I is for Icicles

“You don’t get icicles like you did when I was a girl,” OneMonkey’s mum (born in the 1940s) used to say. The changing climate and rose-tinted hindsight both play their part I’m sure, but I’m starting to agree with her and I was born thirty-odd years later.

Icicles from my childhood, as photographed by my dad

I vividly remember my dad driving us through the dusk sometime in 1985, somewhere in Cornwall, and passing a wall of icicles as big as me, covering a cliff face. Admittedly I wasn’t very big at the time but they were still impressive icicles and gave me a considerable Wow moment. Even then I didn’t see icicles very often, despite expecting to be able to build snowmen each winter. They were magical sparkly reminders of fairytales or Narnia or Superman’s hideout in the Christopher Reeve film. Whereas snow could be stomped in and built with, icicles didn’t have a purpose, they just were.

Icicles at our old place, 2010

I still find snow a magical and wondrous thing, though I dare say I wouldn’t if I had to drive in it. Maybe if I lived in the parts of Canada or Scandinavia where the snow arrives weeks before Christmas and stays till the Spring thaw I’d get used to it, stop noticing its softening magnificence. Here at the edge of the Yorkshire Dales though it’s an occasional visitor that rarely outstays its welcome and I will happily watch descending snowflakes or marvel at fresh-fallen snow the way I did twenty, thirty or forty years ago. Icicles are rarer still and I can’t help taking pictures of any I encounter that are more than about an inch and a half long.

Icicles outside the window, 2018

Of course, the fact that I can remember those specific icicles in 1985 suggests they were pretty out of the ordinary. No doubt there were several winters in my childhood where I saw smaller icicles or none at all. Still, I look at the more recent ones and think, They’re just not as good as the icicles when I was a girl.

I could also have been for icing, illness or I believe in Father Christmas but if you enjoyed this one you can always buy me a cuppa at


Commuters in wellingtons

Snow has come to town this last week, and so far it has stayed. Looking out of my window is like looking into a fairytale; the trees are caked and bowed, the distinction between path and flower-bed lost. There is a frisson of excitement to the morning commute. Will I get to the station in good time, without falling? Will the train be delayed? Will it run at all? Will a passing van going too fast on the main road splash me from waist to ankle with brown slush?

Routine is turned upside down. People are getting the bus because they can’t get the car safely to the main road. Or they’re driving to work because the train’s cancelled. Walking the kids to school because the school bus can’t get through. Hiking boots are called upon, and jumpers not usually considered fit for work are brought into play. Men turn up for meetings in suits, ties, and green wellingtons.

It is at these frayed edges of everyday behaviour that stories form. They crystallise like the winter ice and are just as delicate. Gaze upon them, admire them, memorise their shape. Paint pictures with words and share that frisson of excitement around.

Waterfall icicles

Snow: looks nice, could it be a bit warmer though?

Winter’s arrived a bit early round here, and we’re blanketed in snow (OneMonkey’s parents are more like buried in snow, living so near the coast). It looks magical, and the world’s muffled as it only ever is when it’s snowy, but I’m too cold to write! I have so many layers on it’s ridiculous and we’ve had endless hot drinks all weekend but it’s not that comfortable staying still for very long, which means reading and writing aren’t attractive ideas, particularly at my bureau which is next to a large window. I’ve been doing housework to keep warm (no really, I have), turning story ideas over in my head all the while. From the point of view of photography, or possibly story inspiration (and certainly for peace and quiet) the weather’s fabulous, but I might have to break out the fingerless gloves and my purple pashmina if I want to sit down and concentrate on writing.

Snow, glorious snow

Recent weather in England (and as everyone knows, we’re all fascinated by weather, here) has been unseasonably cold, though I feel somehow that it shouldn’t be seen as unseasonable, given that we’re in the depths of winter. It’s gone beyond a reminder of more traditional half-remembered winters from my childhood, and has now entered the realms of the strange and slightly horrifying. The kitchen sink refused to drain yesterday evening; OneMonkey has recovered from the outside pipe an artifact like a scholarly ice-core from a BBC archaeology programme, stratified with tea dregs and washing-up water. No doubt this will happen again before the temperature finally rises towards Spring.

Buses and even trains have been disrupted this week, with the working day enlivened by the comparison of travel disruptions and the discovery of who has or hasn’t made it in today. Temporary alliances have been forged on station platforms, surrounded by men with pinstripe suit trousers tucked into green wellingtons, and women with hiking boots incongruous beneath impractical suit skirts. Dress codes have faltered under an onslaught of chunky knitwear.

I have always delighted in snow and I’m still enjoying this novelty (partly because I didn’t have to deal with the frozen pipe), the crunch and squeak of the snow underfoot, the hundreds of photo opportunities and the sheer beauty of the softly unfamiliar landscape. My feet are cold, my hands cracked despite thick gloves and handcream, and the travel disruption is frustrating, but I’ll make the most of the silent whiteness while it lasts. Before long we’ll be back on track, grey and soaked with drizzle, dark and drab and usual again, building fond memories out of melted snowmen.