Saturday, December 20, 2008


Today was the first time I shovelled snow. I've never lived in a place where it snows enough for this to be necessary. I've been skiing a few times but then I was more concerned with not falling over (and getting to the cafe with the heisse schokolade) than clearing driveways. But this Christmas I am staying with my girlfriend's family in Massachusetts and we've just had a snow-storm. So this morning, I wake up, pull up the blinds and see a gentle canvas of crisp white snow covering the land, with more snow gently wafting down from the sky. Idyllic, pastoral, classic Christmas moment.

When it snows, ain't it thrilling,
Though your nose gets a chilling
We'll frolic and play, the Eskimo way*,
Walking in a winter wonderland.

"It's snowing", I say to my girlfriend. "That's pretty cool isn't it!"

"We're going to have to shovel," she says sweetly. Hmmm. That doesn't sound very fun or idyllic. "In fact, we should do it before breakfast to get it out of the way of the cars."



Ten minutes later, I find myself outside in the snow with a shovel. Luckily the family has special clothing to wear in such an eventuality, including hats, gloves, scarves and snow-pants (trousers). Given that I am wearing my own trousers and wearing long pajamas in bed, I am now wearing 3 pairs of trousers. Rarely is it the case when I am getting dressed that I wonder to myself, "How many pairs of trousers shall I wear today?"

There was a brief discussion about shovelling tactics before leaving the house. It was mentioned that some people used a snow-blower, which turns out to be like a lawn-mower for snow. You push it a little and the snow flies away from where thou wants it not. Sounds quite easy, I think. "But we do it the traditional Massachusetts way!", i.e. back-breaking manual shovel-work. Can't we do it the English way? Whatever way that is must be easier than this. Maybe take-over a small country and get the indigenous inhabitants to do it for us.** Maybe the English way is to shovel with a stiff-upper lip, fuelled by the prospect of a hot cup of tea at the end of it. My girlfriend, aware of the power of promised tea, had fiendishly used this image as a motivational tool to get me out of bed.

The shovelling itself was not too bad to start with as the snow was very powdery and thus light and didn't resist the edge of the shovel. The only issue was the sheer amount of it. The pool run the previous evening had included 3, 5, 6 and 8 or more inches. My incredulous low estimate had been surpassed before yesterday was out and it looked closer to a full foot of snow on the ground. After a while it was necessary to walk across to the other side of the lawn to dump the snow taken from around the cars, adding to the labor. At one point when I was over on other side I heard the rumble of an engine starting and then I saw the next-door neighbor roll out of the garage with what I quickly guessed to be a snow-blower. In the time it took me to make two trips across the lawn and back, the snow-blower-chap had gone around his house, walking effortlessly in the wake of his triumph of technology, and was back in the garage taking off his boots. I asked why we didn't just borrow that dude's snow-blower. The answer was that there was bad feeling between the two households after the clash over the Adjoining Tree Question back in '06. Inter-house relations in the suburbs are governed by the eternal rule of Anarchy and the Security Dilemma. No-one wanted to hear my analysis of how the situation was non-zero-sum and could be converted into a pareto-optimal Nash equilibrium through the judicious application of confidence-building measures and manipulation of incentive structures. "The guy is a asshole", was the final word on the matter.

Towards the end of the process we had been shovelling for about an hour and we were now essentially scraping ice off the pavement. Even though it was sub-zero temperature I was starting to get hot. Maybe I should have worn fewer trousers. Once I was back inside with my long-desired cup of tea, I looked outside and saw that it was still snowing and that our footprints were disappearing under fresh fall. Rather than winter idyll, my thought now was that it was a metaphor for the exploitation of the sisyphean working-class under free-market capitalism. This was definitely one of those rare cases of stuff looking better on a Christmas card than it was in real life.

*Song composed in 1934, pre-decolonization and before the spread of racial-equality and anti-imperialism norms.
**Blog-post also composed in 1934.

No comments: