Snow is like the Pussycat Dolls

Snow is starting to get too big for its boots. It needs to be put in its place.

Snow! When I woke up this morning, it had been falling stealthily for hours with that strange, magical, I'm-thicker-than-rain sound. As I glance out of the window at my quiet street, it's coating the cars and hanging thickly in the branches. The pavements and lawns are covered in unblemished white layers of it.

Pretty soon local schools will start admitting there's no point in trying to restrain the kids, who will be let loose like wild animals. By this evening, with a couple more flurries, the whole neighbourhood will look like a Christmas card - fittingly, as local shops have been pretending it's Christmas since mid-September as usual. Good old snow!

White gold

And if we get another couple of days of the white gold, it'll start to bring about all the other magical effects we see every winter. Elderly people will fall over and crack ribs and break legs, but the emergency services won't be able to do much about it, because they'll be dealing with "youths" who've chucked handfuls of it in each other's faces. Public transport will grind to a customary halt, and if there's one thing more tedious than that, it's people complaining that public transport has ground to a customary halt.

Radio phone-ins and local news bulletins will be full of nothing but people asking: "Why, oh why, can't we in this country deal with a little bit of snow?" But even as they're doing this, the national media will be embarking on their annual snow-fest, with wall-to-wall updates on exactly how white everything is at the moment. The blanket (of snow) coverage will push everything else out of the headlines: if Elvis were to fly in to the country during a cold snap, the main focus of the reports would be on whether or not his airport was going to be closed.

On top of this, it will be horribly, horribly cold for weeks. It'll be difficult to get around without slipping and sliding like beginner ice skaters. In fact, the whole of Britain will look like the early stages of Dancing on Ice, except without the alarming leotards. Queues in ­supermarkets and post offices and banks and everywhere else will suddenly be maddeningly long as people get into the British mildly-bad-weather siege mentality ("We might be prisoners for six months! We must withdraw all our money and buy 1,000 tins of beans!").

Events will be cancelled. The public mood will become ugly as cars get trapped in driveways; the poor man whose job it is to explain why the country doesn't have enough grit for the roads will be wheeled out again. Finally, the whole fandango will sputter out about a week before Christmas, just in time for an un-festive dampness to settle as Father Christmas starts to make his rounds.

Yes, I'm sorry to be a Scrooge about this, and I know it isn't a popular viewpoint, but snow really isn't that much fun. It's time for us all to get over it.
I know there's an atavistic thrill when it starts to fall, I know it looks beautiful at night when you're huddled in front of the fire, I know it's a very handy way of getting a day off work. I'm not advocating a complete ban on the stuff. Nor am I crying "humbug" at all the people whose first instinct is to go scampering out to play in the snow until their face freezes over. Good luck to them all. I'm just asking for a bit of common sense and perspective here. Snow is like a lot of today's girl bands: superficially attractive, but quickly tiresome and ultimately quite damaging.

Next time the heavens open with snow, picture the Pussycat Dolls hurtling out of the sky, and I can almost guarantee you'll see it in a less favourable light. Unless you go on to imagine them dashing their brains out on the pavement. In which case, the fantasy has its merits.

Big boots

Perhaps a couple of years ago, the rarity value of snow provided more of an excuse for its worship. But in 2009 and 2010 alone, there have been at least four severe snowfalls, two of them shutting down the roads around me for a week at a time. We can no longer act as if snow is some kind of prodigal son appearing whimsically to light up our lives. It's starting to get too big for its boots. It needs to be put in its place.

And that place is a few days either side of Christmas, a cameo in a few dozen festive films, followed by a dignified disappearance.

When snow starts playing by those rules again, I'll be back on its side. Until then, do excuse me if I don't join in the scramble to put it down someone's neck or throw it at cars, or even jump around in it. I'm off to buy some of those flaming torches used by circus acts. Let's see if
I can tidy things up a bit around here.

Mark Watson is a stand-up comedian and novelist. His most recent book, Crap at the Environment, follows his own efforts to halve his carbon footprint over one year.

This article first appeared in the 06 December 2010 issue of the New Statesman, Vietnam: the last battle

Felipe Araujo
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Hull revisited: What happens when a Brexit stronghold becomes City of Culture?

We report from Hull, to find out if you can replace the kind of nostalgia that led to a Leave vote with cultural investment.

At 75 metres long, the offshore wind turbine blade erected across Queen Victoria Square, in the heart of Hull, is a sculpture intended to mark a new chapter in the city’s history. For the next 12 months, Hull, a city of more than a quarter of a million people in the northeast of England, will be the UK’s City of Culture.

The 28-tonne blade hails from the local Siemens plant. The German technology company employs around 1,000 people in the area, making it Hull’s biggest single employer.

Seen up close in this context – laid dormant in the middle of a town square instead of spinning up in the air generating energy – the structure is meant to remind passersby of a giant sea creature. It is also, I’m told, an allusion to Hull’s rich maritime history.


All photos: Felipe Araujo

Nostalgia is a big thing in this part of the country. At one point, Hull was the UK’s third largest port but technology and privatisation drastically changed that. The battle over cod fishing with Iceland in the waters of the North Sea 40 years ago has also dealt a major blow to a region with a long and proud trawling tradition.

People here still talk about a bygone era when the fishing industry provided jobs for everyone and there was enough money to go around.

Fast forward to 2017, and the country’s new capital of culture is the same city that voted 67 per cent in favour of leaving the EU last June. Its new-found prestige, it seems, is not enough to erase years of neglect by a political class “too busy for commoners like us”, as one resident puts it.

“More than a message to Brussels, it [the Brexit vote] was a message to Westminster,” Paul Leeson-Taylor, a filmmaker born and bred in Hull, tells me. “For the first time in a long time people in Hull felt like they had the chance to change something, and they took it.”

But while speaking to people on the high street and hanging out with locals at the Community Boxing Club in Orchard Park, one of the city’s most deprived areas, there is one word that consistently popped up in conversation – more than any specific policy from Westminster or the much-hated rules “dictated” by Brussels. Foreigners.

According to official figures, Hull’s population is 89.1 per cent white British. Still, immigration is big on people’s minds here.

During my two-day stay in the city, I find myself being the only black person in most places I visit – I’m certainly the only black guy at the boxing club. So when someone begins a sentence with “I’m not racist but…”, I know a tirade on immigrants is about to ensue.

“There are just too many of them,” Nick Beach, an estate agent whose Polish clientele is a big part of his business, tells me as he is about to teach a boxing class to local children. Beach was born in Shepherd’s Bush, in West London, but has been living in Hull for the last 20 years.

“When I go down there these days and go into Westfield shopping centre, it is very rare you get an English person serving you now,” he says. “I just find it disappointing that you go into your capital city and you are a minority there.”

These are the much-discussed “left behind”, a white working-class community that has gained particular prominence in a time of Brexit and Donald Trump. Under economic pressure and facing social change, they want to have their say in running a country they claim to no longer recognise.

For Professor Simon Lee, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Hull, immigration is only a superficial layer when it comes to explaining the resentment I witness here. For him, the loss of the empire 70 years ago is still something that as a country Britain hasn’t come to terms with.

“The reason for us to be together as a United Kingdom has gone, so what is the project?”

As destiny would have it, a foreign company will now play a major role on Hull’s economic future, at least in the short term. In the wake of the Brexit vote, there were widespread fears Siemens would pull out of the region and take its factory elsewhere. With the massive blade looming large in the background, Jason Speedy, director of the blade factory in Hull, assures me that isn’t the case.

“The Brexit decision has made no difference. We have made our investment decision, so Siemens, together with the Association of British Ports, has put in £310m. It’s all full steam ahead.”

As Hull becomes the country’s cultural hub for the next few months, the hope is that its residents stop looking back and start looking forward.

For Professor Lee, though, until there is a complete change in the power structures that run the country, the north-south divide will remain – with or without the EU. “The way you kill nostalgia is to have something new,” he said. “The reason why people here are nostalgic is because there is nothing to replace it with.”

Felipe Araujo is a freelance journalist based in London. He writes about race, culture and sports. He covered the Rio Olympics and Paralympics on the ground for the New Statesman. He tweets @felipethejourno.