05 February 2009

The Day London Stood Still!

Right, I've been lazy lately and with good excuse as I've been unusually busy this week. So I'm afraid you'll have to read a half-baked Snowstrudelstory (with icing on top!) - yeah, that was a bad Heidiwitz but I only slept three hours of the last 20, so you have to take effervescent effusions!

Anyway, as you probably have heard in the news, London, a city of around 20m people, shut down completely, as the first proper snow in 18 years (!) fell for one night and a day. I remember waking up in the morning, wondering why it was so light outside (not the normally evergrey porridge and not a usual sunny day either). I looked out of the window and was like WHOOOOOAAAA!!!!!!!

20-30cm of white soft, fresh snow were greeting my curious gaze and giving me a holiday from the everbricky houses. I storm into Rita's room and asked her if she had already seen the snow outside! She pointed out that there was already a snowman (or snowgnome) in front of our house and informed me about the fact that no buses and no or hardly any tube lines were running! As a person who grew up in Austria, I naturally ask myself, "WHY?! What does one have to do with the other?" It's pretty impressive how a whole city hits the pause button for one day just because of a day of snow?! I mean, I don't want to seem arrogant but in Austria it snows like this for a whole season pretty much every day (or it used to anyway before Global Warming effects rose a notch). Can you imagine a public transport-free day in Vienna, Paris or Germany?? The only time I ever came close to that was when the whole inner city of Vienna was devoid of any trams nor cars only because George W. Bush gave us the privilege of 22 of his precious hours for a state visit. Creepy. It was as if Vienna had turned into some kind of ghost town or a Hollywood set, plane and suits included. I remember waiting 45 min for a friend who was walking all the time around the Ring Road.

Anyway, so the girls and I were trapped at home. Saboura received an email from the SOAS Communication Director that SOAS was closed due to a power out and that all classes and events had been suspended. Reports reached us that the library had to be closed as well because of that power cut. I mean, we don't get three months holidays in Austria just because it's winter! I mean, my cousin used to get days off school but that's because of monsoon floodings!

We girls scrub into our boots, throw ourselves into our prettiest winter outfit for the frosty occasion (complete with make up), don out shawls and, fully geared up and equipped with a camera, hit the road to Muswell Hill. What usually is a 30min walk, soon stretches into an hour as we stop at every second house to admire its beauty in the snow, taking pictures of loads of front gardens. Amazing how a pinch of snow can change the looks of a London detached or semi-detached house, bringing out its beauty like a touch of make up.

While Saboura is taking a picture, a lady comes around the corner, obviously British under her umbrella, the omni-protector that shall keep its bearer from ANY harm. A corner shop who sweeps off the snow of today's newspaper ad strikes up a conversation with a random passers-by while we continue to crunch through the snow - the familiar sound, long unheard, accompanying the oddly transformed concrete and brick scenery making me smile on the inside. And as I watch my feet creating impressions in the snow, my ears climax at the sound of a single local resident scraping his shovel in his front yard. "Oh my God! That's the sound that in Austria wakes you up every morning before sunrise at 5am in winter!" - when one or the other people and council employee comes with a snow shovel to clean the street. "Oh yes!!!", Saboura exclaims and Rita adds, "Oh that's why it seemed so familiar!" Pretty high and overdosed on First-Day-Of-Snow hormones, we arrive in Muswell Hill for a decadent brunch, passing a group of teenagers carrying a bob and giving way to an elegant elderly lady with ski sticks. By the time I had finished my (AMAZING!) strawberry & banana crepe and remembered that I actually wanted to go Alexandra Park (10 min walk), it was already getting dark very fast and I am disappointed for I was so sure that if I had looked down on London, I would have seen a sugar coated snow globe version of London I would not see until another 18 years pass and I will be 41!

Next day, I meet up with a friend of mine, Francois, who I actually wanted to meet on Monday except it would have taken me at least two hours to get there on foot. After exchanging the glee of the aesthetic effect of the historical snow between Londoners we share our continental amusement at the chaos it resulted in. I made fun of the fact that the Guardian actually dedicated its first seven (!) pages to the snow before moving on the the national news. He tells me how he "went to the geeem and while I was rrrunneeeeng, they were showeeeng pictooores of differrrrent snowmen forrrr a whole FIFTEEEEN mineeets!!! I was thinkeeeeng, FUCKING 'ELL!!!"

He, like other 1 in 5 employees had to stay at home that day thanks to suspension of transport due to "adverse weather conditions". Someone I know who works at SOAS actually WALKED TWO HOURS from Manor House on Monday only to find herself locked out at the gates. Emergency services took the decision to only respond to life-or-death situations. People were told in the media to limit their car journeys to absolutely necessary trips.

Wednesday: I set out in a hurry for a meeting at SOAS, carefully avoiding a big smeared reddish brown CRUMBLY paste that suspiciously looks like dog shit ironed by a person who slipped on the now frosty to icy pavement and made a bouncy landing on their British behinds. I am kind of glad not to find another large pool of murky muddy dark brown water that had spanned half the width of Hampden Road (or the WHOLE of it, according to Rita who had left a few hours earlier) the day before. Either the man who was poking around in the water with an iron tube near a GULLY actually managed to unclog it or route the water elsewhere. In an urgent pace to the bus stop, I approach an African lady from behind who stops in her tentative steps (unnecessary for the mushy snow) to turn around and look at whoever she hears marching so speedily across the suspicious shiny whiteness, asking me, "How can you walk so fast??" - "I grew up in a country where there is snow!" I shout, passing by on a patch of snowed over grass and noticing my fascination at the revelation that while in some countries, children grow up naturally learning to discern different kinds of snow by rather peripheral observation on their way home from school, others don't - and I have never realised before that in being able to walk in snow, to find a walkable route, I am actually equipped with a (survival?) SKILL. - "Oh, that's how you do it!"

It takes forever to get past Muswell Hill, thanks to things like spontaneous bottlenecks caused by emergency repair services who had to dig up the street. I pop out of the bus and hurry down the steep slope to Highgate Station, this time avoiding a muddy heap of that reddish-brown dog diarrhea stuff, systematically dispersed in small heaps after every metre. Suddenly I realise that what I thought was shit was actually grit! Only that some obviously non-snow-experienced or simply lazy person had apparently dropped a handful of grit out of a bag while walking at a regular pace instead of strewing wide arcs of grit with a shovel across the whole width of the pavement. I shake my head and grin to myself.

So far for my first real snow in London, the birth of a futuristic dream of an ice age where I can actually ski to SOAS and then take a red double-decker cable car back up the hill. I miss skiing so much! Concluding images include: literally SLIDING home from the bus stop on Thursday, two ladies in a cafe on Oxford Street unpacking their Zara shoppings (gym trousers 70 % reduced; long winter coat maybe not reduced as much due to sudden rise in demand - could not see its tag as it was removed pret-a-porter style) and video clips on the Guardian website of people walking with strong plastic bags as improvised boots (the English gaiter).

Although London, in more than one sense of the word froze for a day (or two or three or four), I had a feeling that it also bloomed, even if only for a short while, in that usually anonymous strangers shared their joy and happiness at the first day of snow in EIGHTEEN years or for some younger constituents, EVER, as they "took to the streets" on a free day out, united in celebration (and in hiding from snowball-throwing enemies).