When the Weather Turned Sour

I woke up yesterday morning, opened my blinds and uttered a word that would probably make even the Scroogiest of Christmas-haters blush.

There was snow everywhere.

I had a plane to catch.

Oh, Internet, I am ashamed at how, only days before, I had laughed at the anxious proclamations of the BBC weathermen. I shudder to think of my arrogance at forecasts of airport-clogging blizzards, of snow-choked rail networks. It won’t snow in Bristol, I guffawed. It’s sunny, I am wearing a t-shirt for crying out loud!

Even after I had seen the snow blanketing the streets outside my window, I still had full confidence that the train carrying me to Surrey, carrying me to our family friend Tina who would later carry me to the airport, would tunnel its way through the drifts with ease. I was convinced that the confident managers of Heathrow must be walking around in short-sleeves, pointing at the unblemished skies above them and laughing at those other wimps at Gatwick who had chosen to shut down for the day.

I probably felt my first pangs of worry at the same time that I felt the icy bonnet of my friend’s car under my fingertips as I helped push it out of a snow drift and up a slippery hill a couple hours later. He probably felt pangs of his own, of regret that he had offered to give me a lift to the station that wintry morning and of fear that he might not ever make it back again.

Arriving at Bristol’s main station gave me hope, however, especially when I arrived with plenty of time to spare and hopped onto my Surrey train with confidence. I secured my present-laden suitcase onto the luggage rack, slipped into my pre-booked seat and waited for the train to take off.

I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited and waited and waited. When we finally left the station nearly an hour later (now accompanied by the delayed train manager we had been waiting all that time for) I was starting to reconsider my earlier confidence. Standing around at Reading for another hour with two hundred other disgruntled passengers while children had snow ball fights around us further chipped away at that confidence, and by the time I got to the tiny station of North Camp and had to be picked up in an all-terrain Land Rover, I was despondent, shivering and miserable.

The 2 hour journey had become a 7 hour one, the casual trip across the width of the country had become one fraught with negotiation and anxiety. When I did finally arrive at Tina’s door, I collapsed into bed, triumphant in the knowledge that in twenty-four short and easy hours I would be hundreds of miles away from my nearest snowflake.

By the time I had woken up, though, everything was shutting down.

Our flight had been cancelled, the arrogant men in shirtsleeves at Heathrow had decided to close their airport, the phone lines where sagging from the inundation of phone calls from anxious travellers. I spent the morning chasing down leads and reaching dead ends, frantically negotiating with my parents who were up at 2 am on the other side of the world doing the exact same. The Twin and I put £10 onto a Skype account and spent the next two hours sitting by my laptop on hold, until, just as I reached the point where I thought one more crackly rendition of whatever overplayed piece of generic classical music I had already listened to thirty-four times would send my fist through the screen, a friendly, but very tired sounding, airline representative picked up. She politely informed the Twin and me that the next flight to LAX would not be available until THE TWENTY-FIFTH OF DECEMBER. Were there any flights to San Diego available? Could we get to maybe Atlanta and reconnect there? Wasn’t there anything else we could sneak onto? No, no and certainly not. It was either fly home on Christmas day or duck tape your suitcase to your back and start paddling.

Suddenly, the Twin’s spluttered out the word that saved Christmas:


The airline operator was doubtful at first but decided, Yes, Mr. Burns, it does in fact seem that we have some seats available on a flight to Las Vegas for Wednesday the 22nd, and, yes, we will transfer you to this flight free of charge, and, please Mr. Burns, if you and your sister would like to stop screaming for a second and perhaps return to the microphone so we can discuss contact details…

Okay so sure, it was a small victory. We are still stranded in England, we are still going to be a little late this year, and Papa Burns still has to drive five hours to come pick us up, but after a weekend full of minor tragedies we had to rejoice over this minor triumph.

Indeed, every cloud has a silver lining, even the ones swollen with impending flight-delaying doom, and I couldn’t help but consider the tiny happy moments and joyous coincidences that passed me by over the last couple of days.

There was the overcrowded train from Reading to North Camp where some fellow passengers and I banded together and stormed the empty First Class carriage, sharing the crisps and cookies and bits of fruit amongst each other we had been hoarding all day and reluctantly saying goodbye as, one-by-one we–nameless, anonymous and unlikely to ever meet again–parted company. The train driver waved to me from an open window with unwavering enthusiasm as they crept out the station.

Then there was the driver of the Land Rover, Tina’s ex-husband, a man linked to me by the most tenuous of connections but still willing to take an hour out of his day to negotiate slippery country roads to get to the station where I was stranded. We talked about manly things, as men forced into polite conversation often do, and I pretended I knew what ABS and a high-ratio gearbox was.

Finally, there was this evening, where a friend of Tina’s who also knew my mother invited us over for a cup of tea, which quickly turned into several bottles of wine and a gut-busting roast. There I met her son, who casually mentioned that his girlfriend lived in Singapore and that she was coming over later, and I casually remarked that I used to live in Singapore, and he casually enquired if I had met her before and I proceeded to casually flip out at the incredible coincidences this crazy world is often so capable of producing. I did indeed know his girlfriend, and, in fact, at age 12 I had asked her to be my girlfriend. The affair lasted three weeks before she dumped me by the swings. Suffice to say, she was pretty shocked when the Twin and I jumped out of a closet to surprise her an hour later.

It’s so important to extract the little islands of interest and coincidence of your day that would otherwise get swept up amongst its tidal waves of monotony and tedium. Getting trapped by a bad weather is a bummer, missing quality time with my family is a drag, but whining about it won’t melt the snow. If this whole mess has taught me anything, it’s to relax, stay calm and deal with problems as they arise.

Also, to next time pack a coat.


This time of year Australia turns its big Uluru-shaped middle-finger towards the rest of the world and hits the beaches. To prove that really I’m a good sport, today’s offering will be direct from Down Under (I’ve never understood this expression. Down Under…down under what? Indonesia, perhaps? Papua New Guinea? A hole in the ozone layer?). Australian folk still has something raw about it, something Country & Western as if it was too cool to jump on the poppy folk-rolk bandwagon, something that makes it feel like it would still be welcome by a midnight campfire on some rattlesnake-infested plain. Glenn Richards (of Augie March fame who I have quietly mentioned before) joins music legend Paul Kelly and local star Missy Higgins for a song infused with curly fierce accents and plenty of ranching references I can’t understand.

Thanks to Kev, my Australian Folk Ambassador.

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Droving Woman – Glenn Richards, Paul Kelly, Missy Higgins

10 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. 1

    This post made me so sad because we are sitting by a crackling fire in San Diego and YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE HERE! What a super huge bummer. But I’m glad you’re making the most of it. See you soooooooooooon, I hope. Stay safe! xxx

  2. 2

    Get home soon, Young Burns. I’ll send all kinds of positive travel wishes for you out into the universe.

  3. Deidre says:

    Love Paul Kelly. Have you seen the very Australian “One Night The Moon”?

    Get home safe!

  4. Secret Admirer says:

    Sad and funny and hugely uplifting. Glad to see that despite it all, your eggnog glass is not just half full but brimming over. If they’re showing Trains, Planes & Automobiles on the flight home…. read a book!

  5. Cathy says:

    If it makes you feel any better – it’s not so hot here in Sydney at the moment. Pretty wet and windy in fact. Not how it should be at this time of year…not even close!

  6. Kevin says:

    Brilliant and acute as always, lukie. Good to see your never ending optimism hasn’t faltered since the last time I saw you (which was when I was 18, by the way. How weird is that?!)

  7. Lea says:

    Aw… it’s starting to get beach-weathery here in Sydney now. I’ll enjoy it and drink a toast to you and all the folks suffering through the frost.

  8. Kath says:

    Hope you and Susie make it safely to CA.

    Happy Christmas, Luke :-)

    (here by way of Holly’s blog)

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