A Pennine journey and a winter's tale - Ian McMillan

There’s the old philosophical conundrum that asks if a tree falls in a forest and there’s nobody there to hear it falling, is there any sound at all?

"The moral is, even if you can’t see it, the snow is still falling somewhere," says Ian McMillan.

In other words, if you’re not there you can’t describe it. Somehow the falling tree fell and crashed in a parallel world and if there were no witnesses, then of course it was still standing there, leaf-festooned.

All this is a roundabout way of saying that the other week when a vast amount of snow was dumped all across Yorkshire, I was sitting in Salford making a radio programme and blissfully ignorant of the snowmen-in-waiting that were tumbling from the sky.

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I glanced at my phone halfway through the afternoon and noticed lots of WhatsApp messages from my wife and kids talking about the snow, about grandchildren brought home from school as the schools closed, and about abandoned cars.

I sipped tea and glanced at the grey Salford sky; I knew they weren’t kidding but on the other hand all this snow-chat didn’t feel like it could be true. It felt like I was sitting on a sunlounger next to a pool reading a book about Arctic exploration, and I was maybe the victim of some gigantic hoax.

I left Media City and clambered on the tram to Manchester Piccadilly. I got a text message that said “Hope you get home okay dad” and a message from my wife that said I could always stay with our son who lives in Manchester. I checked the train times and I noticed that, although there had been quite a few cancellations earlier in the day, the train I was going for was more or less on time.

This is how a novelist must feel when their editor tells them that what they’re writing just isn’t convincing enough; even though I’d had photographs sent to me of my grandchildren playing in snow-filled gardens, I still couldn’t quite believe that they really were.

I got on the train and promptly fell asleep, waking up just as we rolled into Sheffield; into snowy, freezing Sheffield.

Now the novel became real. Now I wasn’t a doubter. I slithered across to the Barnsley train and as it rumbled over the tracks I tried to ring for a taxi to pick me up from the station but there were none available; I had a Plan A and a Plan B. Plan A was to walk from Barnsley Station to the taxi rank and find the one remaining taxi who would take me home.

Plan B was to find there were no taxis, get a train back to Wombwell and walk home the few miles from there. I hoped Plan A would come to fruition but I knew that Plan B would provide anecdote fodder for months if not years.

I walked out of the station. A single taxi waited, its light shining like a heavenly star. “I’ll get you as close as I can,” he said. That was good enough for me.

So the moral is, even if you can’t see it, the snow is still falling somewhere.