John Boynton Priestley
When I got up this morning, the world was a chilled hollow of dead white and faint blues. The light that came through the windows was very queer, and it contrived to make the familiar business of splashing and shaving and brushing and dressing very queer too. Then the sun came out, and by the time I had sat down to breakfast, it was shining bravely and flushing the snow with delicate pinks. The dining-room window had been transformed into a lovely Japanese print. The little plum-tree outside, with the faintly flushed snow lining its boughs and artfully disposed along its trunk, stood in full sunlight. An hour or two later, everything was a cold glitter of white and blue. The world had completely changed again. The little Japanese prints had all vanished. I looked out of my study window, over the garden, the meadow, to the low hills beyond, and the ground was one long glare, the sky was steely, and all the trees so many black and sinister shapes. There was indeed something curiously sinister about the whole prospect. It was as if our kindly countryside, closed to the very heart of England, had been turned into a cruel steppe. At any moment, it seemed, a body of horsemen might be seen breaking out from the black copse, so many instruments of tyranny, and shots might be heard and some distant patch of snow be reddened. It was that kind of landscape.
Now it has changed again. The glare has gone and no touch of the sinister remains. But the snow is falling heavily, in great soft flakes, so that you can hardly see across the shallow valley, and the roofs are thick and the trees all bending, and the weathercock of the village church, still to be seen through the grey loaded air, has become some creature out of Hans Andersen. From my study, which is apart from the house and faces it, I can see the children flattening their noses against the nursery window, and there is running through my head a jangle of rhyme I used to repeat when I was a child and flattened my nose against the cold window to watch the falling snow:
Snow, snow faster:
Killing geese in Scotland,
Sending feathers here!
This morning, when I first caught sight of the unfamiliar whitened world, I could not help wishing that we had snow oftener, that English winters were more wintry. How delightful it would be, I thought, to have months of clean snow and a landscape sparkling with frost instead of innumerable grey featureless days of rain and raw winds. I began to envy my friends in such places as the Eastern States of America and Canada, who can count upon a solid winter every year and know that the snow will arrive by a certain date and will remain, without degenerating into black slush, until Spring is close at hand. To have snow and frost and yet a clear sunny sky and air as crisp as a biscuit – this seemed to me happiness indeed. And then I saw that it would never do for us. We should be sick of it in a week. After the first day, the magic would be gone and there would be nothing left but the unchanging glare of the day and the bitter cruel nights. It is not the snow itself, the sight of the blanketed world, that is so enchanting, but the first coming of the snow, the sudden and silent change. Out of the relations, for ever shifting and unanticipated, of wind and water comes a magical event. Who would change this state of things for a steadily recurring round, an earth governed by the calendar? It has been well said that while other countries have a climate, we alone in England have weather. There is nothing duller than climate, which can be converted into a topic only by scientists and hypochondriacs. But weather is our earth’s Cleopatra, and it is not to be wondered at that we, who must share her gigantic moods, should be for ever talking about her. Once we were settled in America, Siberia, Australia, where there is nothing but a steady pact between climate and the calendar, we should regret her very naughtinesses, her willful pranks, her gusts of rage, and sudden tears. Waking in a morning would no longer be an adventure. Our weather may be fickle, but it is no more fickle than we are, and only matches our inconstancy with her changes. Sun, wind, snow, rain, how welcome they are at first and how soon we grow weary of them! If this snow lasts a week, I shall be heartily sick of it and glad to speed its going. But its coming has been an event. Today has had a quality, an atmosphere, quite different from that of yesterday, and I have moved through it feeling a slightly different person, as if I were staying with new friends or had suddenly arrived in Norway. A man might easily spend five hundred pounds trying to break the crust of indifference in his mind, and yet feel less than I did this morning.