My memories of Aberystwyth as a young child and later as a student are never covered in its white. Rather, the only association there is with Dylan Thomas's 'A Child's Christmas in Wales' on vinyl. His Swansea, only a coast away, was another continent, never mind country.
Living in East Anglia from ages seven to eighteen, we had a few white Christmases, one I recall playing footie with my brother and sister on the cricket field of Horseheath village. We played with a prize plastic ball, my favourite present that year. After, I made the mistake of drying it in front of our wood-burning stove. I returned later to find a melty mass.
Only in Merthyr and living in the Arctic zones of Aberdare Mountain, have I fully realised what snow can mean. Sledging on the Waun out the back and on the Beacons is always great fun and my older daughter Bethan was always the expert, once speeding all the way down a slope, through the gate at the bottom and onto the A470! Luckily, no cars were passing.
Perhaps her ability and that of my other daughter Niamh comes from being snow babies. Both were born in Decembers of big snow. Bethan was taken to Aberdare hospital ( Merthyr was full! ) through a thick snowstorm, while 18 years later she drove us all to Cardiff's Heath hospital while it fell heavily on the expressway : Niamh was born days later. My wife was literally snowed in with baby Bethan as I was tutoring a writing course in Devon : snow so high it covered the central heating outlet and froze it completely. A friendly neighbour cleared it with a blow-torch.
Vitally, snow also meant nor being able to get to work. In the early days as a teacher, you had to report to the local school, but they never bothered to use you. Once I trudged with a colleague from our side of the valley, down and uphill to reach Pen-y-dre High school, only to be told it was closed.
The new Head there had other ideas and refused to give in to the elements until one incident changed his mind forever. He was forced to abandon his car one time in the Gurnos and take public transport back to the leafy lanes of Pentyrch. When he returned to school his very expensive vehicle had been trashed. From then on, a single flake was enough to close down the establishment.
Snow brings us together, makes us kids again, helps us find our feet and certainly makes the sometimes drab Valleys as glorious as they are in autumnal colours. For me it will always mean two babies wrapped in blanket cocoons : two white butterflies emerging from winter.
First feathers falling. No sign of settling.
The great white bird turns from dark to light, spanning the valley. Sun on the east side, cloud on the west. Away in the distance, y Bannau with their icy crests.
I remember East Anglia and snow at Christmas : our family walks, pudding-bellied after dinner, plum-cheeked in the cold.
Where was the white bird then?
We tried to summon it with our speech: loose leaves of half-recalled poems, of ‘A Child’s Christmas’ on our tongues. We hardly touched the light and melting plumage.
The great bird has flown, but will soon return. Berries remain on hawthorn bushes.
It will leave the sky bare-skinned and plucked like a fowl for the oven, but when it flies you’ll hear it calling to ageless children : its repeated, excited invitation – ‘ Come! Come catch me if you can!’