As if to disprove my entire previous article, it began snowing in Oxford shortly after I finished writing. It shows no signs of stopping, though it does feature pleasant interludes of icy, driving rain. Even the British have no idea what’s going on here, though to judge from conversations I’ve had with various Oxford academics, the most plausible answer has something to do with Britain’s fiendish enemy, the French. Perhaps France has invented some kind of weather machine or has convinced the sky to adopt existentialism and be whatever it feels like being.
Doubt vs. Faith in Meteorology aside, I, of course, found the idea of snow so novel that I couldn’t resist going out in it. I believe sincerely that in my whole time here, I woke up earlier to go out in the snow than I ever have to visit a library, study or meet with a tutor. Generally, the Queen of England (peace be upon her) could not rouse me from bed earlier than 10 a.m., at best. I found myself roaming the snowy streets of Oxford at 8 o’clock, taking photographs of things that were distinguished only by the fact that they were covered in snow. To wit: pubs I planned never to visit again, grocery stores and the homeless.
Of course, being me, I insisted on going out into the snow with no hat, no scarf, no gloves and no socks. If it had been possible to hang up my skin and leave it at home, I quite likely would’ve done that, too. Winter always proves an education, even when I spend it at the University of Tampa. In deepest, darkest December (70 degrees), as I’m walking about in shorts and flip-flops, I can’t help but smile at friends from warmer climes who have to gear up in biohazard suits from head to toe to walk from Brevard to Vaughn.
Needless to say, when my entire face was completely numb, it occurred to me that winter in Britain is somewhat harsher than what I was used to and that I should not expose any protruding bits of myself to it unless I wished them to freeze and drop off. Even so, there were people out enjoying this weather in a typically British way’mdash;by forming queues.
I was on my way up St. Giles to search for that most mystical of fine dining establishments, the kebab van, when I made a most curious discovery. On the steps of the war memorial’mdash;I’m not sure which war it is a memorial of, as the British have several thousand years of them to choose from, many against the French’mdash;someone had enshrined a small group of snowmen, provided them with umbrellas and various other snowman couture and posted a sign reading, ‘Endangered Species.’
I want to emphasize that there was enough snow on the ground at this point for any number of snowmen. There was, in fact, enough snow on the ground for a Snow Big Ben, a Snow Buckingham Palace and a Snow Queen of England (all hail). Yet these were the only actual snow people anywhere in evidence, and the line to hold audience with them was beginning to spill off the median and into the actual streets, where buses only honk once before they cheerfully run you over.
The responsibility of photographing all Britain’s encounters with snow had fallen, somehow, to an Indian gentleman with glasses and a ready smile who seemed unable to tell the crowd that he had other things to do today, really, and they should set the timer on their camera instead. I’m almost certain that he was not connected to the display, as he had taken his picture and was walking away when the first of many thousands of onlookers asked for his help. Not to be outdone, I followed suit.
Before I knew it, word had spread. I was seeing people who I had not encountered since orientation emerge from the snow drifts to take a picture with Britain’s most valuable national treasure, aside, of course, from the Queen of England (may she live ten thousand years).
A display like this really teaches you that there is a commonality to people, no matter how obtuse is their spelling of the word ‘color’ or what side of the road they choose to drive on (I still look both ways when crossing the street because you never know when someone will be barreling down it the wrong way, and then you’ll be really glad you checked).
Namely, all people are bound up so deeply in their humdrum daily lives that weather’mdash;a collection of phenomena that practically everyone has been taught to expect’mdash;is so novel that it can disrupt anything. In Florida, people run about in the rain as though it is going to melt them or huddle together for warmth when the temperature drops below 80 degrees. In Britain, a light dusting of snow is reason enough for an hour in line, after which one adjourns to the pub. Crime, violence, even casual disagreements plunge in inclement weather.
In that spirit, screw the spotted owl’mdash;save the snowmen. I’ve never seen such a large group of Britons displaying any emotion other than detached nonchalance. Clearly, there is something to this that cannot be matched by, for example, the manatee (which will be having a field day when the sea consumes the rest of the planet, believe you me).
Next week I will be visiting a famous wall and a famous pub. Until then, keep watching the skies’mdash;I doubt there’ll be any snow, but with the first serious snow in forty years in Oxford and the wily French still on the loose, one can never be sure.