I’m not a big fan of winter. If you had my job you might be a little less than thrilled with it yourself. Ok, snow is a bit awesomely freakish, and it photographs well, but I’d swap it, always, and in an instant, for a sun-drenched beach.
Don’t think I was always so inclined, as a child I was as much in love with sleigh-bells in the snow as the next under-informed youngster, but I’ve experienced a few highland winters that turned the place into Narnia – and remember, Narnia, while it was snowbound, was actually in the grip of some pretty evil magic effected by the lovely Tilda Swinton in a fine wig (she lives about 15 miles away in Nairn and I don’t think she’s really queen of anywhere…).
On a couple of really bad years, and probably because I buck the highland trend of always having a spare 4×4 in the garage loaded with emergency provisions and snow blankets (I don’t even have a garage), I was more or less confined indoors. Honestly, there were intrepid folk skiing down the middle of Fairfield Road into town, but I did not fancy it.
There have been winters when I couldn’t break the car away from the kerb. The snow-plough passed and left behind a small wall of heaped snow either side of its path which then froze like concrete. Everything parked was sealed in, unless you had a shovel and the rage of the Incredible Hulk to brandish it. I remember goose-stepping theatrically through knee-high snow-bound woods in January to meet an indomitable tree surgeon who would not be deterred from his mission to fell by blizzards, drifts and pack-ice. Oh yeah, due to the car being glued to the kerb I had to walk across town to that particular appointment, in early morning darkness, under a very white moon, on pavements frozen to look like wet glass.
I’ve stood in fields, or on madly slippery hillsides, staring up in sub-zero temperatures, trying to evaluate the condition of bare-branched trees while snowflakes larger than 2p pieces plopped relentlessly into my eyes.
I’ve stabilized the tripod of the totalstation in the white, rugged wilderness, with the capable and good-natured assistance of one or other of my sons. Once, we were high above a pink castle, treeline starting to dwindle, daylight doing the same after only a few short, bitterly-cold hours. The reflective red beam of the laser shone very bright against the dark blue background of a winter landscape barely illuminated by the departing sun. We took our frozen feet and cold, wet fingers (you can’t measure tree stems with your gloves on) gingerly back down the hill toward civilization, balancing ourselves and the heavy equipment on a moment-to-moment basis across treacherously icy surfaces strewn with half-frozen rivulets, hidden rocky protrusions, mini-drifts hardened by the freezing air and invisible dips that took us (gently if we were lucky) to sit involuntarily in cold, tacky hollows.
Back at the car, we’d take off our soaking wet outer garments to begin the journey home. For a number of years I chose to roam the highlands in a red mini cooper, so the way home, often upwards of 70 miles in the dark, in the falling snow, on narrow roads surfaced with more ice than bitumen was, well, let’s say challenging. I don’t see well in the dark. Let’s say it was super-challenging.
I’ve a very,very vivid memory of standing in a field above Dingwall, with the town spread out below us, and a view all the way across to the ‘Cat’s Back’ (Druim Chat), snow-dusted of course, it was February. The sun had graced us with its presence for a very welcome 2 hours, but as it dipped back down to the horizon, we noticed an ominous black mass of snow-heavy clouds emanating the the soft wall of a blizzard. Beautiful, we stood wondering at it, and I won’t ever forget it. But, all in all, this winterish carry-on amounts to some harsh conditions in which to have to do my sort of work. Especially for someone who’s happy place has palm trees, warm, lapping waters and a permanent scent of Hibiscus.
So. I have my waterproofs perpared, I’ve found my woolly hat with the pom-pom on and, to everyone who’s ever given me stout boot-socks for christmas, I thank you heartily. They’re in a basket in my dressing room, ready to be grasped at a moment’s notice. Secretly though, I’m hoping this year’s darker season amounts to nothing more than a temperate dip into chilly winds, early bed-times and the odd frosty morning.
Yes. I’m a real Snowflake.