Snow does not feature heavily in London's operational manual. It shocks the city into almost total inactivity. Tube lines are suspended, buses are halted and trains appear on departure boards as cancelled or indefinitely delayed. (A small meteor shower is probably considered, by the Greater London Authority, a more likely disturbance to our capital than serious snow.) Overnight yesterday, however, snow fell in London, covering its grey soggy concrete in a sparkly white duvet, several inches thick. And remarkably it stuck.
We awoke this morning to a magical wonderland, bare wintery trees once more clad in snowy foliage, and ugly architecture transformed into sleek shimmering postmodern masterpieces. Cars were wrapped in 6 inches of white blankets, as if they had been tucked in to bed on the roadsides. The first sound I heard this morning was silence; no road traffic, fewer planes overhead. Then I heard the sound of people in the streets; children playing, dogs trotting up and down, chasing snowballs. Throughout the day more and more Londoners ventured out into the streets and walked by the river, marveling at their transformed city. Londoners, it seems to me, often have a tendency to look slightly more miserable than is necessary in their daily lives; they move throughout the city with heads down and a slightly ferocious "don't step in front of me" manner towards fellow citizens. Today everyone looked slightly like small children, excited and happy, smiling and greeting at fellow walkers and constructors of snowmen. Although the shared contentment could very possibly have been due to the fact that as most transport links had disintegrated it was near impossible to reach workplaces further than a short walk away from one's home. Children looked delighted at the extra day off school, although their chilly parents, supervising their snowball fights ("Careful of Milly, Henry! Mind the cars, darlings!"), seemed less enamored with the situation.
Wonderful snow sculptures sprung up in parks, gardens and in the street; a small snowman even appeared riding pillion on the seat of a Vespa near my house. A wonderful array of and brightly coloured waterproof clothing appeared on people who normally dress for work in a conservative mix of black, grey and brown garments. I had wondered how Londoners in our cosy South-West corner of the city better equipped for a boardroom meeting, or lunch in a fancy restaurant, would fare in the chilly, wet slush, but they surprised me. Expensive skiing gear was hauled out of storage and pressed into use on the British streets; Putney could have been witnessing a lively apres-ski session in Verbiers for all the ski boots and snow jackets in which its residents were clad. (More sartorially unfortunate were the Eighties Moonboots which reappeared from dressing-up boxes, as Mummy claimed them back to pop to Waitrose.)
A day off work frolicking in the snow, is all well and good, but the English seem imbued with an inherent guilt at not working. Whereas they may not have tried too hard to reach their offices today, in the snow-induced novelty effect, tomorrow will be a different story. Once the snow on the roads has frozen into a dangerous skating rink overnight, everyone will rush back to work, and the spell will be broken.