Snowy Days in Reading

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May 28th 2017
Published: May 28th 2017
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Ho Chi Minh City, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Wednesday, April 20, 2016

I have lived in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, since 2001. The weather here is completely predictable: either hot and dry or hot and wet. When it rains, that too is predictable – only during the rainy season and invariably in the late afternoon. On the whole, I like a climate that does not require me to wear a sweater or coat. Here, outside of work, I wear shorts and a light shirt. The only time I put on an extra layer, or long trousers, is when I visit the hill station of Dalat, which can be very cool.

I am English and lived in England for 33 years before emigrating to the tropics. I miss the English seasons – the colours of autumn, the flowers and birds of spring but, most of all, the winter snow.

Snow is unknown in Vietnam. The last time I saw snow was in northern Spain in May (yes, May) 2001, when I joined a tourist group to explore the countryside around Sotres. The weather that May was amazing: clear blue skies over a blanket of snow. The snow was thigh-deep in places, so we had to tread slowly and carefully.

I have seen snow in several countries – notably Himalayan Kashmir – but it is English snow I remember best.

To a young boy in England, back in the 1950's and 60's, snow was a blessing. It meant snowball fights and snowmen. Our back garden – indeed the whole neighbourhood – underwent a metamorphosis from drab to gorgeous. I especially loved those rare days when the snow had stopped falling and the skies were blue.

A special winter memory is of one Christmas Day morning when my father entered my bedroom, pulled back the curtains and said: "Look – the best Christmas present of all." It had snowed overnight, and my bedroom window was encrusted in frost patterns and icicles.

My best memories, however, of English snow are from the great winter of 1963 – when I was 12.

The hill at the top of Alexandra Road, which we called Chalk Hill, froze over and was inaccessible to cars. We boys had it all to ourselves for a few days and spent many happy hours sledging down it.

Whiteknights Lake completely froze for the first time in living memory. I remember walking on the solid surface with hundreds of other people. We were oblivious to the danger of the ice cracking, or perhaps the ice was so thick there was no danger.

The weather on the English east coast was so grim during the winter of '63 that seabirds came inland in search of food. A party of shags – small cormorants – came up the Thames as far as Sonning Lock, so desperate were they for fish. This was a unique event in the annals of ROC (Reading Ornithological Club). My teacher at Redlands Primary School, Mr Price, taught us this. I have also read that the kingfisher population of England was nearly wiped out during that savage winter.

Will I ever see snow again? Probably not. But I have my immortal memories. I understand why the poet wrote “Ou sont les neiges d'antan?” ("Where are the snows of yesteryear?"), not "Where are the suns of yesteryear?" Because there is something magical about a snowy landscape - even in Reading.


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