An old housemate of mine used to joke that weather chat was the lowest form of conversation. Just to clarify, he wasn’t an old person, rather I lived with him in the past. If he was old he would have vehemently disagreed, as we all know that old people love to talk about the weather.
“Nice day today eh Ron?”
“Lovely. It’s nice to get a bit of sunshine once in a while.”
“I know, it’s been so gloomy recently.”
“Oh, hasn’t it just. Still a nip in the air though.”
“Especially in the morning—Gladis went out this morning, said it was very cold.”
“That’s right. I still have the heating on in the morning. I can’t get out of bed otherwise.”
“They say though that it should be warming up over the next week or so.”
“Is that so?”
“Oh yes. I saw on the weather . . .”
Boring. Old people talk about it, because they have very few other talking points. “Did you watch Countdown yesterday?” “No, I fell asleep during Dickinson’s Real Deal.” It’s conversation polyfilla. When you have nothing else to talk about, you talk about the weather. But really, what is there to talk about? There is no point of view or opinion to debate. It’s cold, it’s hot, it’s windy, it’s raining. It is what it is.
Not snow though. Snow is a different type of weather altogether. Old people don’t discuss snow as much as other weather because they are mostly too busy sitting next to a fire trying not to die. Snow is weather for the rest of the population to discuss. No, it’s not just crystallized water! How dare you speak of snow so perfunctorily! Snow is the king of all weather. Everything and everyone stops during the snow. We call each other up. “Is it snowing where you are?” “It snowed quite heavily this morning, but it didn’t really lay.” “I hear more is on the way this evening.” Etcetera, etcetera.
Snow brings with it a mixture of excitement and misery, which the news relentlessly peddles to us in equal measure. Cheery pictures of children on sleds and 8ft snowmen are interspersed with cars stuck in snow drifts and pensioners with pneumonia.
I’m watching BBC News at the moment, which reverts to the weather situation once every 20 or 30 seconds. Last night, they even devoted the whole of BBC1’s schedule to reporting on the weather, or ‘THE BIG FREEZE’, as they helpfully dub it, along with the other unnecessary hyperbole, ‘FROZEN BRITAIN’. There is some talk about stocks of salt, the problems with transport and mostly the temperature, which they keep lying about. It was “temperatures as low as minus 16” earlier, which then jumped to minus 18, then a moment ago a bloke from the Met Office assured us that it would be minus 20 in some places. Yeah, if you live in the Outer Hebrides maybe, but for the majority of the country the temperature is hovering around nought during the day and no less than minus 10 overnight. That’s not even very cold on the scale of temperatures on earth. I just checked the weather in Scandinavia. The maximum daytime temperature in Oslo is minus 21! I bet their news isn’t emblazoned with ‘FROZEN NORWAY’.
At least though the snow provides a temporary distraction from this typically bleak time of year. And this New Year is perhaps as bleak as ever. Not just a new year, but a new decade, with its new hopes already mired in the old recession; many people returning to their old jobs, or old job hunt. The snow is an evanescent diversion from normality and the shroud of whiteness is a metaphor for the bright new beginnings that lie on top of our old well trodden paths.
In fact, weather doesn’t seem such a bad conversation after all. Let’s just hope the snow doesn’t thaw for a long time.