Winter has returned with a vengeance. Ever since Michael Fish and the great storm of 1987, the Met Office and the BBC et al have taken to issuing a variety of coloured weather warnings and individually naming every balmy breeze that blows in from the Atlantic. Much like out-of-date motorway hazard displays, the effect on the population is that we believe less and less and are totally unprepared when something genuine turns up. The Boy Who Cried Wolf should be compulsory reading.
On this occasion I am not complaining, I love the snow. Over the winter I have been scheming how to get back to the Lofoten Islands but, as it turns out, the Lofoten weather has come to Hexham. Some of this ever-present desire to head for Scandinavia has been enhanced by my reading of Peter Davidson’s, The Idea of North. This learned, encyclopaedic work is full of gems. Housman’s A Shropshire Lad is deservedly renowned but I had never come across this extract from his Last Poems. Some poetry has the power to get under the skin:
In midnights of November,
When Dead Man’s Fair is nigh,
And danger in the valley,
And anger in the sky,
Around the huddling homesteads
The leafless timber roars,
And the dead call the dying
And finger at the doors.
To quote Davidson, Dead Man’s Fair is the crucial phrase and its original meaning is specific – the last fair of the year at Church Stretton was held when winter weather made the homeward journey dangerous. But the phrase moves out from its local English meaning to the idea of the first days of November as the point where the divisions (or defences) between the living and the dead are at there most abraded – All Soul’s Day, le jour des morts. It acquires both the meaning of the annual time of the dead but also an extraordinary momentary implication of a fair attended only by the dead. This implication is as disquieting as the heterodox medieval idea of the compagnie des morts, the lonely company of the dead passing in the dark on the winter roads:
These images were taken yesterday, since then the weather across Northumberland has deteriorated – the first is the usual time-lapse across the field and the second is various views from indoors – the best place to be 🙂