Today is what we in the trade call Ice Age weather. There’s a patch of snow in the shadow of a lock-up garage in Summertown that hasn’t melted since the snow fell five days ago. AND I THINK IT’S GETTING BIGGER.
My neighbour is a geomorphologist, and he explained it to me. During our frosty nights, moisture from the air condenses onto the patch, making ice. Because the days are cold, the ice doesn’t melt. Instead, it reflects sunlight. So the ground stays cold, and when more snow falls, it won’t melt either. So the patch reflects more sunlight, then even more, and soon the ice lasts all year round. The ice remains as a glacier, and the local climate has flipped into a stable state from which it cannot return. Palaeogeologists call this the White Summertown Scenario.
They debate whether this has happened before. A few think it has, more than 650 million years ago. Many believe it hasn’t. But my neighbour says that’s not relevant. Nascent pre-Cambrian glaciers did not have lock-up garages to shelter behind. This one does. And it is definitely growing. This does not bode well for house prices.
I walked past it again yesterday morning. There was a frozen puddle behind it, on which ants were holding a Frost Fair. One was roasting a whole ladybird on a spit. Several were skating to a grasshopper band playing grass-hop music. There was a flea circus, and a refreshment stall with an aphid tethered to it. The stallholder was feeding the aphid yeast, and two teenage ants were slouching against a corner post drunkenly taunting a damselfly. On a seat nearby, a mayfly was begging for cash. Its DSS cold-weather payments had been delayed owing to a computer cock-up, and were not expected to arrive for another month. Although this is 31 mayfly lifetimes, a DSS spokesman today refuted accusations that the system was in crisis.
And I’m worried. I suspect my neighbour. Last night, I saw him emerge from his house with a plastic tray of ice cubes. This morning, the ice had engulfed the garden next door. I THINK HE’S FEEDING IT.
And now the ice patch has expanded again. The lady down the road is walking her husky; the bookshop round the corner is advertising Penguin books using real penguins; and I’ve just passed Ranulph Fiennes. It looks like being a long hard winter.