Winter of Post-Discontent, or: How I Learned to Stop Griping and Just Chill with the Killer Chill…

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Into the winter wonderland woods…

Oh, snow way! Yes way. Everything went white and the temperature turned subzero. Winter came and my neighbourhood transformed into something resembling Narnia or an Ice King freakout. It’s really, really cold. Even prior to the snowfall it’d been nippy and, to be honest, pretty glum weather-wise most of the time (you probably know what they say about rain and Manchester). It’s winter, so all the green things are dead and now all those dead plants are symbolically buried beneath several inches of snow.

I tend to associate winter with death. I’m a summer sun child, somewhat afflicted by SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and I’m uncomfortable if the temperature dips below 15°c. I’m charged by solar energy and I feel best when I’m wearing only one layer of clothing. My natural temperament is entirely at odds with the winter and, to put it simply, winter kind of kills my buzz. (And in the UK, if winter takes up roughly 2/3rds of the year, then I’m at odds with the season most of the time when I’m here.)

Thus, musing on death happens more often in the bleak midwinter. All the trees are dead. All the flowers are dead. By 4.30pm daylight is dead. All my summer spirit is dead (or, at least, it’s ebbed away). And what’s more, in the real world, great famous people keep on dying and the news reads as a list of obituary notices and posthumous tributes. There is much mourning. It’s dark and cold. Chilly shivers course through my marrow, and then I go to the movies to watch dark, violent films about people dying in unforgiving winter conditions (The Revenant and The Hateful Eight).

And then I take all of this death, darkness and dreariness and I dash out into the snow, slide around a bit and say to myself “Hey, you morbid drippy bitch! Smile! You’re alive and life is beautiful!” And I am smiling and I am alive and life is beautiful (it always is, in spite of it all). Good news! Somewhere along the way I seem to have found a way to co-exist with winter and reconfigure the whole experience as something that’s actually pretty cool (cool as in ‘good’ good and not ‘mildly cold’). Somehow I managed to significantly downgrade my level of SAD and I did it without resorting to indoor hibernation and death by tea, heavy metal and hot water bottle burns (my usual survival remedies for the season).

I’m not sure how this happened, and all I can conclude is that I just acquired a more enlightened and upbeat attitude. I also probably got bored of being freaking hostile to forces far beyond my control (keeping up constant bitterness and antagonism is wearying, y’know). Winter has to happen so I may as well just accept it and enjoy it as best as I can. I operate in this fashion in the summer months – soaking up as much sun as possible while others hide in the shade because I know that the heat of the moment will pass. Winter shall also pass and the cold won’t linger forever (this isn’t Narnia or Hoth). Neither will the fleeting flakes of winter magic that I’ve noticed when I’m not too busy muttering: “Damn, it’s too bloody cold!

Simple pleasures like knitwear, hot showers and steaming teapots after a day out in the cold make winter alright. I’ve also found tremendous beauty in the season this past week. Those aforementioned films showed me humans (and horses) suffering in extreme winter conditions, but they also reminded me – through film artistry and the language of cinema – just how beautiful winter can be. Winter isn’t a war on nature or on me or the pretty precious little flowers and suchlike – it’s a part of the grand cycle of life and has a wonder of its own.

(I apologise for turning into Captain Obvious here. Try and appreciate that this is written by an over-sensitive, simple soul with poor circulation and he’s only recently come out of the cave and cast off his snow-blinds. You may take this stuff for granted but, for me, it’s a psychological breakthrough and personal psychological breakthroughs deserve a “woohoo!“)

Yonder lies Manchester at the break of dawn...

Yonder lies Manchester at the break of dawn…

When I emerged from the cinema having watched The Hateful Eight this weekend, I discovered that light snow was falling. Frost had been on the ground when I entered but now little floaty motes of white were lighting up the early evening dark. It felt a bit magical, and I wandered around Manchester city centre marvelling at the sight, well-aware that I’m about to leave this place for few months. I stuck my tongue out to catch snowdrops. I idled around in neon-lit Chinatown a while, just watching snow fall on the Chinese Arch. Then I got on a train home and, arriving in my neighbourhood, found that the Saturday snow was even thicker up here.

Sunday morning it was thicker still. I woke before dawn and went out on a trek through white stuff at sunrise just to appreciate the winter wonderland that had occurred. I made my way to a vantage point and gazed across the landscape, from Winter Hill right across to the redlights atop Beetham Tower. It struck me that Greater Manchester and the moors of Lancashire in my relative backyard have never looked so beautiful to me. I felt connected to my homeland, and that was the work of winter.

Walking onward, the world woke up and I started encountering people – some walking excitable dogs, some clearing driveways and de-icing cars while kids built snowmen and played around with sledges. Little birds bounced around the frosty branches overhanging the footpaths and all the familiar roads looked so picturesque and clean coated with snow. So much for death and dreariness – there’s life, energy and pleasure in winter.

I’ve made peace with the season and had a profound moment the past week that helps me appreciate home all the more before I head off to foreign climes (and those climes aren’t much warmer than Northern England right now). I’m now going to head out for a walk in the snow and enjoy it while I still can. The moral of this winter’s tale, then? Acceptance; living in the moment; appreciation of natural magic and the beauty in all things; opening your mind and venturing outside of your comfort zones (though be sure that you have a hot shower and a cup of tea ready for the aftermath.)

Brrrrr, it’s so pretty…

There's Winter Hill in, erm, winter...

There’s Winter Hill in, erm, winter…

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Epic Cathedrals, Awesome Cow Boxes and Italian Kids: An Update from Milano…

Allora, amici. I’ve got a morning without lessons, it’s snowing in Milano and I’ve got an itch to kick out blogpost and provide an update from bella Italia. Do you want a brief update? I hope you do, because I’m gonna give you a brief update and I’m going to begin it with a GPOY that sort of sums it all up…

Mugging before Milano's immense marble masterpiece...

An idiot abroad…

Hey! I’m in Milano! I’m in Milano and I’m getting to be silly! It’s my job and it’s my city and it’s all feeling really good. (Except for the fact that I’ve been addled by the flu-bugs that have struck down half the children in Italy and seemingly most of the teachers but, hey, we’ve got to fight on through froggy throats and sniffly noses, right?). Over the course of the past fortnight I’ve returning to Italian rhythms and settling back into the country that clearly has become my second home. To get back into the groove I stayed with my very good friends near Lake Como for a couple of days, learned how to make Risotto Milanese and caught the same kind of ailments that my future work colleagues and students had. (“When in Rome, or indeed, Milan…“, y’know?)

I then hit Milano and moved in with yet another fantastic family, hooked up with a host of other mother tongue English-speakers and we all got down to prepping for our new gig. That new gig is work as a linguistic assistant in the city’s schools, acting as a tangible, real-life English-speaking presence and teaching Italian children through informal methods (activities, games, songs, art, etc.) Basically, my objective is to be fun and be English. My first week has revolved around me walking into a classroom, beating my chest like King Kong and showing children a shoebox decorated in cow-print paper that contains five objects that represent me. The following doodle sort-of showcases some of the things in my amazing (seriously Jamazing) cow box…

 

 

The five objects are: teabags (because I love drinking tea and because English people drink lots of tea); a pen (because I love writing and drawing); Boston Celtics wristbands (because I love NBA basketball and support ‘dem Celtics); an ‘A Trip to the Moon‘ pin-badge (because I love films and because I love science fiction); and a Super Mario figurine (because I love Nintendo videogames, am a fake Italian like Mario and because Mario reminds me of my childhood and my family but I don’t go into all that ’cause it’s too complicated for the children and I’d probably start crying and squealing “Aww, man, I miss my brother!“). The lessons have been a blast and the children’s English ability is astounding. They’re really enthusiastic, ultra-keen to show off all the vocab they know, ask for new words and ask questions. The most common question is “Manchester City of Manchester United?“. Other questions I’ve been asked include  “Do you prefer it in Manchester or Milan?“, “Are you married?“, “Do you have a girlfriend?” and “Is your brother married?” Aww, them kids. It’s good to get back to engaging with Italian children again.

Altogether, it’s all really sweet and I’m excited about all the things I can do here (hopefully making some comics, composing some educational songs, imagining up some new games and so on). I also keep having “Whoa!” moments when I realise that I can just pop out to Piazza del Duomo on my lunchbreak, admire that epic marble masterpiece and grab a slice of pizza (genuine Italian pizza). Anytime I want I can drift off and dig Milano’s history and culture. I’ve still not quite got over the “Hey! I’m living in Milano!” state of elation.

I’ll now go back to that and cut this brief update short. More blogposts and bits of writing may surface soon (I’m still seeing how my time and work are working out). The snow’s now coming down thick and I’m going to charge out armed with a cowprint box to play Pass the Bomb with i bambini. From me in Milano then, buona giornata, be excellent and have fun with whatever you’re doing. (Having fun is my job, so I’m very serious about it…)