In the 30-odd years that I’ve lived in London, I can think of only half a dozen proper sledging days. The capital’s comical lack of preparedness for white-outs is, of course, a source of amusement for other, snowier parts of the country. But then, why prepare for something that never happens? (Until it does.)
Peter Marlow’s picture of Greenwich Park from February 2009 recalls a day on which schools were closed for all the right reasons and public transport slithered to a predictable halt. The headline in the London Evening Standard read: “It’s -5 and we’re going snowhere!” But that wasn’t quite true. Everyone with a tea tray in the cupboard or an underused toboggan in the attic fetched it out and trudged to the nearest hill.
In fact, the snowfall of 2009 was so “severe” on the day of Marlow’s picture that newspapers dispatched correspondents to report how it felt. In the Guardian, Stuart Jeffries described a hushed metropolitan epiphany: “As I walked towards Hampstead Heath, I heard whoops and cheers. The heath was like Narnia. My God, I told myself as I walked through a heavenly avenue with snow-laden branches bejewelling my steps, this is the most beautiful city in the world! (I was delirious, high on pheromones, snow bonkers, and in need of a good slap.)”
At the time, Britain was knee-deep in its last crippling crisis. Credit had recently crunched. Days before, RBS had just reported the biggest loss in British corporate history. And the World Health Organization had just identified a potential global pandemic, originating in pig farms in Mexico, that became known as swine flu. For a day at least, though, sledgers could abandon anxiety and let gravity do its thing. In this current bleakest of midwinters, looking at Marlow’s picture, three irrational thoughts came to my mind, in no particular order: let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.