15 November, 2005

Pipe dreams

The fact the daytime temperature in Liverpool has now dropped to single figures for the first time since the spring suggests that this might be on the cards after all. Enthusiastically rubbished by the press when first mooted - not least because just over a week later came the warmest October day for more than 100 years - I have to admit a properly cold spell is a deeply enticing prospect. Mild, wet winters are wrong in so many ways. You want to be able to leave the house first thing in the morning and feel the cold whack you in the face like a giant frosty flannel. When the skies are brillianly clear and your breath steams in the soft sunlight, even the grimmest of environments takes on a kind of beauty.

Anyway, there's hasn't been a genuine freeze for so long I guess it'd seem laughable to young kids today that it was only 20 years ago when schools could be shut for days on end thanks to flooded basements, leaking pipes and exploding boilers. It's no myth that weather has got warmer over the past few decades. Snow used to fall non-stop for several days on my hometown every winter, and on each occasion my primary school would close while blizzards raged, radiators packed in and the outside toilets (oh yes) froze solid. There's precious little more thrilling in life than being actively encouraged not to go to school (especially when the instruction comes from the school itself) and those days were always to be treasured, even if I really didn't know how at the time.

What I found more impressive was the way snow went on to not only shut down my secondary school, a far more robust and modern building (with copious inside toilets and plumbing that was barely 10 years old), but also the sprawling community college where I did my GCSEs and A Levels. This was a massive place, including several buildings, numerous classrooms and endless portacabins, but which was summarily closed for three whole days when the boiler blew up and a thousand pipes cracked in glorious unison.

The blizzard was so heavy that year that it also knocked out power over half the town. It was incredible to me that in such an ostensibly advanced age - this was the start of the 1990s - everyone and everything could be so in thrall to a bit of unusually inclement weather. I remember being pissed off I couldn't watch a re-run of Not Only But Also on BBC2. I also remember being called upon to share my battery-powered radio amongst the rest of the family. Having to endure the sound of Your Hundred Best Tunes with Alan Keith trilling through a candlelit blisteringly cold living room did not make for the most heartwarming of scenes.

With no streetlights working the town shut down as soon as the sun set, and I saw very few people indeed out on the streets after 5pm. It was a thoroughly timeless and surreal few days, with virtually no contact with anybody else and an insular and slightly suspicious atmosphere palpable throughout the neighbourhood. My mum was more concerned with the freezer starting to defrost than my needling paens to the dim and disparate community in which we lived, yet I sensed a nervousness setting in come the third day and no news of when the power would be returning. Yet once it did, and school re-opened, everybody behaved like the preceding period of Blitz-like existence had never happened. It was textbook "let us never speak of it again" behaviour, and left me bemused and not a little depressed.

It might be foolish to dream of broken pipes and power cuts, but there's a part of me that can't wait to see the world brought to a standstill once again thanks to a solitary night's snowfall.


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