‘With languages, you are at home anywhere’

Edmund De Waal

All that glitters…

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First and foremost I would like to extend my thanks to Montse and Filolàlia for inviting me back to contribute to the blog. I am very slow at producing written work and I was afraid I would run out of winter in which to write my winter blog post but thankfully I think I will be able to finish with some time to spare!


Winter is a strange topic for a British immigrant in Catalonia because in all honesty, it still feels like autumn! The sun still shines, the temperature hovers around 13 degrees during the day and there is no sign (at least in the coastal regions) of ice and snow. Such is the difference in weather between my country of birth and adopted home, that it is a frequent topic of conversation with students, friends and colleagues. Snow, especially, seems to be of utmost interest to anyone born in a Mediterranean country and I am frequently asked to recount my experiences with it. As I am pains to point out however, all that glitters is not gold.


I am simply going to say it: I do not like snow. Perhaps you, the reader are now in shock as many of my students tend to be when I make this startling confession. For those who do not grow up with snow it immediately conjures up magical images of Christmas and children playfully enjoying themselves building snowmen before making their way home to sit in front of the fire with a cup of hot chocolate. I can tell you from experience though that such heart-warming scenes are mostly found between the covers of fairytale books. Of course, I should provide some testimony to support my view and in order to do so I will take us back to the mid 1990s to my days at Cannock Chase High School.


Winters were a cold affair and when the snow came it could cause a lot of problems. Quite often we hoped that school would be cancelled but usually we had to wrap up in as many layers as we could and head out into the cold. The first issue here was footwear – we had to wear our black school shoes (we were too lazy to change into boots) and a 20-minute walk soon became a 45-minute combination of slipping, falling and getting horribly wet. If you are familiar with the sensation of wet feet then you know that it is one of the most miserable sensations on Earth and this was how we would spend the next six or seven hours. In addition, the trek to school was punctuated with that most noble of pursuits; the snowball fight. Yes, children will be children and we simply could not help ourselves. So it was that snowballs were thrown, leading to ice-cold water running down the back of one’s neck and seeping into every fabric of one’s clothes. Participation wasn’t really voluntary – it was a war. Some veterans would even put small rocks into their snowballs, which made the impacts even more ‘entertaining’ – especially if you were hit in the head.


So we would arrive at school cold, wet and tired – all before 09:00. A long day lay ahead and it normally at this point that we would be told that the school’s antiquated heating system was not working. Not to worry though, we would be permitted to wear our wet jackets and gloves in classes in order to prevent hypothermia. It was a big school split between two sites so we would also have chance to get warm walking between them between classes – in reality the only thing that happened was another snowball fight. Back to step one!


The best was reserved for days when we had PE (physical education). We would pray for mercy in the form of a cancelled class but again this was rarely forthcoming, so we put on our shirts and shorts and played football or rugby on a frozen pitch or in the snow. Ironically we were often warmer doing this than sitting in the classrooms. After PE we had to take a shower. Remember what I told you though, the heating normally didn’t work and so the only water we had was cold enough to induce tears. Nice and wet, we hurriedly got dressed and went to shiver in another sub-zero lesson.


To round the day off, we had the pleasure of the walk home. I will let you imagine how that was! Upon arriving home I would find myself absolutely exhausted and as you may be aware, it gets dark very early in the UK. Winter is not so much a season but a test of endurance and it lasts a very long time!


So there you have it; a very quick summary but one which I hope provides an insight into why many British people have a very negative view of snow! Clearly it is not all bad and I have fond memories of sledging in the forest close to where I lived and also carol singing on cold December nights. However, on the balance of things I always tell my students to appreciate the pleasant weather we have here in Maresme. If they want they can escape to the mountains in a couple of hours in order to ‘enjoy’ the snow, but it is always reassuring that they can return to this beautiful coastline to spend their working weeks in the relative comfort of the Mediterranean winter!


On that note I will sign off. Wishing you all very good health as we continue to battle Covid-19 and many thanks for taking the time to read all the way to the end!

Tom Davidson is the director of Open Door English, a language school in the centre of Mataró. Filolàlia and Open Door English share their vision on education, language and communication as the key to everything worth pursuing in life.

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