It took three hours for cabin fever to set in. Last Christmas, snowed in at the Oxfordshire homestead, my brother Ed and I, cooped up, cross, snappish, reverted to childhood squabbling. There’s a photo on my phone of Ed’s dog Rags standing at the kitchen door looking mournfully through the glass. We did let her out, but there are few sights so pitiable as a Chihuahua–Pomeranian trying to gambol, shivering, through four inches of snow. The first afternoon, I paced the upstairs corridor wondering how long before I went full Jack Torrance in The Shining. ‘All snow and no walk makes Laura a dull girl…’
By the third day, I was over the hump and well into hygge. Sheepskin socks, cashmere bobble hat, collected works of Somerset Maugham. I could have been shovelling my way to the main road and gritted freedom. Instead: total snow surrender. That’s the way to do it. Think of Greymuzzle in Henry Williamson’s Tarka the Otter, curled around her blind cub in the reeds, keeping him warm while the blizzard rages. When the snow starts to settle: go Greymuzzle.
Christmas is one thing. By the time the Beast from the East came in February and my dad had dug the car out of the drive for the fifth time, awe and wonder had rather worn off. But those days between Christmas and the New Year, when time, trains, traffic and even Twitter seemed to stop, were magic.
Bitter disappointment on the 30th, as the ponds started to fill with melt water. I’d been counting on a snowed-in New Year’s Eve and an excuse not to go to Norfolk for a party at a rectory described to me by one veteran guest as ‘the coldest house in the world’. (The trick, I found, was to go upstairs every hour and lie under the electric blanket until blood returned, then back to the freezing fray.)
There’s been a debate in the Telegraph letters pages this December about why Norwegian doorways open outwards not inwards. So that the snow doesn’t fall in and soak the hall, said one correspondent. But how do you get the door open if the snow is banked six-feet deep? Answers on the back of a Christmas card. In Isak Dinesen’s short story ‘Babette’s Feast’, the Norwegian villagers, after the fabled champagne-and-turtle-soup dinner, find themselves sleeping until late afternoon because the snow is so high against the windows that it still feels like night. Such a heavy snowfall had never been known in Berlevaag.
The ideal snowed-in scenario is something like Badger’s sett in The Wind in The Willows. You need to wander for a while in the Wild Wood, menaced by stoats and weasels (Oxford Street shoppers and Yodel delivery men), before tripping over a boot-scraper hidden by the snow — ‘Hooray-oo-ray-oo-ray-oo-ray!’ says the Rat — and coming in to toasted slippers and a first-rate fire.
This year I’m hoping for an encore. I’ve put Larkin’s Letters Home on my Christmas list and if the snow comes, I’m going to eat clementines and Medjool dates while Eva darns Philip’s socks. Frozen on the telly, Rags by the Aga, and enough venison casserole in the freezer to last until the thaw.