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Saturday, 9 January 2010


"I have visions of living ... in all sorts of inaccessible places ... a floating idea of going up above the snow-line." (Charles Dickens, letter from Italy to John Forster, 1854).


"Any more of this global warming and we'll all freeze to death." (my husband, New Year's Eve, 2009)


"Claire Urwin's play, No Wonder ... is a fairytale for people who've stopped reading fairytales. A poetic exploration of memory, blame and whether or not there are snowy worlds at the back of wardrobes ..." (The Manchester Literature Festival Newsletter , January 2010).


Which version to do you prefer? As I loathe the white stuff and know a mite  more about Dickens than about Claire Unwin, I'm left guessing that as another poet, she'd rather watch it than wade through it.

Me? I'm beginning to think that there may well be snow at the back of my wardrobe. For the first time in years  I've fished in there for a tee-shirt to wear in bed. I found one, sent courtesy of the UK Jewish Film Festival 2006, featuring chairs for the 'director' and the 'director's mother'.


The festival may be a Jewish outfit but if my dear mother had ever thought for one moment that she'd co-direct my night-dreams  -  she had another think coming. Nice try, though.

So maybe we simply dreamed the Monday before New Year - stuffed with a brutal ice-blue sky, blinding sunshine - and time out skimming the PORTMEIRIONsnowline in Wales's little Italy.


Paint-box pastel buildings,  birds pirouetting across the shining shore, bijou shops, enticing restaurants, a fantasy castle hotel and apartment blocks with outdoor swimming pools housing real-life residents, made us wonder just what finance and patience were required to gain a permanent 'visa'. 

Moreover, the whole had been conceived by  Sir BertramSir.Bertram.Clough Williams-Ellis.02 Clough Williams-Ellis, a man endowed with an unreasonable amount of talent, wit and charm, who went so far as to share his bounty with all who asked.

An architectural genius and far-sighted environmentalist, Clough-Williams was also a genial eccentric who simply wanted to share his philosophy of joy, life-enhancement and fun.

So he gave us Portmeirion: A tourist spot in deepest, most lovely - but let's be frank - dullest North Wales - where a favourite adult sport on  freezing winter nights must be conjuring up the next generation.

But if the attractions in Cloughy's part of the world are few and mostly out-dated, so is the courtesy: The accommodation,  friendly hospitality and service at our hotel far exceeded that of many grander establishments we have experienced, more than compensating for  last summer's disappointment at the Hilton Hotel, Hyde Park, London.

Thus it was at the pubs (one very modest - we noshed sitting on a sofa by an open fire) and even in  the sole tea-shop we found open in Carnarvon, after a fascinating, if marrow-chilling morning touring the castle.

The photographs of the Prince of Wales's Investiture include one of his exchanging smiles with his mother after the ceremony. It shows not only an expression of noble fealty but a fleeting, private expression of filial love in public. How many ordinary mothers and sons can claim such true affection?

Prince.Charles.Queen I'm sure when Prince Charles refers to "my beloved Mama" he really means it ... I can't find a copy of the image I remember from the castle, but the one  here, shot only a few months ago, illustrates my point.

Yet more fascinating was the museum dedicated to the 'Royal Welch Fusiliers'. It houses the regiment's uniforms, medals and flags, including one marking service in Gaza, and relates how its members evolved from a rag-tag band of small-time snipers to ad hoc policemen and tax collectors, finally becoming the heroic fighting force of recent times.

I learned - with astonishment - that Great War poet, Siegfried Sassoon,  gained his reputation as "Mad Jack" with the fusiliers.Siegfried.Sassoon Here was a young man descended in part from  the grand Anglo-Jewish 'cousinhood', who did everything possible to escape his hazy sexuality, quasi-Jewish roots, posh upbringing and pacifist tendencies by indulging the craziest exploits imaginable. It was all for "King and Country", so it wasn't felo de se but patriotism and therefore 'permitted'!

However, Sassoon was not allowed to die young. He survived until 1967, having married briefly, becoming a doting father, enjoying many gay relationships, writing widely and successfully and converted to Roman Catholicism late in life.

Back home, the weather has become ever-worse and the present awful conditions have made snow-deserts of our smarter English city-centres. Manchester.Snow On Thursday, as I pussy-footed through what is usually the liveliest part of Manchester, I saw Arndale Centre outlets bereft of customers, staff huddled together for what little warmth they could muster and stock at large, mostly empty retail chains like WH Smith and Boots reduced by up to 75%.

Yesterday, nearer home in Bury, the team at what must be the nicest dental surgery in the borough was working on despite having had NO HEAT all week due to a boiler breakdown.SNOW.BURY.

Reception staff were wearing fingerless half-mitts and taking turns to make coffee. How their poor, frozen hands managed to pick up the phones and turn the pages of their appointment diaries beats me. It must spring from the same innate decency which makes most of us want to help each other through any trouble.

"Tough going, isn't it?" sympathised a stranger - reminding me of some half-forgotten Wordsworth verse - as we trudged past each other on Wednesday along  a snow-bogged avenue near my house.

"Don't pile the snow by your outside wall" a neighbour advised Brian, as the lads met for a communal digging session on our road, "if someone trips over it, they'd be entitled to sue". Blimey! We didn't know that and Brian dutifully chucked his sodden pile into our front garden out of harm's way.

Are we experiencing the effects of Climate Change or is the earth simply undergoing a cyclical shift? Rev Gilbert White's A Natural History of Selborne illustrates how animals and plant life survived fiercely harsh 18th century winters. On a visit to his home some years ago we learned that it could then be as cold indoors as outside.

Ours, like many other houses this week have boasted icicles on their external walls. The inside sills of our patio doors were ice-bound until early afternoon on Monday. If all this doesn't remind the well-versed of 'Dick the shepherd' and 'greasy Joan', then I'll blow my nail!

A couple of years ago we visited the Heights of Abraham in Derbyshire and learned that thousands of years ago the area had been a tropical island. Again, amateur historians will confirm that the England of the Roman Occupation was warm enough for vineyards and that a mini ice-age a mere 200 years ago allowed skating on the River Thames.

I'm beginning to feel that the Climate Change debate is largely useless and simply more of the politics of envy witnessed in every aspect of life. There is nothing wrong in our learning to conserve and therefore care deeply for the earth's resources. But we must also respect each other.

Never mind, eh? This time next year Brian and I hope we will have floated  to where they're basking today in real, friendly sunshine - and for those who want it, a little Sabbath rest. More of that, anon!


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