Friday, 10 December 2010


Snow makes people do peculiar things...things they would not normally choose to do. Whether it’s clearing a neighbour’s driveway, attacking the pavement with an axe to break up compacted ice, or skytting down a hill on your backside to deliver a little festive cheer to someone’s house, if there is snow in your vicinity right now, you will no doubt have indulged in several new and challenging pursuits in an effort to help others.

This early snow has certainly been a major inconvenience and has made thousands of us very angry and upset at the difficulties it has caused. On the other hand, it is also heart-warming to see people helping each other out so magnanimously. Thousands of people have set off early, stayed late, or not gone home at all. Shopping has been fetched, meals delivered. The drivers of 4x4s, spurned like uncaring vermin when there is no snow, have become the heroes of the hour, taking essential staff to their work places, ensuring appointments can be kept, and transporting the vulnerable to safety. Strangers have leapt to the aid of struggling vehicles, hot food and drinks have been handed out to stranded travellers, snow-clearing gangs have gathered together to work more efficiently, and extra phone-calls and visits have been made to check people are alright. There’s a twang of ‘Spirit of the Blitz’ in the air this festive season, which seems remarkably appropriate.

Personally speaking, the scariest thing I have had to do sent me into a state of shock from which I am only just recovering. A phone-call came through from school...the Christmas show must go on, there’s a shortage of staff, the snow has scuppered rehearsals, it’ll only be a wee bit, we really, really, really need a pianist, can I help?

So with less than 24 hours notice, I found myself sitting at a piano with an audience of 300 somewhere behind me, about 30 children on the stage above me, madly peering at several unruly pages of music in a desperate effort to play several ABBA songs. How on earth I manage to get myself embroiled into these idiotic situations is a total mystery. But panic had set in, a pianist was urgently required, I am a mug, and nobody else could deliver.

Have you ever tried to play ABBA? With little advanced warning? For dozens of small children’s voices? At short notice? In the dark? (someone needs to invent fluorescent scores for all musicals/pantos or all piano players will soon be blind). Naturally everyone knows ABBA like the back of their tonsils, but Benny and Bjorn were both masterly and dastardly in their melodic construction. What may sound easy and familiar is in fact awash with ingenious complexity....a maelstrom of gymnastic jumps and jives around the keyboard, rapid falling sixths, unexpected tonic variations, subtle changes of key and fiendish twiddly bits. And it’s all so flaming FAST! They don’t hang around, those Swedes. You start off at the required line in the score, and you’re away, like an out-of-control sledge, your fingers bashing around in the darkness, feverishly hoping you might land on the right note somewhere near THE END.

When I reached THE END you could probably have heard my sigh of relief in Svalbard. Immense. Immense it was, and probably visible, even in the darkness. Duty had been done and the thing hadn’t fallen apart, which, in the circumstances, was about all one could hope for. The audience actually applauded, which was a plus, but I expect they felt they should as there were children involved.

With a little help from my friends, who wheeched me off to the local for a modest libation, I am in recovery now. As I sipped a gluwein in the snow, relieved that my paltry efforts were over for the day, I mused on the extraordinary ways in which people contribute to society when adverse circumstances conspire to require them to do so.

It is rather a leap to go from piano playing and snow shovelling to the winning of the Nobel Peace Prize, but as the award ceremony in Oslo has taken place today, I have to pay homage. The winner, the Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, was absent due to his imprisonment in an isolated cell in North East China. Seeing his empty chair in Oslo is extraordinarily poignant, a visual statement of what it can mean to contribute to ‘The Common Weel’ as we call it in Scotland. Few of us are that brave, and few of us could ever go as far as he has gone in seeking peace and freedom for others. But it seems the least we can do is pause for thought, reflect upon what we can do within our own, individual sphere of influence. To make a contribution still seems to be worthwhile.

NB: If you are anywhere near this house, please approach with caution and a decent set of ear plugs...there is an infernal racket going on at the piano.


  1. Well done for the piano playing, funnily enough I have had to play ABBA at short notice - (at a conference of clergy would you believe!) It is terrifying. Reminds me that I really must get back to playing my piano regularly. And not, just in case......

  2. I'm sure the liquid refreshments have helped mend your ABBA playing digits, the snow has been pretty bad the last fortnight and I must say the spirit of the people here has actually surprised me a great deal. Strangers helping strangers.

  3. Well done you for stepping into the breach. (And how funny that you are not the only one to have to play ABBA at short notice!) I've heard so many comments recently about how the snow has caused people to chat and help each other. Why does it take adverse weather for this to happen? Are we afraid that if we help one another in non-adverse conditions we might become ensnarled, or our offer might be suspicious? Hmm.

  4. Brilliant - feel the fear and do it anyway eh?

    The most exciting thing that happened to me was our train conking out on the way home from London. The camaraderie on the train was heart-warming when it is usually like the tube - all eyes down and no talking.

    Was overjoyed when our snow melted on Friday as it meant I can push the buggy again but looks like we are getting another flurry at the end of the week.

    Snowball fights, here we come!

  5. Freda, what an extraordinary coincidence! Clearly someone needs to come up with a simpler arrangement for emergency situations.
    Ryan, I your lads are loving all this snow tho'.
    Christine, one does wonder, doesn't one? Oh well, more snow by the end of the week.
    Dom Goddess, some of the best conversations ever are on trains...funny it takes adverse circumstances for us to talk to each other. Mental note...must do more talking.

  6. I'm glad I've found this blog. Husband is from Edinburgh and I'm from Newcastle (which is very nearly Scotland and we say things like skytting too).
    Very entertaining post.

  7. You're right, it has angered many including me! If the country coped better then the snow wouldn't be such a problem for individuals. But pulling together and helping others in these crises, has to be a positive thing.

    I'm a pianist, too. Although I'm a bit rusty now. Started playing aged 8.

    CJ xx