Tuesday 5 January 2010

The elephant lost in a snowdrift

I began the first working day of 2010 feeling uncharacteristically optimistic, until I had a searing flash of conscience about the stuffed elephant. How on earth could I have forgotten about that, yet again?

I should explain right away that it is not a real stuffed elephant, though given the long-running logistical difficulties in arranging its handover it might as well be. But I am assured that this one is merely a cuddly toy bearing a passing resemblance to the trunked and tusked creature that it is apparently no longer correct to call a pachyderm (did you know that they had fads like that in Nature Study, too?)

A kind friend bought it as a gift for my newborn son and, at the current rate of progress, he is going to end up presenting it to a sneering teenager rather than a gratefully gurgling infant.

And it’s all my fault, as usual. I told him that we would definitely be at home on Sunday if he felt like dropping by. Please God don’t let his remains be discovered in a snowdrift, like Ötzi the Austrian iceman, with an elephant clutched in his fist. (“Archaeologists speculated that the primitive inhabitants of Durham worshipped the animal, long extinct in their region, as a reminder of the times of plenty when its dung was prized as the magic ingredient in their legendary giant leek trenches.”)

We were supposed to be back at home by New Year’s Eve, but I contracted a stinking cold just in time for Christmas, then passed it on to Mrs Hann as an unwanted gift. Having spent a week coughing at each other in Cheshire, we were all geared up for an early start for Northumberland on Saturday morning when I happened to flick onto the ancient Ceefax system during a particularly dull TV programme on Friday, and caught a passing mention of severe weather in the North East.

We duly switched on the main BBC evening news to get the full story, but there was nothing. Not a word. This suggested one of three possibilities.

First, those setting the news agenda have finally appreciated that it gets cold as a matter of course between December and February, so it is not really “hold the front page” material. This was certainly true in my childhood, but has not really been so of late. I have only been seriously snowed in to my present house once, and that was for a couple of days in November 1988, shortly after I had moved in.

So we move on to the second and more sinister possibility for the news blackout: that the freezing conditions appear at variance with the endless bleating about “manmade global warming”, and must therefore go unreported in case us thickoes start thinking “Hang on …”

This also seems an unlikely explanation, as I feel confident that teams of scientists are already working on the case for the Big Freeze being precisely one of those “extreme weather events” we were warned about as a consequence of the underlying warming trend.

Which leaves us with the third explanation: that no-one at the BBC gives a monkey’s how bad the weather is in the North East, though if more than a couple of flakes fall in central London it is invariably the lead item on every bulletin for days.

Yes, that seems most likely on the whole. I am glad we had friends in the North to consult about the advisability of travelling (which they provided free of charge, not in return for a compulsory £142.50 annual licence fee). It is a shame to have missed the opportunity to capture some classic Northumberland snow scenes on camera, though. And it is a real pity about that elephant. I wonder whether we might have had better luck with a woolly mammoth?


Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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