Thursday, 7 January 2010


In the end, snow replaced the ice. For a day or so, the temperature rose to freezing - or higher - and I watched the flakes and remembered past winters.

Once snow mesmerised me as I sat in an exam room. For forty minutes I watched the snowfall through the window, past the faded print of a blue and gold nativity that hung above the teacher's desk. Suddenly I saw the clock and realised I should have been writing but ink on paper in a test of skill seemed less important than a snowfall.

When I was small, there was a harsh winter when snowdrifts were taller than me. I was eight and one morning, before breakfast, my 5-year-old brother and I dressed ourselves, left a note and went out to play in the snow while our mother slept. We found big boys on the slope behind the library, sailing downhill on torn pieces of cardboard boxes. They let us join them. The speed and thrill must have warmed us for, when we returned to the flat, we weren't cold at all. It's only Mum's concern that remind me that we'd gone out dressed in shorts and T-shirts.

The snow is compacting now and turning to thick ice on the pavements and pathways. Soon I'll head to the station, kitted for a trek instead of the usual stroll. I'm still staying in when I can, wishing I could curl with the cat in front of the fire. But two days ago, when I had to leave the house, snow lay newly bright on paths, leaves and branches and diamonds of ice sparkled from the pavement. Even in my tame suburb, sheltered from the worst of winter, I felt for a few moments an old delight in the fierce beauty of the world.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Goodbye to Christmas

For the moment, the artificial Christmas tree is aglow with white lights. Their fragile sparkle blurs across tinsel and imitation pine needles. The gold pear shines and there's a sheen of gold on the baubles made years back by my niece and nephew. There's even a brief warmth on the blank face of the wicker angel. But when I've finished writing this post, I'll turn off the lights, take down the decorations, dismantle the tree and put it away until next Christmas. I no longer wish to celebrate.

News of a friend's death reached me yesterday afternoon. It was sudden - he was on his way home from Skye where he's spent Christmas with his wife and a friend when illness and death overtook him. The day after he died I'd been wondering when he'd be home and online again - I didn't know that the answer was "never." There will be no more emails, no more poems, no more comments urging the value of liberty and the human spirit.

For me, 2009 has been a year of loss. The absence of friends marks this new year more than the uncertainties of the present.

I'm looking forward without much confidence. My vision for the future is a gloomy one: greater poverty and greater hatred - politicians and the press urging us to a frenzy of self-interest. I see thought discouraged, freedom curtailed, fear proclaimed as a sacred cause and armies sent abroad with bombs in the name of "peace". I fear for the language. I fear for the earth and all its people. It is not a future I wish to share.

Yet, in the early hours I had a dream. I thought I was awake. I lay in bed and there was a constriction about my chest, as though it was bound tight. My friends who had died were close and asked, "Do you want to join us?" I could see only faint reasons to say "no" - death seemed safer and friendlier than this perilous world. I thought of my responsibilities and paused. There are people I love who would grieve at my death, I think, as I grieve for the deaths of friends. Still the company of the dead seemed warm and pleasant. There would be stories to tell and laughter, I thought, and an end to struggle and worry. Yet despite that warmth I felt a small, dull urge to remain on earth and knew, reluctantly, that my place was still with the living.

I slid back from my dream into sleep. When I woke, hours later, it was daylight.