Many years ago, in a universe far, far away … Well, in the last millennium, in a small village in south Cumbria, and English man and an Australian woman lived in a tiny house made of local stone.

The house was on the banks of a ghyll, and in winter a beck poured and churned down the ghyll so that the background noise was that of moving water, like the faraway growl of traffic in a big city. Because the house was in a ghyll the sun didn’t hit the back window till mid morning, and the Australian woman found this very difficult. The English man would make a cup of tea and take it up to the Australian woman, who then sat in bed and drew from the photographs she’d taken of the dark yew trees in the church yard, and tried to keep warm, while he drove around in a big truck delivering fridges and storage heaters. Then, at night, the Australian woman would drive through the snow and the darkness to serve pints of lager and rum and blacks to the men from the shipyard in a nightclub in the big town near by.

Eventually the winter solstice arrived and, even though it was still cold and dark, the Australian woman sensed that the days would once again get longer, and that soon catkins would appear on the hazel branches and dog roses would blossom in the hedgerows.

I was thinking of those times, this morning, when I walked in the grass next to the Styx and heard an oh-so-faint icy crunch beneath my shoes. Hardly a south Cumbrian frost, but not bad for Newcastle.


Frost creates a stillness that doesn’t occur at any other time; apart, perhaps, from the moments before snowfall, when the air changes from the throat-catching chill of low humidity iciness to a milder, softer, wetter atmosphere that makes scars itch and knee joints ache.


There was even ice on the water in the Styx. At least, I thought it was until I looked a bit closer. At which point I realised it was actually the blue-black petrol sheen caused by seepage from the fuel depot.


Silly me.



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