We had a proper winter this year. Plenty of snow arrived when it should have and stayed in the ski resorts up until well after Easter. Many ski areas are still open and have loads of snow which will linger well into May and perhaps beyond. It snowed quite a few times in Stuttgart too, so I was often woken by the sound of my neighbour scraping a path along our drive and clearing the pavement.
My neighbour, Herr Sachs (Walter – originally Wassily), is a Russian immigrant and seems to relish any opportunity to get out shovelling snow. We live at the end of a three-house terrace. Walter and family are at the other end and in the middle is a young couple, Susie and Niels, with a freshly-born baby. We all share the same driveway. I always feel slightly guilty when I hear Walter outside clearing a path but by the time I’ve weighed up whether I feel guilty enough to actually go out and help – he’s finished. Which is convenient.
I actually only made it out to help once this winter. On that occasion, I turned over in bed after hearing someone clearing snow but something was still bothering me. I thought I could hear two people out there. Distinctly different scraping sounds and some cheery conversation. A quick peek out of the window revealed the truth – Susie was also helping. Seeing as Susie had given birth to a baby just a few weeks ago, it was a heroic effort on her behalf. So heroic, in fact, that I jumped out of bed, pulled on some clothes and went down to help. Most of the heavy stuff was done, but I did feel I was able to contribute just enough to be able to show my face again this year.
To lighten the mood, I asked Walter how the snow was when he was growing up in Russia. Had he perhaps developed his indisputable mastery of the snow-shovel back then? He said there wasn’t much point shovelling snow during his childhood winters – they had three metres of it and it was very dry and powdery. The temperature dropped below -20 for three months continuously and it was windy so it would drift a lot. He grew up somewhere near the Volga and it sounded pretty grim. He did add that things were a little tougher when he did national service and they were sent out in winter to camp in Siberia. I asked eagerly for more details, trying to move the conversation along. Walter is not one for flowery embellishments. “Kalt”, he replied. Then he went back to clearing the pavement.
I finished clearing the small space behind one of the cars which I had claimed as my own and went back in for breakfast feeling somewhat inadequate and certainly deflated. My pathetic snow-scraping being no match for a grizzled veteran of the Russian Steppes. But things picked up, the house smelled of fresh coffee and breakfast was ready. Ariane gave me a bit of a hero’s welcome which I graciously accepted. Everything is relative, as they say.