Saturday, 28 November 2015


It is supposedly the case that the older you get, the colder you feel; or more precisely, the more you feel the cold. With December imminent, days are shortening and dark shades and icy blasts are encroaching as the northern hemisphere undergoes its annual rapid cooling.

The son of a family I know moved to Helsinki a couple of months ago to be with his Finnish girlie. She is reputedly very pretty and that might be enough to brighten his winter, otherwise I think he's in for a bit of a Scandinavian shock. I have a friend from school days who took that route to love some forty years ago and who has resided in Finland ever since. When I asked him what it was like living north of the 60th parallel in winter, he informed me in no uncertain terms that November into December (i.e. now) is the worst of times - the darkest, most dismal and depressing passage of the year; doubly dark because of the short hours of daylight and the fact there is no snow yet to lighten the landscape; dismal and depressing because of the prospect of five months of the same stretching ahead. No wonder the rates of alcoholism and suicide are high in Inflandia! Pity the poor Moomins.

Overwintering is probably of Norwegian rather than Finnish derivation (from overvintre). It's what my old school friend does. He's not in Finland as I write this - hasn't spent a November there in decades, apparently. He goes somewhere else for those worst few weeks: Thailand, the Canaries, anywhere warm and reasonably inexpensive. Sensible chap. But then it's no different from what hundreds of Blackpool hoteliers and landladies do. As the 'season' here ends (usually once the Illuminations finish after Bonfire Night), they close up their guest-houses and B&Bs and catch flights to the sun for the winter. They used to be able to jet off from Blackpool International Airport to Spain and all points south, but our airport closed last year and there are seagulls roosting on the runways. My next-door-neighbours are in Malaga right now tanning themselves while I look after their cat (the tyrannical Tom).

Overwintering does have some well-documented horticultural implications as well. There's lots of sage advice to be had about the best way to 'overwinter' all manner of plants: cannas, fuschias, even aubergines. I used to overwinter my favourite geraniums - and maybe I'll write a poem about them some time soon.

Overwintering, then, is essentially a form of seasonal migration, be it from frozen north to sunny south or from garden to potting-shed; an alternative to hibernation for those who can't shut down but who find the cold and dark days debilitating and can afford to do something about it.

For the rest of us, we'll just have to wrap up warm and find some pleasure in whatever the season brings. Let it snow etc.

The photograph is one my eldest daughter took of her college gates one winter evening about a decade ago.

This week's poem is an updating of something I wrote when I was still at school, sitting next to the afore-mentioned friend in one of old Tanfield's 6th form history lessons about the causes of the First World War. (Old Tanfield, that's funny. John Tanfield was younger then than I am now! How the years grow elastic.) I must have been more interested in gazing out of the window...

Winter At War
Pinch of frost and tang of pine,
sky grown heavy-belly grey.
Concentration wanders
as condensation clouds my mind.
I peer
through freezing flurries
driving this way, that,
shoal-like before a fluctuating wind
peppered with a zing of sniper fire.
Are we even half alive?

For just a moment then
I thought I caught a glimpse of evergreen,
of tinsel and baubles,
straining eyes and hope
until the mental mirage broke.
It was only a gnarled old tree
twisting in lieu of a dream.

The eagle and the lion
battle forth and back,
back and forth
in the sodden, futile toil of war
till they slowly die in freezing soil;
and even as we turn
the earth grows cold,
bereft of sun.

Thanks for reading. Have a warming week, S ;-)


Adele said...

I love this poem and the perspective triggered by the Winter outside. It lets us have 'just a peek' at Christmas warmth through what must have been unimaginable Winters.