The Severn Bore at Minus Four
Thursday, the second of March, 2018. The UK was in shut-down due to the Beast from the East and Emma. Both arrived with fanfares a-blowing, the weather channels in their element as they shared endless predictions and warnings. Yellow, amber red — no, it’s ok, the red is only yellow, no need to worry. But wait, the yellow is now amber, we’re in red-alert!
Whereas we used to look out of the window to gauge the weather, or tune into the weather report that followed the evening news on the radio or TV, we now have constant satellite updates relayed online, through apps on our phones and tablets, from scrolling lines of text on our screens as we work. Witty people posted on Facebook Marketplace that they had a fresh supply of snow in at a good price, and that more was coming constantly — collect your own while it still lasts.
The crisis-planners took the siege approach, storming supermarkets for bread, milk and other items that they need to survive for a day or two, or risk dying. Humour began to wane as the transport system skidded slowly to a halt, like Bambi on ice in slow-mo.
It all became quite chaotic on the news, digital noise that battered us, creating anxiety balanced with bemusement. I can’t help wondering how it could have come to this. After all, this is Britain, a country with distinctive seasons, one of which is winter, during which we get snow, every year.
Who would have thought it? Snow! As the population became resigned to the fact that there would be no chance of finding a loaf of bread, or any mode of transport that is reliable, everyone eventually settled into hygge-mode. All of a sudden the panic switch was left to idle, and communities got their act together. Neighbours looked out for each other and social media proved to be a really useful tool, for a change. People who were stuck in places far away from ailing parents were able to communicate with someone in their parent’s village and arrange help for them — pills from the chemist, food for the cat.
Maybe I am a romantic, but I am convinced that those who braved the cold into the streets to spread grit, or shovel snow, were glowing not only from the icy wind on their faces. They flushed with the pleasure of being part of their local community. People you rarely saw in the village came out of their houses. The pubs filled up with cheer and pictures shared on mobile phones, comparing the size of their snowdrifts — oooo, look at THAT one!
Oh, how we laughed, until we realised that during the two hours we were in the pub it had not stopped snowing and had got very dark. The main road had become an ice rink and the village shop closed up early as they had little left to sell.
Friday morning, at dawn, most people were still snuggled up in bed under stacks of quilts, condensation dripping down their bedroom windows. Little did they know that out there, in the biting winds of minus four, was a madwoman dressed in layers of clothes tromping down to the river to film the bore. It was me.
Clutching a tripod in one hand and a mug of tea in the other, I crept out into the superb virgin snow. As I left, I kicked away the knee-high drift that had created a curving wave-sculpture against my front door. In the street, the snow was easy to walk through as it was soft and powdery. It made a wonderful crunching noise as I walked. That was the only sound in the road, indeed in the village — no cars, no birds, no distant trains, no planes overhead, nor doors banging.
It is impossible not to feel a sense of power and childish delight when you are the first to tread newly-fallen snow. Difficult not to whoop with delight in a street where others are sleeping. I let a giggle slip out, because there was no-one to hear me. As I approached the riverbank the wind whipped up, burning my face with biting cold air, my tea already down to lukewarm, my fingers beginning to hurt under my gloves. Little splashes of English Breakfast left stains as I rushed along, leaving a trail, like Hansel and Gretel. Should I have tumbled into the freezing waters, they would have found me by tracking those brown traces.
Just before a bore comes in, the riverbed is usually very low, and that morning was no exception. Whereas normally it reveals a brown-grey sandy bank down the centre of the river, that morning it was glittering with sparkly ice, metres and metres of crystal formations surrounded by slow-moving water, travelling downstream. I swear I could hear them crackling in the otherwise silent landscape.
There was nobody else in sight. The snow was fell gently, the scene disturbed only by the occasional fly-by of terns or egret. I set up my tripod, worrying a bit whether, like my fingers, the three hundred and sixty degree camera would suffer and struggle to function. Clipped onto the tripod safety and planted with all three legs deep into the snow drifts, I felt it was securely stable against the wind. Inside its little Lycra sleeve, it would be ok, after all, Lycra keeps surfers and divers warm. I set the kit up ready to shoot and stood there, waiting, rubbing my hands vigorously and stamping my feet as I gazed downriver.
It was uncannily beautiful.
The shadowy line in the distance got closer, the water appeared to travel at the speed of mercury — weighty with the biting cold air, thick, heavy, it spread over the icy mudflats, changing the colour to murky brown.
I whipped the camera-warmer off and pressed start for the video.
This was my reward for all that scaremongering and stress that had wrapped the nation in fear. This was peace. Pure, unadulterated snow and pure unadulterated wonderfulness.
Admittedly, pure unadulterated numbness of fingers was beginning to set in too, and my face was feeling raw. But standing there, still for a moment, the sound of the bore approaching filled the air. As it approached the west bank behind the cliff below Newnham Church, a flock of ducks rushed out to avoid being swamped. As a group they flew low above the water’s surface, upriver, only to come back later when the tide had settled again. They always do.
I filmed for a very short time, both fingers and camera being very vulnerable and risking irreparable damage. I returned home cold and with painful fingers and toes, but it was worth it. Soon, all of our lives will have returned to normal again. I am lucky, I have some beautiful three hundred and sixty degree footage from a magical moment by the river in minus four degrees. Life is just a matter of degrees of happiness, make sure you use them well. Better than being numb.
Snow-time is slow-time, it’s a gift.