Friday, 29 January 2010

snow, a transformative practice

“it was growing darker every minute and with the snowflakes swirling all around him he could hardly see three feet ahead... everything was perfectly still as if he were the only living creature.” Edmund discovers Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe…

the night the ice queen transformed brunswick it had seemed an ordinary night much like any other…

at first a gentle flurry of soft white flakes, just enough to glaze the roof tops, before long a thick blanket strewn across the mancunian way, reducing the clamour of the traffic hurtling past my window to a whisper, as though cocooned in a deep shag pile carpet. looking back, maybe the moon loomed a little lower that night; more luminous, almost blue, against a bright, inky sky. but that was all.

later, much later, awakened by an unaccustomed silence deafening my motorway perch, i wandered on to my balcony into a whirling life-size snow-globe. delighted, i reminded myself that this would all be gone by morning, this being manchester not new york, and after a brief foray downstairs to frolic in the magic dust, i reluctantly trotted back to bed and the deep contented sleep of a child exhausted by an unexpected christmas eve snowfall.

but when morning came, it had not melted away.
far from it…

looking out from my balcony, instead of the usual bold skyline and rich textures of the city, was nothing.

no colour, no buildings, no sound. no city.
only white.

only snowflakes. a softly whirling all obliterating snow storm.

nothing stirred, not even the motorway; now a silent river of white, a natural phenomenon, the urban cacophony of lights, noise, speed, of urban life, extinct, extinguished, bleached out.

only brunswick, my dragon-guarded, moated camelot, frozen and stilled…

24 hours of snow might seem something of a non event to the rest of you but in this city it is momentous, almost unheard of; unnatural. and should snow fall, the perpetual mancunian dampitude (if i might coin a phrase) ensures that it rarely sticks, melting away on impact.

this therefore was an event of magnitude.

narnia had come to brunswick and transformed everything - my neighbourhood, and as it transpired, the whole city, the entire nation.
and with it we too, its citizens, were transformed.

as the district gradually awoke to this new world, we ventured out, encased in wellies, woolies and waterproofs, to wonder at the strange conditions before embarking on our usual day. but this was no usual day...
before long, gradually accepting that cars were frozen, roads outside inaccessible and that clearing a path through the snow was a losing battle, the entire community gave up and came out to participate in a spontaneous gesture of playfulness and jollity.
...snow was scooped up, snowballs were thrown, snowmen appeared on every corner, and neighbours joined forces in our mini squares to create entire snow-families complete with domestic pets and various dwellings, from tower blocks to giant igloos. even a medieval castle was constructed by a particularly enthusiastic group using summer buckets and spades. brunswick, from being a monotone concrete inner city cliché was now a lively public arena, a convivial space, an outdoor art gallery where everyone was at once artist, curator, audience and spectator. soon cameras and iphones were clicking, ideas, suggestions and assistance offered and accepted, as we all embarked on impromptu walkabouts to examine the fruits of our collective labour - social conventions overturned, shyness overcome, conversations struck up, experiences shared.

intriguing differences could be detected across the assorted corners of our enclave – local chinese families joined together to make snow pigs and gigantic kitties, native mancunians tended towards the 'traditional' snowman (carrots for noses and twigs for arms) complete with woolly hats and scarves, whilst overseas students from nearby umist adorned their creations with jaunty sunglasses and straw hats, as if ready to board a plane for warmer climes. across the flyover all saints art students indulged in fantastical creatures from far off worlds and other dimensions, dragons complete with ridged tails, cherubs and gargoyles with wings and crested plumes; and sackville park sparkled, a vision in fairies, angels and cheeky fig leaved adam & eves, christmas tinsel, baubles and decorations making an earlier than scheduled reappearance.

narnia took us unawares, illuminating traces normally invisible to the naked eye and casual observer, permitting us to be other than our everyday selves, revealing a more lighthearted, creative, mischievous, unselfconscious citizenry than is usually apparent.

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