A Cold Wind’s Gonna Blow

Research has shown that as Arctic sea ice shrinks so the winters in Europe get colder. It’s an odd, counter intuitive effect that makes perfect sense once explained. A version of the theory has been put forward before, and that is what inspired this story, originally writen and posted here in December of 2010.

Mia In The Snow

Sheba’s ears are floppy and triangular, and when she faces into the wind the airflow lifts them up and they stick out like little wings. That always makes me smile, and when we’re out in the wind I always try to get her to face the right way to make it happen. After a while she’ll give me a look- if she could talk she’d just say “Silly person, stop it.”- and go back to sniffing the snow banks.

In Summer, Sheba bounces around and lives up to the Springer part of her breed name. In winter, with freshly fallen snow halfway up her legs, she doesn’t jump so much. But she will still do funny things like sticking almost her whole head into a bank of crispy, fluffy snow just to get a better sniff of what’s underneath. When she pulls out she has a white beard and eyebrows- another thing that makes me laugh- then she huffs and shakes it off.

Maybe Sheba’s doing little doggy laughs when she looks at me. I couldn’t blame her. My boots are furry and warm, with a cage thing on the bottom with criss-crossing coils of wire to improve the grip. They’re deliberately too big, so’s I can wear big woolly socks that come up to my knees. I’m wearing Nana’s old winter coat, that I’m not big enough to fit yet, with fleeces and thermals underneath. My hat has a bobble on the top and cheek muffs that fold down and should tie under my chin, though I’m just holding them in place with my scarf. My gloves give me cartoon hands which can’t hold anything properly and I’m tugging the clear circular “flying saucer” sledge that Daddy made from a sheet of spare perspex. Even with the snow I think it took me longer to get ready than it will to walk up the hill.

* * * *

Mrs. Aiden is old. She’s always been old, as long as I’ve known her. She has grey hair and grey skin brightened by spidery red veins on her cheeks and is quite skinny, though you can’t tell that with her winter layers on. The walls of her cottage are very thick, with lots of insulation, so she can afford to keep it hot inside. Once I’m through the three doors into the kitchen I stand on the welcome mat as the snow melts and runs off me and I begin to sweat. I hold out the boxes I pulled up the hill on the sledge.

“Two dozen eggs Mia?” Mrs. Aiden looks surprised, “Are you sure you can spare them?”

“Daddy says the poo powered heating is keeping the chucks happy and they’re really laying. He also said that one of your cakes is worth at least two dozen eggs.”

“Did he now? Well he’s in luck, because I have one of my cakes just for you.” she bustles over to the far worktop and brings me back a plastic box with a firmly sealed lid. It’s heavy for its size, Mrs. Aiden’s cakes are dense, moist and very tasty. “Would you like some tea love? The kettle’s about to boil.”

I’m about to boil too, and getting out of these clothes will be too much work if I’m just going to get back into them. “No thanks Mrs. Aiden. Grandda was just starting to make lunch when I set off. It should be ready by the time I get back.”

Sheba is curled up outside the outer door. Through the double glazing I can see her tail start to wag as I open the middle door, but she doesn’t jump up until I’m outside again. I’d propped the flying saucer against the wall. I lay it in the middle of the road just where it flattens out at the top of the hill and carefully place the cake tin on it. I clamber on so the box is safely between my legs then I take the rope and twist it around both gloved hands.

From this angle it looks like the windmill on top of the fell is actually sticking out of the chimney of Mrs. Aiden’s cottage. I should tell Grandda that, he could photograph it. I lean back and then jerk my body forward. The sledge moves a little way and sinks slightly into the snow. I repeat the movement and I’m closer to the tipping point. Sheba is giving me a puzzled look. Once more and I’m moving down the hill. I lean back and pull on the rope to lift the front so I don’t shovel up snow. Sheba runs after me. Now she bounces.

The round sledge is very hard to control. It spins all the way around twice as I go down the hill and steers by climbing the snow banks and sliding back down them in a new direction. But I don’t need to guide it. The road runs downhill until it turns right at the end of our drive. I don’t make the turn and carry on onto the yard, coming to a stop just outside the door to Grandda and Nana’s house. And just in time for lunch.

* * * *

Nana and Grandda and Daddy say there used to be winters like this- and summers almost as hot as we have- before I was born. But they happen every year now, not every ten or fifteen. I asked Daddy what it was like when there was this much snow and people weren’t ready for it and he showed me some old video on the net. It was funny, but a little sad. All those people trapped away from their families because no-one had known how much snow they had to plan for.

I’ve got a globe with an animated skin and I can play hundreds and thousands of years of data back and forward on it and watch how things changed. I watched the temperature one and saw as there was less white and blue and more orange and red. If I look at it month by month I can see the cold winds of the Arctic get warmer and blow further South, bringing more snow to Britain, Northern Europe and the United States. The changes are quick, I guess I can see why those travellers were surprised by the weather.

* * * *

We live in the barn next door to Grandda and Nana’s house. The walls of the barn look like a huge puzzle, one of those boxes of blocks with 50,000 combinations but none you can work out. All the stones it’s made from are different shapes and sizes- the builders must have just picked one up and glued it into the pile wherever it fit. When they’re not coated in snow the stones are lots of shades, but mostly a sort of blue-y green-y grey, and they’re decorated with white and yellow lichen that has frilly edges and gets crispy and brittle in summer.

The roof on the South side of the barn has solar cells on it. When the sun comes out the exposed parts of the cells warm up quickly and even after snowfall like last night’s they can still clear themselves and start producing lots of electricity. The snow must have slooshed down while I was climbing the hill, because when we get back from lunch the meter in the kitchen is all green and we’re charging the batteries under the floor. When they’re full we’ll start exporting power to the grid again, so long as I don’t turn on too many lights.

I sort of remember how Daddy, and all the people who helped him, turned the barn into our house. I seem to remember standing on a plank on the muddy floor and staring up at the roof and seeing the under sides of all the tiles. It was so big at the time, but I was so small. Now I’m almost as tall as the snow drifts.

What’s sad is that I can’t remember Mummy. I can look at pictures of her, including ones where she’s holding me as a baby, and pretend I remember her. But I think that’s all it is- pretending I remember her. Daddy explained how we lost her to the flu pandemic, which happened just before we moved out of London to the Lake District. We visit “The Smoke” a few times each year. Mummy’s grave isn’t far from Auntie Jasmine’s home, so I make a point of going and leaving some flowers whenever we’re there for more than a couple of days.

* * * *

My job for the afternoon is to take down all the Christmas cards and decide how they should all be recycled, then put the pictures back on the wall. I’ve got a clever folding stepladder that I printed out at Easter when I decided that I should do more fixing of stuff around the house, and my bag of tools. I’ll need the hammer, because I’m going to bash a few more nails in and rearrange the layout.

There’s a pile of cards which should be recycled and another pile which can be reused as labels next year. Reuse, repurpose and recycle, those are the rules. We live well by them. The little clip together holders go into a plastic bag for next year and I can decide where to put the pictures.

I’m in all the pictures, of course. There’s Grandda and Nana holding me as a really little baby. Then there’s a picture of Daddy with me. The next picture is of me and Mummy, it’s the one that most makes me feel I can remember her. She’s holding me up as I try my best to put one foot in front of the other. She looks beautiful, with long black hair, big brown eyes and dark skin. I’ll never have the same skin colour, and my hair can get curly, but I do have the same brown eyes. Normally this one would be the third in line, but I want to add another picture, and there’s no room to carry on the sequence.

I use a plumb line to mark points directly below the existing nails, and a spirit level and ruler to make a horizontal mark so the new nails are level. I hammer the nails in gently and rub the marks off. Then I hang the picture of Mummy and me and get the new picture from my tool bag.

Anne is Daddy’s girlfriend. She lives in Manchester and works all over the world, so we don’t get to see her very often. The photo was taken last Summer when we climbed Scawfell, it’s of me and Anne on top of the world. Anne looks nothing like Mummy, she’s blonde and, what was the word that Grandda used? Buxom. I should look that up.

Daddy must have heard the hammering, because he’s come to investigate. He lays his hands on my shoulders as he examines the new layout. “Nice work kid.” He kisses the top of my head.

“When are we going to see Anne again?”

“In a few weeks. She thinks that’ll be the end of her contract. I’ve asked her if she’ll move up here and work on our projects. If that’s okay with you?”

“Of course it is.”

* * * *

Anne’s job is to find leapfrog technologies and work out where they’ll be most useful. Leapfrog technologies are the ones that let people get modern without having to work their way through the wasteful steps the rest of the world did. Like all the Africans going from no phones to mobiles and all the stuff that’s getting made on the 3D printing stalls in India. We met her when we attended a conference in Manchester on what could be done with 3D printers, because daddy was about to get one for his business. She showed me how to use a virtual 3D interface to sculpt things whilst he talked to a salesman about specifications. Afterwards she took us out for lunch.

At first I was jealous that Daddy was stealing my new friend, but I grew out of that.

Daddy still isn’t very good with the goggles and wands of the virtual interface, so I help him out with finishing designs. He jokes about child labour, but I like that I can help him earn a living.

The old cow shed is Daddy’s workshop. He makes stuff, whatever people need. He says he would have been a blacksmith in an earlier time, but now he gets to work with more than just iron and steel. I’m not allowed to use the lathe or CNC machines yet, and I don’t mind that. They look dangerous, I’ll put off learning how to use those.

The printers are safely away from the high speed machinery, inside their own room. One machine prints plastic and another can do metal. Metal bits need to be heat treated in a kiln to properly fuse, but then they’re almost as tough as cast metal. We make a lot of jigs for electric motor components for when people want to convert their old car to battery power. Sometimes I’ll watch the printers for ages as they create something I’ve designed, one super thin layer at a time. Daddy’s found me sleeping in there sometimes, the swoosh and buzz of the print head can be just like a lullaby.

Today I’m designing a weather vane. One of Mrs. Aiden’s neighbours is an artist. He paints landscapes and draws cartoons. One of them was of a man in a suit windsurfing. He’d like to know if it can be printed in plastic- for him to paint- and then mounted on a swivel to show which way the wind is blowing. This is quite a challenge. Daddy and I worked out the basic shapes on a 2D screen and now I’m cleaning it up in the 3D interface.

I’ve got to wear goggles, which are a bit big- I don’t think they expected kids to be using their system. The monitor alternates views really fast, one each from slightly different angles, and the glasses’ lenses darken and clear up so each eye only sees one of the views and the picture looks like it’s coming out of the screen. I use the wands to move the model or the view around, zoom in or out or redraw shapes.

There’s a ringing from the computer, the video call tone. I push up the goggles and switch to the VoIP screen. It’s Anne. “Hey there Mia, how’re you?”

“I’m very good.”

“Sculpting something?” she’s spotted the goggles on my forehead.

“A weather vane.” I pick up the icon for a screenshot of the windsurfer and drop it onto the video window.

“That’s cute.” Daddy comes through from the kitchen. Anne gives him a pretend serious look, “Are you forcing your daughter to do your work again?”

“It’s either that or send her up chimneys, and she’s getting too big for chimneys. How are things going over there?”

“Well, it’s not snowing. I’d like to have a snowball fight.”

“We’ll put some in the freezer for you.” I suggest.

Anne grins, “You mightn’t need to. We’re so far ahead of schedule that I’ll be back next week.”

“Cool.”

“Then it’ll be a week of exit interviews and I want to come up and join you. I’ve got some ideas for things I’d like to make with you.”

“We can make it a family business.” I suggest.

Daddy and Anne are both looking at me. I may have said something wrong. “That would be nice.” Anne admits.

Daddy’s got a smile. I think he and Anne are trying to exchange a meaningful look over the video link. I take off the goggles and hand Daddy the wands. “Were you making dinner?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll go and see what I can do with it.”

There’s veggies to be cut up, so I start on that. I try not to listen to the conversation in the living room, but I can’t help but smile. Not a replacement for Mummy, but a new member of the family. It’s a lovely late Christmas present.


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