Thursday, 22 February 2018

Winter Wonderland

The Winter Wonderland is staged in the parking lot of the school, Sunday afternoon, and I'm trying hard to work out why. It doesn't really seem to be about anything beyond kids having a limited quota of fun and promoting the school, but maybe that's all it needs to be. Furnished with the snow cone which is apparently stipulated in his contract, Junior wanders off to find his buddies. We stand and watch the snow slide for about a minute. Somebody invented a machine which makes snow, and they have one here today. There's a line of hyperactive kids climbing steps, then tobogganing down the snowy incline on the plastic sleds provided. It probably helps if you're twelve and haven't grown up loathing snow, or indeed almost anything cold, as I have.

There's a crowd gathered a little way off, and it's only a little way because the parking lot isn't particularly big. I can see very small children stood on a stage singing something religious. Bess and I make our way to the front, but the voices of the children are drowned out by their own backing tape.

Down past the school entrance, a line of tables has been set out with fun activities, but the whole thing is beginning to remind me of Fun Land from the first episode of Father Ted; and to further map the extent of my imagination, one table is manned by the science teacher who reminds me of Andy Dwyer from Parks & Recreation. He seems to remember us so we stop at his table, which is the only fun activity of obscure methodology. He has three trays of iced water and he invites us to probe each with a finger and to guess which is the coldest. They all feel about the same.

'One of them is colder,' he insists, showing us the labels, regular, with added sugar, and salt water. 'Like to take a guess at which is coldest?' he asks again.

I guess that it's salt, but I can't remember why - something about water taking longer to boil if you add salt when making spaghetti.
Salt it is, Andy Dwyer from Parks & Recreation confirms happily, because it freezes at a much lower temperature. He whips out a thermometer and shows us: fun and educational.

We wander off, past the face painting and into the school. The building is essentially a church welded onto a school because it's a religious institution - although thankfully not one of those which favours intolerance and brainwashing. It's a proper church too, and pretty big, not just some chapel or vaguely theological outhouse. It reminds me a little of Coventry cathedral and is conceivably of about the same vintage.

We look for familiar names in the alcove where the ashes of wealthy patrons are kept, without success. Our boy's grandfather is apparently here somewhere, as is his great aunt, Barbara Jean. It's odd to find myself attached to a family with relatives interred inside a church, like King John at Worcester Cathedral.

We walk up the aisle towards the altar, enjoying the stained glass and the organ music bellowing forth above our heads.

'That's what you want,' I observe, 'proper organ music, not piped crap from a CD or whatever.' I'm thinking of the Christmas service which featured kids singing along to muzak piped from a laptop.

The organ ceases.

We both turn and there's a man up there. He looks pissed off. 'I'm trying to practice.'

We look at him.

The church is empty but for the three of us, and the door was open so Bess and I didn't need to jimmy the lock in order to effect our entrance. We were talking, as opposed to shouting or singing sea shanties whilst howling with laughter and throwing up. I'm a little surprised the organist could hear us up there in the organ loft, or whatever you call it.

'There will be a service later if you'd like to come to that,' he adds without making it seem as though we would be particularly welcome. It sounds like an awkward afterthought from a man suddenly aware of his own knobesque qualities.

'Okay,' we say and leave.

Just beyond the slide, there's a patch of fake snow set aside for snowball fights and the like. We watch Junior stuffing snowballs down the backs of garments worn by his various school friends; and we notice a child whose anonymity I'll preserve by calling him Juan, son of a legitimate businessman who makes an honest living importing legal materials from Mexico. Juan is at a different school these days. I suppose his father is the man I'll need to see if it all goes tits up next time I renew my green card, if you know what I'm saying.

By this point we've probably extracted all the fun there is to be had from the Winter Wonderland. Junior is still busily terrorising his friends, so we go to the supermarket for cat food, then return thirty minutes later by which time even the kid is bored.

We go home, and as we pass through Olmos Park we witness some sort of medieval re-enactment deal unfolding, except it's all a bit brightly coloured and comical, and the costumes are like something from It's a Knockout; so the day hasn't been a complete waste of time after all.

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