It snowed this week. You hadn’t heard about it? I’m not surprised, that’s one problem with our country, we don’t make enough fuss about extreme weather, we just crack on as if if nothing happened and nobody says a thing about it.
I think it started on about Monday, predictions of a storm rivalling that in The Day After Tommorow was going to hit us in midweek. Just like everyone else, I quickly started to get obsessed. For two reasons. The first, like everyone else, I love the snow and have never got over the boyhood thrill of pulling back the curtains and experiencing the thrill of looking out over a pristine, white, alpine landscape, it’s truly magical. The second reason for my obsession is slightly more selfish. I’m now self employed and with it being World Book Day on March 1st, three schools had booked me to come in and talk to their children during the week about all things books and reading. Snow equals school closure, equals no school visit, equals no income. Welcome to the unpredictable world of the self employed. It wasn’t always this way for me.
The last really big snowfall I remember was about seven or eight years ago. I was then working for Swansea Council, based in Civic Centre. I remember it starting to snow at around midday, and from our office window, I quickly saw the snow cover, first, the car park and then, Oystermouth Road. For about an hour or so, people were rushing to and from meetings with the Chief Executive, in the next office to us, awaiting the “leave the building” order from up above. By about 2.00pm, it had got ridiculous, everywhere was white, snow was coming down stronger and I’d had the phone call from home that the kids had been sent home from school and that the area was becoming blanketed.
I decided enough was enough, and made the decision to go home, so booked a retrospective half day annual leave and charged down to the car park for my car. Three and a half hours later, I was still in it, sitting on Carmarthen Road, just up from Cwmbwrla roundabout, gridlocked in the snow.
Only one lane on Carmarthen Road was in use because of the speed at which the snow had stuck, and many cars were struggling to get the friction to make it up the incline of the hill toward Fforestfach. I was struggling for other reasons. The three cups of tea I’d had back in the office, when I was looking out of the window and waiting for the decision from the Chief Executive, had now come back to haunt me, big style. I was bursting for a wee.
My late aunt, Joyce, then lived in the sheltered accommodation complex on Carmarthen Road, near Fforestfach Cross, and if I could just make it there I’d be alright. If I could make it. It was a Big if.
The line of traffic started moving, just as my bladder was thinking about doing the same thing, and then abruptly stopped (the traffic not my bladder) just as we’d managed to get past Trainers and up toward the roundabout by Wickes. As I pulled the handbrake on, and watched the van up ahead, slewing as it tried – and was failing – to negotiate the roundabout, the pain I was in was reaching unbearable levels. I was trying to think about anything other than water, and was desperate for this tea inflicted ordeal to end.
After about another five minutes, the line started to move slowly again, but judging from the queue up ahead, and the accompanying torture of the pain of my bladder on brink of explosion, I knew that making Auntie Joyce’s was out of the equation. Then I saw my salvation. Kwik Fit. They were still open and a couple of the staff were outside, looking at the chaos on the road in front of them. As the traffic began to move again, I quickly seized my opportunity, dived in left to the entrance to their car park, leapt out of my car and ran toward them. “Toilet, please, do you have a toilet?!” One of the men pointed the direction and, Usain Bolt-like, I was off. I found it, got inside and then like some maniacal Michael Flately, dancing on the spot as I desperately tried to unzip my flies, managed to carry out what nature had been ordering me to do for the past hour and a half. The relief was incredible and indescribable.
After I was done, I went back outside and felt like hugging every single one of the mechanics who had saved me from ultimate embarrassment, but that would have been, well, odd. So I just said thank you, got back in my still running car and re-joined the snow queue. I got back home by about six.
The next day, after an unsuccessful attempt to drive the car out of our estate, I went back home, rang work and explained. “No problem, Dave, have a snow day”. So I did, with my girls and it was fantastic, a family day to treasure. The next day back in work, I was informed that because I’d made the effort to go in and had proof from reports by South Wales Police that roads from where I lived were unsafe to travel on, I got paid, oh the joys of full time employment! But that was then and this is now.
I managed to fulfil my booking at the first school this week, because my visit took place on Tuesday prior to a single flake having fallen, but when I checked my emails back at home, my Cardiff school that I was booked to visit on the Thursday – World Book Day itself – announced that they had to cancel due to the severity of the forecast. Bad news. To the self employed, a cancellation equals no income. It’s a tough old world for the self employed – and to excuse the pun – a day lost to weather, well, it’s snow joke! Worse was to follow.
Because the forecasts given in our area for Thursday and Friday had now moved to Red alert, Councils in Neath Port Talbot and Swansea, had given advice to their schools to close in advance of the storm, and soon I was reading a second email informing me that my Friday visit was also now cancelled. As much as I love the snow, the ‘Beast from the East’ was now not only ruining my plans for World Book Week, it was also costing me a large chunk of my weekly income.
Oh well, I pondered, them’s the breaks and life is just too short to worry about things we have no control over. At least I’ll have some snow to soften the blow. Money will always come and go, but snow, well, that’s so rare, it’s precious, a time to enjoy and frolic. So I waited for the ‘Beast’ to come with all its snowy glory. And I waited. And waited. Whilst it seemed that everywhere from Tiverton to Tonna was being turned into a white desert of Arctic tundra, Swansea was in the process of being missed completely. Social Media was going into meltdown. Half my friends were posting pictures that would have chilled Captain Scott to the bone, the other – me included – were posting pictures of grave disappointment, containing not a single snowflake. Not one.
And things didn’t change. As I write this on a cold and still windy Saturday morning, through my window I spy nothing, not a single clue to the passing of the ‘Beast from the East’. Although, apparently, it’s still snowing in Resolven. Cheated does not do it justice!
But there is a happy ending of sorts. On World Book Day, when I was supposed to be talking to over 300 children in Eastern High School, I decided to write a poem giving an amusing (hopefully) spin on how a snow day affects a school. When I put it out on Social Media, the sentiment of it clearly struck a chord, and the feedback I had from it was lovely, it really made my day, and I publish it again, below, for your perusal. At least I did something practical and literary with my unexpected World Book Day off, waiting for the snow – that never came – to arrive. Then, later in the day, I had two emails, one from Eastern High, and the other from Casllwchwr Primary, the other school who had been forced to cancel my booking. Both were enquiring if I had free dates in the coming couple of weeks to still come in and deliver my World Book Day Reading Workshops to their pupils, which fortunately I have. Great, great news and sincere thanks to both schools for choosing to postpone not cancel. I’m truly grateful.
But still no snow, that was a disappointment that remained strong. So yesterday, I figured that if the snow hasn’t come to me, then I must go to it, so I went out looking for it. Heading for deepest Gower, I found it in Reynoldston, one of my favourite villages, which was transformed into some sort of Tyrolean paradise. I can’t explain how wonderful landscapes such as the Gower become when given a liberal dusting of snow. The depth of vision of its views become incredible and transforms the wonder of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty to a whole new level of charm. My wife and I ended up on Cefn Bryn, with a walk out to Arthur’s Stone. It was breathtaking. Not so much the views or the snow which were a joy, but the wind was so strong and cold, it literally was breath taking!
But it was worth it. I’ve no idea why the bulk of Swansea became seemingly the only place in Wales to miss out on this mega blizzard, but please, dear weather Gods, next time – even if it means that my livelihood is affected again – just let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.
Johnny’s Snow Day by David Brayley
The Beast from the East they’ve called it, a real icy blast,
Tehree snowflakes I’ve seen so far, not long did any last,
But that’s enough to shut the schools, and stop the trains today,
“Bloody great!” shouted Johnny, down the road, “I’m going out to play!”
Now Johnny loved a snow day, when he didn’t go to school,
The night before, in the window, he’d stand and watch and drool,
This year he was lucky, because before a flake had stuck,
The local Council closed the school, he couldn’t believe his luck.
A day of freedom, no noisy classrooms, no teachers he didn’t like,
Instead, straight to the garage, Johnny jumped upon his bike,
“It’s closed, it’s closed”, he shouted loud as he cycled past his school,
He caught his reflection in a car, he thought he looked quite cool.
You see Johnny was quite a timid soul, he didn’t like a crowd,
The noisy corridors at play, he always found them loud,
So when it snowed at night, as he sat there on his stool,
He hoped someone from the Council, would decide to close his school.
On he went, toward the park, his bike going even faster,
Before he stopped and turned around – he’d seen the Science master,
Johnny didn’t want to meet someone who’d ask some awkward questions,
Or even worse, suggest something silly, like having extra sessions.
So back he went, the way he came, looking straight up at the sky,
“Oh snow some more, keep the school closed longer” was his loud and desperate cry,
He got back home, he rushed straight in and put the telly on,
Derek the Weatherman he wanted to watch, he’d be on before too long.
“The Beast from the East and Storm Emma”, Derek said, “are both coming our way”,
“Schools will be closed tomorrow too, unless you’ve got a sleigh”,
Johnny squealed with delight and punched the air, his dream had just come true,
Not one day off school because of the snow, Derek just said it’s two!
Johnny’s mum came in, smiled to herself as she saw her son delighted,
She always loved his happiness and the way his eyes were lighted,
“Make the most of it Johnny Bach, because soon there’ll be a disaster,
You’ll have to go back on Monday, mind…after all, you’re the Headmaster”.