‘And as we run into the all-important Christmas week, a mild theme takes over…’
Every night in the run-up to Christmas, I check the BBC Weather Twitter feed for the link to their latest long-range forecast. I’ve been doing it for eight or nine years now. I really don’t know why. It’s the ultimate self-inflicted pain for a festive romantic such as myself. The Christmas weather pattern is near-enough identical every year: a cold and frosty late November; an even colder and frostier early December; a less cold mid-December and then, four or five days before the big one, comes the weather forecaster’s dagger:
‘Notice the change in the pressure patterns. This means the air will be coming off the Atlantic, an altogether milder direction…’
This year has gone beautifully with form. After a sparkly, frostbitten early December, Christmas Day is set to be unseasonably mild and, at its most savage, a little bit windy.
If there was one Christmas tradition I could do without, it would be the English weather. The problem is that idiots like me have been brainwashed by Christmas cards from an early age. We’ve seen too many of those Victorian landscapes with children skating on frozen lakes or tobogganing down hillsides under pink, wintry skies. I grew up thinking Christmas was like this, always white, always fluffy. As far as I’m concerned, Christmas cards breach the Trade Descriptions Act. To quote Greg Lake, ‘they sold me a dream of Christmas’. And to quote S-Club 7, sort of, ‘I’ve never had that particular dream come true’. Yet you never see the subject of misleading Christmas card ideology covered on Watchdog or raised during Prime Minister’s Question Time. Probably something to do with the Illuminati.
By law, Christmas cards ought to be more realistic. Instead of cheery snowscapes, they should depict middle-aged men in t-shirts, walking their dogs. Instead of light-footed robins tip-toeing on icicled branches, they should show my nanny turning the thermostat down. And there should be less of this Santa-in-a-sleigh nonsense, too. He really doesn’t need one. If Santa actually used a sleigh, no child in England would be able to sleep on Christmas Eve for the sound of it screeching on the parched tarmac, scaring the shit out of the tomcats. And the movies are all just as misleading. I can’t think of a Christmas film that doesn’t involve a glimpse of snow somewhere along the way. Even the ground around the office tower in Die Hard has a fresh layer.
Everything about a mild Christmas makes me that bit grumpier. The taking off of jumpers, the opening of windows, the comments about the ironically-named snowdrops coming through at the bottom of the garden. My mum lights a coal fire every Christmas Day. It looks jolly festive but by mid-afternoon the heat is insufferable, like Rio De Janeiro in carnival season. Our turkey voluntarily gets in the oven to cool down. Even the paintings on the wall start sweating, before mutating into something resembling a Dali.
I’m not greedy. I don’t even necessarily need a white Christmas (like the ones I didn’t used to know); after what is now five years of warm westerlies, I’d gladly settle for a quite cold one. Something non-mild. Just anything other than these relentless last-minute swings to unseasonable warmth. My fantasy is that one year, just one fucking year, the presenter of the BBC long-range forecast will turn to the camera and say, ‘Make the most of the mild weather because things are about to change. Beginning on Christmas Eve…’
In the back of my mind, I do have a memory of a snowy Christmas. A tableau, nothing more. I was two or three. We’d moved the sofa closer to the fire that year – which we always did during cold snaps – and I perched on the edge of it, watching Postman Pat. My dad had taken my sisters sledging but I wasn’t allowed to go. If I close my eyes, I’m back in that room. I can still smell the coal fire and feel the warmth from the television set. In the corner, I can still see our dark green tree with its multi-coloured glass lights in their floral design. There’s frost on the squares of the windows and warm yellow light pouring through the open door to the kitchen.
This morning, I called my mum to ask if she could remember the exact year of my one and only white Christmas. She couldn’t.
‘It wasn’t Christmas Day, though,’ she added.
‘What?’ I said. It was rhetorical.
‘It happened a few days after. It wasn’t a white Christmas.’
‘What?’ I said. Again, rhetorical.
So, not only has this year failed me on the snow front, but, as a result of that phone call, I’ve even lost the one white Christmas I did have.
There was one positive from our chat, however. I found out about my first taste of snow. Literally. Apparently, when I was sixteen months old, we had a heavy festive snowfall (obviously not on the day itself). My parents and our neighbours went out with a sledge, taking the children with them, me included. As they trudged home, pulling the kid-laden sledge behind them, they turned to notice that one of the passengers was missing. There, thirty yards back, lay a red dot amongst the deep white. It was me. I’d fallen off. Like the little Lord Jesus, no crying did I make (although I’d possibly soiled myself). I just lay there, on my back, in perfect silence.
‘We don’t know why you didn’t cry,’ my mum said. ‘You didn’t even move.’
‘I was probably in shock at the sight of snow during the Christmas period.’
My ultimate yuletide nightmare would be the rest of the country getting a white Christmas but my own town missing out. It’s bad enough when such injustice happens outside of the Christmas period, having to watch as the nation slips into cosy lockdown, posting their photographs of snowmen and log-fires on Facebook. But to wake on Christmas morning, with rumours of snow in the air, then open my curtains to reveal a bog-standard rainy mess, oh, it would break me; I’d probably turn green and go full Grinch for the rest of my days. (Mind you, even the Grinch’s town got snow. I don’t know what he was so upset about.)
I’ve always thought rain is at its ugliest when it should have been snow. Its cold, soppy flaws are far more pronounced when compared to the sweet, soft, snowy alternative. I mean, have you ever tried making a rainman instead of a snowman? There’s no comparison. Although, admittedly, the former is much better at maths.
Incredibly, there are some oddballs out there who hate snow. I can’t understand it. It’s not as if it’s a constant blight. ‘One bit of snow and the whole country grinds to a halt,’ these people tut. But is this a bad thing? Grinding to a halt is something we don’t do enough. On Christmas morning this year, millions of people will unwrap their 2018 wall-calendars. When it comes to filling those empty dates, nearly every day between this Christmas and next will be dedicated to work. Employment is a thankless slog. Anything that offers a rare excuse to stay indoors and watch Homes Under The Hammer should be embraced.
For me, there’s nothing more beguiling than the cloaked silence of an early morning snow, that interlocking of magic and reality, God amongst us, and whatnot. Snow mutes the workaday world. It commands a curious respect, whatever date it falls. But I’m not embarrassed to admit that I will forever long to for it to do so on the big day. To hear the silence of an early Christmas morning silenced further still by a layer of snow. The quiet upon quiet. Ah. If that day should ever come, I might even go out there and offer a repeat performance of my famous laying-in-snow showpiece from early childhood. Although I couldn’t promise not to cry this time. First, from happiness. Second, from shock. Third, from the setting-in of hypothermia.
Merry Christmas to you all, whatever the weather. See you in 2018!