London's beautiful in the snow.
It's rarely a beautiful city. Exhilarating, depressing, awe-inspiring, terrifying, yes, but rarely beautiful. It is tonight, though.
Tonight, like last year, the snow came in hard and suddenly late on a weeknight and tonight like last year I dropped what I was doing to go out and savour it. Snow's rare enough down here and so little bother to me personally that it's still magical as far as I'm concerned. And who anyway could worry about blocked driveways and frozen points when London's transformed like this?
Well gone midnight, with a soft shower still coming down, the dirt and noise and bustle of this grubby corner of east London are smothered below the night's still barely disturbed fall. There's only a faint hissing from the high road a couple of blocks away, traffic foolhardy enough to venture out on unsalted streets, and if you're determined to screen out reality you can imagine it's the sound of the snow itself piling gently up on branches and rooftops.
Only that and the crunch of my own footsteps, quickly swallowed up; I don't hear the other late-night walker until he's almost past me, and a fox scampering along in search of who knows what is surprised when I turn a corner practically nose to nose with him. He's quicker on his heels than I am with my camera, though, and I follow his tracks but they don't lead anywhere I can go.
That's the other thing to love, though. Millions of people bustling and scurrying through this city and putting not a dent on the world to show they were ever there; but tonight everyone leaves a trail. Those little steps slithering together into one long zigzag are surely a child charging along giggling, too young to realise that not every winter will be like this; the big measured strides alongside perhaps his father ready to scoop him up and brush him down every time his flailing limbs get the better of him. Over there, blurred and uncertain, are the prints of someone who realised too late their smooth-soled shoes were smart but impractical; over here someone else could doubtless trace where a late-night wanderer ambled aimlessly through the back streets, stopping every now and then to rest his camera on a wall or toss a snowball at nothing in particular, before circling back around and home.
The snow was melting a little by the time I got back, though. The last few days' cold clear air warmed up as soon as the snow clouds rolled over, and already dark tarmac circles are poking through the white. Maybe tomorrow it'll be gone altogether, or reduced to grimy black slush. Or maybe it'll thaw and refreeze into treacherous glassy ice sheets that cover nothing, transform nothing, and register no imprint of anything at all.