Winter

I can only remember real snow once during my childhood. That is, snow that fell for days, blocking roads and raising the level of the land an extra metre or more. Schools were closed and commodities were in short supply. My godparents were with us for their annual post-Christmas visit, and they were unable to go home, which we thought was fun, though they probably did not, with the prospect of their long journey on slippery roads. My father managed to knock together some toboggans for us, and we had an amazing time sledging down our steep driveway. The men had to go out and help the farmers rescue livestock that were in trouble. Nigel went along and got stuck in a drift. They managed to pull him out, minus his boots. For a while the landscape was picture-postcard perfection, but as the snow started to melt, we could see the damage it had done to trees and property. Our school was unharmed, and to our sorrow and my mother’s relief re-opened after only a few days.

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Although the snow was beautiful and silent, it didn’t visit us very often. Our most regular weather condition was a wind off the sea. My bedroom window faced the sea, and at night the sash window rattled, adding to the noise of the wind howling in the sycamore tree outside. I pulled my blankets up over my head, frightened that the tree would blow down and come crashing through my bedroom. Later my mother confided that she had shared the same worry.

Sometimes we could hear the haunting call of an owl. Although long before the days of Harry Potter and Hedwig, I felt that the owl had a message for me. From time to time I sat in my window seat, looking for him, but was seldom rewarded. Occasionally when I was returning from a piano lesson in winter, I met the owl on the driveway.

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After dark, the trees either side of the drive took on menacing shapes, but the roadway was wide enough for me to stay out of the shadows. This was the longer route home, and only slightly less scary.

The alternative route was a narrow path past the back of the police station. There were two latch gates, and unless you actually stopped to close it, the first one closed, then re-opened, then clicked closed again, giving the impression there was an invisible person following you. Between the first and second gate there was a place where you had two shadows, no doubt caused by the position of the distant streetlights, but it reaffirmed my belief there was somebody or something behind me. The last gate was hidden in dense bushes, and very dark. Tendrils of ivy brushed your face as you fumbled with the latch. I remember my breath speeding up and panic rising in my throat.

So in winter, I took the long route hoping to see the owl, but in summer I skipped happily up the short narrow path, untroubled by any dark fears, occasionally even daring to pause, turn and stick my tongue out at my invisible follower.

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