Thursday, 2 December 2010

In which the snow addles my brain

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

The snow seems to have scattered my brain entirely. I cannot settle to any reasonable train of thought. (So hope my agent does not read this.) Each morning I wake up to another deep fall and I feel as if I am six years old. It induces a combination of holiday mood and slight emergency measures. I have already rung my mother to discuss a compound plan if the power goes out. Older niece's other half, who is known to me as The Man In The Hat, because he is a man, and he wears a hat, says the compound plan is: light all the fires.

'But I won't be able to cook,' I wail.

'Camping stove,' he says, firmly.

'We are a bit worried that all the trees will fall down,' says the older niece.

We all stare solemnly up at the trees, like Chicken Licken waiting for the sky to fall on our heads.

'I see what you mean,' I say. They are creaking and groaning under the weight of the snow. Two have already gone down in the beech avenue, and lie like sleeping giants in their blanket of white.

'I'm thinking of getting snow tyres,' I say. 'This bloody four wheel drive won't go anywhere. Get four-wheel drive, they said. You'll be racing over the Tomintoul road in February, they said. Yesterday, I was almost stranded in the Co-op car park.'

I had already got stuck while taking my mother some truffle cake I had made, and been mocked in Doric. I was busy blaming the stupid car, while my tormentor wondered if the trouble was not something that sounded like 'dochnail'. The worst thing about being teased in Doric is that old southerners like me have to ask what the speaker is talking about.

'What does dochnail mean?' I said.

Much laughter.


'How do you spell it?' I said.

'Don't know.'

'I did once get through Glenshee in a snowstorm,' I said, indignantly. 'And that was in the crappy BMW. Get an Audi, they said. No more back wheel drive. And now look.'

More howls of laughter.

I should not complain about my little car (it is an A3, not one of those four by four monsters) since it did get me home all the way from London, but now the serious weather has come, it is skidding all over the shop. My biggest worry is that I am confirming all the old platitudes about women drivers.

To soothe myself, I contemplate the marvels of the Doric. It is one of the great dialects of the world, and one of the keenest pleasures of living in the north-east of Scotland. Even after ten years here, if someone is speaking it very fast, I cannot follow half of it.

There are the lovely words: bleeter for aimless chatter; clarty for dirty; loon for boy; sotter for mess. But much of the beauty comes from the lyrical pronunciation. Heart is pronounced heert; what is fit; home is hame; never is nivver; more is mare; none is neen. Reading it on the page reminds me of my schooldays, studying Chaucerian middle English, with my teacher gleefully saying: Emily's toow-ra, thick and strang-we. (Emily's tower, thick and strong.)

One of the things I love most about it is that it just exists, in everyday speech. It is not one of those dialects which has gone into the academy, to be fenced in with intellectual contemplation, as if it were a rare and dying breed. It is not poked and studied and examined. The young people speak it as much as the old, with a fluent lack of self-consciousness.

It is also a marker of acceptance. If people round here are not quite sure of you, they will address you in formal, standardised, almost Anglicised Scots. If they start breaking out the Doric, then you know they are pleased with you, and no longer regard you as some mimsy Southern interloper. So although my friend on the drive was laughing at me, as my tyres span fruitlessly on the snow, I know that he was doing it with fondness, because he teased me in Doric. Although I cannot find 'dochnail' anywhere (the Google is baffled), and I have a small suspicion that he might just have made it up on the spot.

And now for the pictures. You may be amazed to see that we are still on variations on a theme. No prizes for guessing what the theme is.

This is what I saw when I opened my front door this morning:

Thur 1

Thur 2

Thur 3

Then we ventured out and saw this:

Thur 4

Even though it was the middle of the morning, the sky looked as if it were twilight:

Thur 5

Thur 6

The older niece and the Man in the Hat and their dog came marching out of the woods as if they were on an Arctic mission:

Thur 7

That was when we gazed at the trees:

Thur 8

While the dog investigated who had been up the drive:

Thur 8-1

(Sniff, sniff, sniff, eh Mr Gibbon?)

Another of the whited out, almost impressionistic views that I love so much:

Thur 10

Then, of course, there are the mandatory SNOW DOG pictures. I like these next two, even though they are out of focus and not good pictures in themselves. They make me laugh.

The Pigeon suddenly decided she needed a bit of a sit-down, even though it was in the middle of a blizzard:

Thur 12

The Duchess did not think that was a particularly good idea:

Thur  11

Then I managed to sharpen my wits and actually focus the camera, in order to capture the full beauty:

Thur 14

Thur 15

(Again I say to you: YEAH, SNOW DOGS.)

A little burst of colour in all the white:

Thur 16

Thur 17

And a final sculptural effort:

Thur 18

Happy snow day.


  1. I know it's no longer a novelty but I'm always absurdly happy when snow settles in my little corner of south east London. Just makes everything so gloriously pretty. Lovely photos.

  2. ephemerette - so glad you like the pictures. The snow gladdens my heart too. Great blogging name, by the way. :)

  3. I find myself looking forward to your snowy pictures more and more each glorious and soothing....did I ever say I'm getting married? it's only 19 days away and your blog is more respite than ever from my nerves.

  4. Doric sounds delightful, and, as someone who lives in a country where speaking a regional dialect is considered something to be proud of and even imperative to integration, I wholeheartedly approve. Many years ago, I learnt standard German and the local dialect simultaneously. I'm not sure how I managed, but I'm glad I did make that extra effort - it's invaluable and enriches both one's thought patterns (odd that, but I think differently in German and English) and broadens the horizons.

    Still, cross a mountain chain and a valley or two, and the locals will be talking away at breakneck speed in a dialect you can hardly make head or tail of, with a watered-down version especially for you. I like to hear someone's origins in their speech. It's comforting, somehow, and authentic.

    Anyway, sorry for gassing on. I think you have more snow than we do!

  5. Now that is snow! Very beautiful. I think you are one of the few people who could justify a 4x4 monster you know.

  6. Anne - you are so kind, and I'm so glad you like the pictures. Was a bit worried I was harping on one note. GOOD LUCK with your wedding preparations.

  7. Imogene - so impressed by yr language skills. We do have a stupid amount of snow.

    Betty M - I admit my choice of small car is idiotic. I developed an irrational dislike of huge road hogs when I lived in London, and even though I am now deep in the north of Scotland, I can't shake it. With this weather, I do find myself looking enviously at enormous off-road vehicles.

  8. Just asking but are the dogs ok with all that snow on them? I know this may sound stupid but I dont live with snow so I dont know so I thought I'd ask an expert.

  9. Mystica - you are sweet to worry. Don't fret. They get taken inside and then dried off and settled down on their warm bed. They are half Labrador, which were bred as water dogs, and so have lovely tough coats full of oil which repels moisture.

  10. Dear Tania, the picture of your niece and the man in the hat is absolutely stunning! I wish we had snow like that. The dogs look gorgeous as always.

    Thank you for your comment and as you say thank heavens for our wonderful friends that save us.

    The annoying thing is all the stuff that's on there I keep thinking "ah I'll just dig that picture/file whatever out" then remember it's all on the dead laptop. Hopefully the hard drive will be recovered. Eight years of my life without backing up is dreadful. Thankfully the new Mac's have a thing called Time Machine which does all that dreary stuff for idiots like me.

    I look forward to more glorious snow pictures xx

  11. That's very kind of you - thank you. I fear that's all I can do, though, and when I get it wrong it's infuriating. ;-)

  12. The sound of the doric is delightful, although I suspect dochnail may well be an invention. (A quick survey got blank looks from friends who might have known). Favourite words, drookit or waabit. My favourite, probably apocryphal, tale of misunderstanding: an Aberdeen maternity ward, the nurse asks a new mother what she's going to call her son. 'Nathan', says the mother. 'But you've got to crie him something' the nurse replies.
    The snow pictures are a delight. It is so very beautiful when you don't have to make long journeys by car through it.


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