In the news · Lyrics · Notes from West London

“When you walk through a storm”, and “The Blizzard”

Here’s another weather-related piece, begun while there was still snow on the ground in our corner of West London, but finalized when the temperature had returned to its more familiar level for this time of year. Two days ago I wrote about having the right sort of clothes for our recent cold spell, and yesterday our streets and green spaces returned to their normal shades remarkably quickly. The thaw took less than three hours. The streets that were still covered in slush at 10am were free of ice by 1pm. We visited Kew Gardens around 4pm and most of the snow was gone. There wasn’t even enough to sustain a half-hearted snowball fight. Two weather-related songs have been on my mind these last few days.

“When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high” are the opening words to “You’ll never walk alone”. You will know this if you are a fan of Liverpool FC or the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Carousel”, for which it was written. This version by Gerry and the Pacemakers was a UK #1 in 1963. It’s a rousing tune all right but I take issue with the opening line. If there’s a storm raging, don’t walk through it. Sit tight and wait for it to pass. If you’re already out and about when the storm begins, find shelter and wait for it to pass.

Many years ago, during another spell of snowy weather, I read about the people we used to call Eskimos, but now (probably equally inaccurately) describe as Inuits, the tribes who live in the Arctic Circle. Traditionally they did not have access to updates from a local meteorological office. If one of them was away from home when an unexpected storm blew up they would build a makeshift shelter where they were, creating walls of ice so that they were not exposed to the worst of the weather. They would position themselves with their back to the wind and sit it out. They would not “walk through a storm”, and neither should we.

I’m not sure exactly where or when I read that piece. It would have been in print rather than on the web, and probably in the Guardian. It could have been 2 February 2009, when a large amount of snow fell in a short space of time. I confirmed the date by looking through some of the “small data” I wrote about here, photos taken on our first digital camera when the children were small. The snow was thicker on the ground round here than it has been in recent days. Large parts of the country ground to a halt, and there were complaints about schools closing and roads not being gritted. In searching online for that piece about Arctic tribespeople I came across this piece from Victoria Coren (as she was then) which I recall reading at the time. As the headline says, “Forget work. Make a snowman. The real world can wait”. It’s well worth reading again, though it’s already too late to build snowmen round here.

Finally, and to emphasize even further my point about not travelling through storms, here’s a link to “The Blizzard”, a Jim Reeves recording that I remember well from my childhood. It’s the story of a man and his pony Dan (who is lame) trying to make it home through a blizzard. At the start of the song they’re “only seven miles from Mary-Anne”. The singer speculates, “You can bet we’re on her mind / For it’s nearly supper-time / And I’ll bet there’s hot biscuits / In the pan.” An old schoolfriend called Paul, who I kept in touch with for many years after we both went to university, was very taken by this song. He heard it many times at my place, on the old radiogram in the kitchen. I typed up the lyrics for him on my electric typewriter (this was the 1980s after all) and he committed them to memory. He performed it one night in a pub near his family’s home in Wimbledon. In case you haven’t heard the Jim Reeves version all the way through yet, here’s a Spoiler Alert. You might want to go back and listen to the full 3 minutes 24 seconds before reading on.

Ready?

The story does not have a happy ending. Dan and his unnamed owner do not make it. “Late that night the storm was gone / And they found him there at dawn / He’d have made it but / He just couldn’t leave old Dan / Yes, they found him there on the plains / His hands froze to the reins / He was just a hundred yards from Mary-Anne.” By all means hold your head up high, but don’t walk through a storm.

 

 

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