Monday, 5 November 2018

Walking in the Air: 40 Years of The Snowman

I’ve always been a hungry reader. My mum tells fond stories of buying herself extra sleep time when I was small by leaving a pile of books at the end of my bed for me to busy myself with when I inevitably woke up, alert and ready for the day, pre 6am. She’d come in to find me absorbed in all sorts of marvellous worlds and words and images, from Quentin Blake’s angular scribbles to Shirley Hughes’ perfect evocations of childhood imagination.

Among the pile, Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman frequently featured – especially as the year tilted from autumn into the season of eternal hope for snow. We had a tiny copy that could balance perfectly on one palm, the spine already cracking. By the time it was passed onto my younger brother the pages would be looking distinctly ragged.

I’d all but forgotten about this miniature book until Barbour got in touch to talk about their upcoming Christmas campaign with Penguin, focused on the 40th Anniversary of The Snowman. I immediately went away, re-watched the film adaptation (my heart still leaping at those opening notes of ‘We’re Walking in the Air’) and, next time I was home visiting my parents, sought out this delicious little book once more – opening it to find our surname written in the front in biro. I promptly sat down and reread it, struck immediately by its simplicity; the way in which Briggs’ illustrations tell such a sweet and ultimately elegiac tale of childhood imagination.

It felt like an apt process for a story that’s generally so well-beloved: handed down from generation to generation, as so many good books are – from parent to child, perhaps, or in our case, sibling to sibling before lingering on the bookshelf waiting for rediscovery. Who knows who’ll get to enjoy it in future... In that respect, it’s similar to a significant piece of clothing going through multiple pairs of hands, taking on different meanings at different points – but still with an ongoing thread of connection.

I ended up thinking a lot about the parallels between handing down books and handing down clothes while subsequently filming this video focused on Penguin and Barbour’s collaboration – culminating in their own short film further exploring a narrative of imagination and fervent, festive hope.

There we ended up discussing everything from family Christmas rituals to the satisfaction of a good winter coat (like this one above, which I’ll be wearing for many a blustery walk this year) to the ways in which stories continue to accumulate new meaning as the years pass. In doing so, it was lovely to return to such familiar, snowy terrain for a while – and feel a crackle of satisfaction on navigating an old favourite anew.

This is a sponsored post. The coat, jeans and jumper are from Barbour, and are very cosy indeed. You can also see this piece on their blog. Photos by Andrew Fusek Peters - aka my brilliant dad - during a very cold, very crisp hilltop walk. 

1 comment

Pam Nixon said...

Regarding handed down clothes -In 1966 when we'd just returned from four years in Cyprus a relative offered to buy dresses for our daughters at Daniel Neal's
Anyone remember Daniel Neal's? I bought our eldest a dress made by a French company - I think it was called Caribou - two shades of blue and a sailing boat appliqued on the pocket. Eventually it got passed on to the middle one,then to the youngest, then to their younger cousin.
Some years later I was visiting my sister on the Isle of Skye and saw a little girl walking down the road.
'Sarah had a dress like that,' I remarked.
'Actually,' said my sister, 'That is Sarah's dress. When Brigid outgrew it I gave it to Lynn for Chara and now it's been handed on to Saffy.'
I wonder if, fifty yeas later it's still going the rounds somewhere in the Highlands and Islands; it would be nice to think so.
Pam Nixon

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