Last Thursday I was standing in Southampton Old Cemetery enjoying the sunshine and the return of the bees. Just three days later the Mini Beast from the East had arrived, and we were back in midwinter.
The Mini Beast brought with it just enough snow to transform Southampton Common into a glittering wonderland, and on Sunday morning I had about an hour to explore the magical world that had appeared overnight before some slightly less glistening activities kicked in.
The arrival of snow seems to cause us to become unusually friendly and helpful to our fellow beings. Instead of studiously avoiding eye contact with strangers we smile at everyone we see; exchange pleasantries with people whom we have never met before; and discuss the current snow, our cold weather attire, memories of the last time it snowed, and future possibilities for snow with just about anyone whose path we cross (including people whom we usually actively avoid). If we see someone who is in need of assistance, or looks as if they might be in need of assistance, we rush to their aid, with no concern about looking foolish or nosey if they turn out to be perfectly OK. Generally, this is one of the things that I love about snow days. Everyone in Southampton is my friend and wants to make sure that I am safe and well cared for.
However, on this occasion I was presented with a slight dilemma as I was out and about with a camera and limited time. As a result, I spent much of my snow play time torn between the urge to join in the general camaraderie and good will and the desire to find photogenic spots with reasonably pristine snow in order to justify lugging a camera through the icy streets between my house and the Common. Consequently, I became a somewhat bizarre snow character, marching around the Common with a permanent precautionary grin on my face, speaking in a rapid but upbeat manner to anyone I encountered, whilst using my tripod as a makeshift speed-walking aid.
Notwithstanding my personal peculiarities, the Common was beautiful on Sunday. People of all ages were having fun, sledges of various styles and sizes were out in force, and a range of snow sculptures adorned the main field. We rarely get snow in Southampton, and it is almost all gone now, which is kind of sad. Nonetheless, much as I loved the Narnia-style blanket that it spread over the Common, I am glad to see the spring flowers and blossom peeping back through. Now I can rewind my thinking back to the mini beasts of Spring and Summer. As an extra bonus, my train was delayed this morning and things were slightly chaotic at the station. This created one of the few other circumstances in which English people spontaneously and animatedly talk to complete strangers.
After a few days of anticipation followed by freezing excitement the snow that arrived in Southampton last Thursday is all but gone, with just the occasional blob of the slushiest of stuff to remind us of the events of the past few days. The Common was, of course, beautiful, with snow covering the main field and my favourite tree gently daubed with the white stuff. There was also plenty of action: snowmen, an igloo, endless snowballs, and an impromptu sledging resort at the edge of the Boating Lake. The slopes were adorned with a range of sledges, from plastic bags through to state of the art creations, and children of all ages had a great time hurling themselves trustingly downwards.
A fall in temperature brings out the warmth in people: as my friend and I stood at the bottom of the slope watching our children we cheered on and congratulated grown men for their success in travelling down the slope on pieces of flimsy plastic. We gathered in small groups around complete strangers to admire a particularly splendid sledge or on an especially innovative approach to downhill transport. When we encountered several students carrying trays of snowballs across the Common in readiness to pelt their peers we laughed and wished them luck, instead of tutting at the disturbance they might cause. Snow brought out our good humoured and sociable sides, and Southampton Common became one big community of people young and old having fun on an unscheduled day off work.
But just as we had all begun to get into the swing of having snow, it bade us farewell. By this morning there was only a half measure of ice on the Ornamental Pond, and the swans were restating their domination of the water, reminding any ducks, moorhens or dogs who seemed to have developed ideas above their station about who ruled the Ornamental Pond. As I cycled away, on the clear paths and roads, I reflected that life is a lot easier without the snow, but it was a whole lot of fun while it lasted.