor, clean squares of sunshine where dust motes dance a late, lazy waltz. Miss Everley, with her pointy shoes and ever-present smell of patchouli, would be proud of me.

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The word advent is Latin for arrival. The verb, advenire, to arrive, is one of my favourites because the -ire verb endings (fourth conjugation) were the friendliest ones. Look, this may sound odd, but try it. Try saying it out loud : – advenio, advenis, advenit, advenimus, advenitis, advenitunt.  See what I mean? Don’t you feel soothed and generally more benevolent towards the world? This is probably because when you got to the second person plural you couldn’t resist saying “advenitits” and this made you giggle inanely. It was, of course, the real reason we favoured it. But I can assure you Miss Everley would have had none of it, striding over to you, eyes like gimlets and breathing close-range patchouli flavoured threats at you. This was so unpleasant that, if you had a compulsion to say “advenitits” you had to whisper it in order to stay alive. Of course, if the rest of your class had noticed this compulsion and hatched a plot to hold their breath at the second person plural, you were stuffed anyway. Sigh.

For me, advent is like Latin verbs. There’s comfort in the routine  – making the cake, decorating the house. When I think of advents past, my senses are filled with cinnamon, snow and the smell of oranges. When the children were small we lived abroad, in a country that didn’t celebrate Christmas, so we used to make biscuits in the shape of holly or angels to hang on the tree. We made crackers  and filled bowls with oranges. It was very cold and there was often snow, which my husband had to shovel off the roof to stop it leaking. We missed family and friends but those makeshift festivities were among my best ever. We sang carols and met up with other ex-pats who taught us their advent routines – gingerbread houses (Norway), sweets in shoes (German), glogg (Sweden).  Of course I romanticise it – there were illnesses, breakdowns in the snow. The apartment never seemed to get warm. But they were happy times.

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This year we can light candles, go to church, sing carols. We’ll put out the Christmas cushions and the nativity scene. We’ll remember, as you will, that there are many celebrating the season with tents for homes and empty stomachs. And we’ll give thanks, as you will, to God or life or both (depending on which combination you believe in) that we have warmth and light and loved ones, to help us through the winter months. Then we’ll turn on the News and remember, as you might, that we could have done more for  others – filled a Christmas box, given money, donated at work. There’s so much need, we can become immune to it.

At times, I feel overwhelmed by the tide of evil sweeping the world – not just the terrorists and the wars and the starving children, but the selfish thoughts, the angry words, the jockeying for position that goes on in my own life, and maybe in yours. All this can drive us to despair. That’s why I’ve started using the Lord’s Prayer. it was brought to my attention recently in the News. Apart from praying it at church, I rarely prayed it. I know there’s been some controversy lately and maybe the cinema isn’t the best place for it. But in the car, or on Break Duty or  cooking, really is. It’s such a great prayer and seems to cover all the bases, all the things that are wrong with the world, and with me. Jesus  thought of it but it could equally be prayed by anyone seeking after truth, after God, whoever they conceive him (or her) to be. There’s a rhythm, a soothing quality to it that’s immensely comforting. Like Advent or Latin verbs.

And I can’t explain it, but when I pray, things happen. Good things.