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My first snowfall – Clarissa Tan’s diary

4 February 2012

12:00 PM

4 February 2012

12:00 PM

To everything there is a season, says the Bible. And, as I have been discovering, to every season there are certain things. To autumn belongs the wet shiny streets, the brollies and the macs, the brightly coloured soups, the quiet squares where both trees and grass are emblazoned with gold leaves. Then, as autumn moves to winter, there are the fleecy collars and fluffy hats, the steamy breaths, the ferrous skies. Perhaps before the season is over, I’ll get to see windowpanes with actual snow on them, instead of cotton wool.

•••

I have spent all my life, until now, in the tropics, where there are no seasons. Singapore is just one degree north of the equator, and you’re reminded of the fact all the time as the sun bears down and the thunderstorms whip (both usually within the space of 24 hours). Dawn and dusk arrive at the same time every day. Humidity wraps the earth like a wet towel. Vegetation is lush throughout the year; orchids flourish with no need of hothouses. When walking outdoors, you hop from shade to shade, avoiding the sun. The only people who don suits are western businessmen.

•••

I have, of course, experienced the colder seasons before — by visiting Sydney or Shanghai. But I’ve never actually stayed put in one place as the seasons lapse one into the other. I find it beautiful and somewhat unsettling: the other day I saw a London cab turn the corner at Russell Square and I stopped in my tracks, startled by the spiralling of amber leaves in its wake.

•••

I am stirred by superficial things. It seems to me that everyone looks better in the cold. Long coats, gloves, knee boots — these have evolved far less quickly and faddishly than T-shirts, miniskirts and sandals. Nobody has yet, thankfully, invented the Crocs equivalent of the trench coat. And, for reasons I can’t ascertain, the manufacturers of down jackets and wool skirts and trousers overwhelmingly prefer to make these in shades of black, grey and brown, rather than, say, pink, green and orange. The result is that everyone, somewhat by default, suddenly has a more classic, elegant look. To me, with my tourist’s eyes, it’s like turning back the clock by several decades.


•••

It’s great weather for walks. On weekends I walk for hours, never breaking into a sweat — this for me is luxury. On these occasions I leave my A-Z at home and follow the course of the sun. I’ve realised that in the cold months, it gives off a beautiful light but little heat. How strange it feels, to be chasing the sun! I track it towards Charing Cross and watch its beams slide over the church of St Giles-in-the-Fields. When its light falls on the National Gallery, I am there. I pursue its trail across Trafalgar Square and down the Mall. Then, from a blue bridge in St James’s Park, I see its pink rays disappear behind Buckingham Palace.

•••

The days grow ever shorter, people tell me, the deeper you get into winter. I find my days getting longer. By force of habit, I define my leisure time as the hours after sunset, so I feel I’ve now been handed oodles of extra playtime. I ignore most emails and phone calls after 4 p.m. I feel it’s only right that I should be nursing a glass of wine and cradling my Kindle, with my feet up, by six in the evening. And then there are still hours and hours before bedtime.

•••

English literature moves me as never before. Its sounds, images, metaphors, rhythms — so much hangs on the particularities of the weather and the seasons. ‘The hoarse leaves crawl on hissing ground/ Because the sighing wind is low,’ says Gerard Manley Hopkins: yes, yes I can feel what he means. I can see how it could only be in spring (and not, say, midwinter), that a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. And that a ‘summer of discontent’ would have meant something quite, quite different.

•••

Sometimes I miss the tropics. I miss the cradling warmth, the long torpid afternoons, the freedom of knowing you can dive into a swimming pool at any time, night or day. I feel frustrated when I’ve walked ten paces on to my street and then realise I’m freezing because I forgot my coat. Yet, as the weeks pass, I settle into the flow. There’s something in the passing of the seasons, something grand. It is the whirl of time, a tangible display of the cycle of life. And, for me, it brings with it a sense of relief.

•••

I fear growing old. I fear one day I will wake up to find that I walk slower, stoop lower, can see more of my gums. My hands will be old and gnarled like the branches of a bare tree. Yet, looking at an actual bare, gnarled tree brings comfort. It’s my fear materialised, and it’s not so bad. The trick may be to slide along with the seasons and not resist.

•••

It’s sunny today. As I sit at home, Kindle in hand, I listen to weather reports predicting a cold snap just before the turn into spring. Outside my window a few last leaves fall, bright in their falling.

Clarissa Tan, 1972-2014, was a winner of The Spectator’s Shiva Naipaul prize and a staff writer on the magazine.


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