The Iceman Cometh

Ice patterns on car bonnet.
Nature’s mathematician is let loose on water frozen to a car bonnet. The world around us throws up countless examples of such beauty daily, if we care to look for it.

To those visiting from another galaxy, it might come as a surprise to learn that on Earth, some days are colder than others. The rest of us have less of an excuse. (That said, the millennial thrill-ride that is climate change has given us a few anomalies in recent years that would make the most jaded pay attention.)

So, I’m not one of those who pays much attention to the weather. It happens. Winter can be cold. Rain is wet. In another era I might have painted myself with woad to greet the sunrise, but these days, not so much. I suspect it might have something to do with age.

I’m straying from the point (there is one). Today the chatter from my two young daughters was whether school would be on or not. It got me to thinking where the line was historically drawn.

My childhood was spent on the icy steppes of The North. Winters tended to deliver several nights of -10° and lower, very dark mornings and afternoons, and generous amounts of snow.

School was rarely closed. Closures, if they happened, were usually forced upon the school once the heating packed up completely. Until that point was reached the snow and low temperature were little more than inconveniences. The drifts could be big enough to hide a family, the ice extensive enough for a curling tournament: it would be business as usual.

The school boilers were housed in a sooty underground bunker next to the kitchens, an area off-limits to us cherubs. A giant pile of coal marked the entrance. In these cellars lurked the stoker, a Geordie Freddy Krueger who was rarely spotted above ground level. Unless the boilers were never extinguished he must have begun getting up steam before dawn, the captain of his landlocked steamboat.

Fast forward to my daughters’ musing, and things have changed. Children now have an operating temperature below which their brains struggle to function. Walk into a classroom blindfolded and you might think you’ve entered an NHS ward. Room too cold for t-shirts? Everybody out.

Outside, there’s more ammunition for the reluctant scholar. There might be a light dusting of snow, or patches of icy ground. That could well be enough to abandon lessons: we’re a more litigious society now, and parents taking a tumble while ferrying their offspring to the classroom door will be queuing up for compo to ease the pain of their contused coccyx.

We’ve had a few chilly days now: time enough for the ice to thicken. Come Monday, and a shortage of salt might be all it takes for my girls to enjoy a 3-day weekend.

Snowdrops, I think.
Snowdrops (I think) photographed during a trip to Wisley, the gardening equivalent of a pilgrimage to Mecca.