Tuesday, 3 February 2009


I thought that over the years the word had completely lost its significance for me. Having spent a majority of my life in two countries where snowfall is a given, I now have two children one of which has no memory of it and the other has never seen it. After nearly nine years in London and a few false starts, this was the real thing. Real snowfall that settled, stayed and froze over the next morning. And the day after.

I watched it fall, a mixture of icy sleet at first slowly developing into the gentle feather-like fall that makes it the event that it is. And the memories came flooding in...

My best memories of snow are from the 70s while at The Ahlman Academy in Kabul. I'm hurtling through the school grounds pushing a zimmer-frame like contraption and I hit an obstacle, topple over and break my nose. There's blood everywhere! I'm 7 years old. Mrs Cuthbert cleans me up and tells me to hold my nose up with my head thrown back. It doesn't hurt and I want to go back to play!

We're having a snow sculpture competition at school. Our class is making three gigantic mice (from the poem 3 Blind Mice) with sunglasses made of painted corrugated board. I've brought three large cartons from my Dad's office and painted them black so we can make the glasses. The senior classes are making a larger-than-life sculpture of Hans Christian Andersen's Little Mermaid - you know the one you can see in Copenhagen's harbour. We're all giggling at probably the first set of naked breasts our 7-year-old eyes had ever seen.
We're off to a skiing trip. My first time. I'm 9 now. While on the lift, I drop my skis on our way up the lift and they hit a German tourist. He swears at the entire group. I promise myself that I would never, ever ski again. Sledging maybe yes, skiing, never. The following year I take up ice skating and then deciding it's too girly (and after watching Roller Ball with James Caan) switch to roller skating. But I digress.

Our driver Amir Gul is clearing up the driveway and now there are 6 foot walls on either side. My brother, our friends Habib Shah and Mahboob Shah and I are digging tunnels, knowing this would collapse and fill up the driveway again and annoy the hell out of Amir Gul. He does get angry and we make it up to him by helping him fit chains on all our families' cars tyres.

I'm knocking off the icicles outside my window. Some are so long that they touch the bottom of the window - like bars on a prison window. Mrs Cuthbert explains the difference between icicles and stalactites - icicles are formed because water freezes and hangs around, stalactites are formed because water doesn't hang around and evaporates, leaving the dissolved chemicals behind. (Stalactites hold on tightly to the ceiling, Stalagmites might reach the ceiling - I remember that still!)

10 years later, I'm in Shimla. Snow is perfect for hiding (and chilling at the same time!) bottles of beer. Snow also means exams. Snow also means we'll be home soon. Snow also means bitter, bitter cold, boring trips to town, rum breath, no nookie-in-the-woods and a completely deserted Lover's Lane.

A cold drop of water on the nape of my neck shakes me out of my reverie and brings me back to the present - London, February 2009. I look around at the landscape - the landscape of low indices of deprivation, broken phone boxes, smashed bus shelters and toppled over bins. Except you can see none of that now. As far as the eye can see there is this vast sea of ankle deep snow, still fluffy, still snowballable, still snowmanable and still white and still pure.
It was getting dark now and I turned to go back inside. I paused. Turned back and looked at the white expanse before me.

And then I did something I hadn't done for over 25 years: 

I pee-ed in it.

"Frozen and slushy streets to work tomorrow morning", I thought to myself, as I went inside. "Damn!"