…the collective thought of snow

Gentrle Street, Frome circa 1918

48.

You live in a town that likes to festival.  Back in 1861 the first was founded, an agriculture and cheese show that celebrated country life.  For a long time it was held in the small show ground within the town, its gentle slopes filled with stalls to supply all your country needs, cattle and sheep paraded around the ring to win rosettes and admiration.  In recent times this festival has become so big it has moved out to the true countryside, where the vast fields are carpeted with people and stalls and machinery and creatures of many kinds.

Other festivites include a lantern procession through the streets before the Christmas tree is illuminated in the market square. Then there is the Chocolate Festival, the Vegan Festival, the Steam Punk Festival.  The summer festival sees the town busy with writers working in shop windows, poets reciting their work on a soap-box, musicians singing and playing in pubs and cafes, houses opened up to exhibit art or reveal their hidden gardens.

There is a market every Wednesday and Saturday, but it is the monthly Sunday market that has grown like a living breathing being, the veins of the town filled with stalls selling jewellery and ceramics and glassware and sumptuous knitwear and food from Africa and Greece and Thailand and Korea and the West Country.  And cheese of course, and things that go with cheese, such as chutneys and pickles and chilli jams.  And the townspeople and the townsvisitors browse and buy and eat, pause to talk to strangers or long-found friends, and sing or sway to the live music playing at the centre of it all.

You wonder if this instinct to gather is a throwback to the days of the carpet factories, wool mills and printers that kept your town alive, vast spaces of noise and industry where everyone arrived together, worked together, left together, so that together felt like the natural order of things.   But then, at the turn of the nineteenth century, togetherness was disrupted like a slice through the vein. A photograph of Gentle Street circa 1918 shows the cobbled street and roofs thick with snow, not a single person to be seen, and you wonder, are all the mill workers at home staying snug from the cold, or have they locked their doors for fear of the Spanish flu?

And now, over a century later, the streets are quiet again.  Instead there is a slow flow of existence through the roads and side streets and interlocking pathways.  There is more walking than driving, more pausing to watch a water rat swimming across the river, more smiling at unfamiliar faces, more cakes delivered to your door, more spending your money in independent shops and cafes on take-away anything in the hope they will stay open.

And the snow falls again.  You walk with your lover around the old cheese show ground, watching the children and adults build snow men and women, throwing powdering snow balls at each other’s backs or rolling snow into giant shapes like plinths waiting for a sculpture.  You watch children and adults slide down the slopes on brightly coloured sledges or re-commissioned plastic bags.  And there is a sound in the air, both muffled by the crystal carpet and sharp from the sky-blue clarity of the day, the sound of people drawing together in one place, the sound of collective purpose, collective thought, a collective way of being.

You live in a town that likes to festival.  In whatever way they can.

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