On 18 December 2010, enough snow had fallen in the previous week for residents of Clapham Common in South London to come together in an impromptu snowman-building display.
What is it about novel weather that makes people set aside their Saturday routines to build snow creatures in London’s parks? It’s a bit like building elaborate sand castles on the beach. Lovingly crafted to stand proud, but knowing nature will quickly wear away the results.
The 18th was one of those cold, ghostly-grey days. The park cloaked in an off- white blanket. Slightly crunchy underfoot. Trees motionless. Still, apart from the faint dripping of melting snow.
My wife and I decided to walk around the rim of the park, as we often do. Only this time, minus the paths. Instead, we were guided around by the encircling roads and some old footprints made in the snow.
Snowmen stood sentry where ever we walked. As if their creators had marked out any space they could find. Far enough away from the other efforts not to draw a comparison.
First up, we came across a snow bear, short and squat. The bear wore a Kiwi flag, acting as its overcoat. Its creators stood nearby, taking photos. I stopped for a moment to chat with them and they confessed how far from the sunny home beaches of Coromandel, New Zealand they felt that day.
Next we walked past a snow couple, standing side by side. But not quite close enough to hug or hold hands. As if being chaperoned by the tree in the immediate background.
A sizeable snow matriarch perched on a park bench nearby, gazing towards the ice lake and alpine basketball court. As we walked beyond the ice lake, we spotted silhouettes of more snow men, scattered across the open landscape. Definitely time to warm up over a hot chocolate at the band rotunda cafe.
Afterwards, an unusual movement caught our eye – a man was Nordic skiing along an adjacent pathway. We wandered closer to investigate. Beyond the skier, the parkside mansions looked like fairytale toy buildings, set against the white of the snow.
We headed towards the north east section of the park and soon passed a fashionably dressed snow gent, with a carrot nose and copper coins for buttons. He looked straight off the pages of a old fashioned, kid’s story book. The kind illustrators love to put on the front cover of this year’s department store Christmas cards. A few minutes walk away were snow twins and an extra tall snowman, wearing cap and scarf.
By then, the afternoon temperature was reducing, almost as fast as the light. We made our final discovery of a delicately-sculptured ice maiden on the north east boundary, before heading for the twinkling Christmas tree lights and warmth of Clapham Common tube station.
Our spirits were definitely lifted by the demonstration of fleeting camaraderie and sculptural creativity from our park neighbours. Sometimes the best city entertainment can be the simplest – a familiar stroll with your partner in an unfamiliar, picture-postcard setting.