Hugh Reilly: Getting nostalgic in bleak midwinter

It's heresy to say it, but snow can be a very positive thing. Picture: Fiona Meikle
It's heresy to say it, but snow can be a very positive thing. Picture: Fiona Meikle
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Some of the weather forecasters’ language has changed but much remains the same as Hugh Reilly takes a slide down memory lane

I’M AN unfortunate sort of a guy. For example, The Ice Age occurred 2.6 million years ago but, a tad unluckily, my two-week January visit to Scotland has coincided with the country entering The Second Ice Age. Grim-faced weather forecasters in figure-hugging outfits – and that’s just STV’s Sean Batty – warn the populace of impending snowfalls and icy temperatures. Sitting in their double-glazed, insulated homes with the gas central heating on, cold-snap survivors of what will surely go down in meteorological history as “the winter of ’15” would be forgiven for believing there had been only a nip in the air when Captain Titus Oates took his ill-fated morning constitutional.

Media exaggeration of the cold weather pattern has caused the largely unshivering public to fear the climate prognostication that follows the “and finally” human interest story (a news item that simultaneously warms the heart and slushes the brain). Despite holding no qualifications whatsoever in the field of climate study, hot presenters issue amber and red weather warnings (a somewhat unhelpful way to inform colour-blindness sufferers such as Yours Truly). Aghast viewers are shocked that awful cold fronts could strike a country situated in the Northern Hemisphere sharing the same latitude as Moscow. Devout Christians perceive the Arctic winds to be a punishment from God for the legalisation of same-sex marriage. Labour’s Kezia Dugdale blames the SNP, claiming that voting Labour in the forthcoming election is the only sure way to get warmer winters.

There are three types of scientific proof that show The First Ice Age happened:

a) Geological phenomena such as rock scouring, valley cuttings.

b) Chemical evidence such as variations found in the isotopes of fossils.

c) Paleontological proof by way of the geographical distribution of fossils.

Climate-change deniers state we are not experiencing The Second Ice Age but the avalanche of anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise. A beardy bloke on the FirstBus number 19A told me it was the worst he’d ever witnessed; well, probably not quite as bad as the winter of three years ago, he said after a few seconds’ reflection. A woman walking her be-jacketed dog told me the freezing temperatures had almost caused her to wear a jumper indoors. My cousin, who was exiled to Greenock some years back, claims to have seen men dropping fishing lines through circular holes cut out of the frozen River Clyde – I’m sceptical about this observation as it took place shortly before he began his latest stint in rehab.

New words describing solid precipitation have entered the lexicon, my favourite being “thundersnow”. Back in the day, it was simply “heavy snowfall” but thundersnow grants the humble snowflake gravitas that stalactites and stalagmites could only dream of. Thundersnow has an edge to it, as if one could drown by allowing rapidly falling ice crystals to melt on one’s outstretched tongue, snowboarding if you will.

Despite weather-satellite technology and Judith Ralston’s racy predictions, Glasgow City Council never fails to be caught out when the metropolis is carpeted with snow. On Friday, I was unable to visit my mother in hospital due to pesky, risk-averse, bus drivers deciding that skating on ice with a 15-tonne vehicle was a dangerous pursuit. Next day, the roads were passable but pavements remained treacherously snow-covered. On Sunday, my eldest son fell down on the by-now solid ice pavement outside Glasgow Royal Infirmary. Luckily he was okay but it’s a cold fact that, on snowy days, a Caesar salad sees more salt than a Glasgow footpath.

It’s heresy to say it, but snow can be a very positive thing. From my G21 postcode igloo, I see mums and dads spending time with their kids, sledging down the hills of the local park. The smiles and laughter are captured on mobile phones and ipads for posterity or, more likely, the kid’s 18th birthday party when footage will be shown to humiliate the youngster. We may be experiencing a period of austerity but there is still enough disposable income to buy plastic toboggans. When I were a lad, we slid on tea-trays, wheel hubs, anything we could get our frozen mitts on. We made Alpine runs on downhill pavements, much to the chagrin of pensioners, the curmudgeonlier of whom crept out of their hovels after midnight and threw ashes on the pavement-piste. We created huge snowballs to make snowmen (the chauvinistic Sixties ignored the possibility of snow-women). We resembled Sisyphus rolling boulders up hills, albeit we were rolling them down hills. It was a very competitive activity, with snowball-construction operatives striving to outdo one another in the magnitude of their balls.

When jaded with staring at our carrot-nosed snow edifice, we’d lob snowballs at passing buses, the acme of our juvenile delinquency. This high-jinks practice is still a rite of passage for teenagers as I discovered on Saturday, much to my annoyance as a middle-aged passenger aboard the lumbering target. Doubtless like many of my victims of yesteryear, I muttered under my breath that I’d “skelp their a***s if I ever got a hold of them!” That’s karma for you.

Of course, the cold doesn’t matter much as long as one is dressed for it. I love the furry Cossack-style hats that women wear, and long boots threaten to rekindle the dying embers of my libido. And, like most men, I enjoy striding the streets in an overcoat, imagining I am a moody, smokingly handsome Dan Draper or, in the case of wearing my Camel-hair coat, a possible overseas investor in Rangers. The once modest Scottish bunnet has been redesigned to give it a snazzy, New York feel to it. Gone forever is the uncool balaclava, a head-covering now only associated with club-carrying men taking immediate possession of Rolex watches and diamond rings from frightened Argyll Arcade jewellery staff.

To be honest, I’m dreading going back to Spain on Sunday. My flat, like almost every other apartment, is single-glazed, has no central heating and is freezing at night. I regularly sit on the sofa watching telly with a blanket over me, dreaming of a duvet and the botanical garden heat of my mother’s living room. But Hell will freeze over before I ever live in cold, grey, Scotland again.