Tuesday, 20 December 2011

20th December - The Snowball

When I was little, I spent a goodly part of winter ingesting snow.  This wasn't by choice, it was because I grew up amongst a gang of boys and when it came to snowballing season I was somewhat of a soft target.  I did try and give as good as I got, but somehow I always ended up with a facefull of snow, followed in rapid succession by more snow until I couldn't feel my nose or lips.  Even to this day I have a nervousness when it comes to snow, probably backed up by the snowball fights I've had where the boys put rocks in the middle of the frosty missiles.  I'm not looking for pity, but it does bring me, bitterly, to this little offering...

The Snowball: Guilty or Not Guilty? Harold Hume Piffard
Now, in my opinion I think this should be called The Snowball: You Little B*****d! but looking at it, I don't think it is so clear cut.  Yes, the urchin does look mightily shifty, but that's because he is poor and the poor aren't to be trusted, as we all know.  However, the trees that line the street are resplendent with snow and so a more likely culprit is that evil duo of Mother Nature and Gravity.  I'm not sure the gentleman with snow trickling down his neck is going to pause in his assessment of the situation and an umbrella-related incident will no doubt ensue.

I rather like the artist who painted this picture.  Harold Hume Piffard, or 'Piff' to his chums, was a bit of an adventurer and got up to all kinds of high-jinks and scrapes including flying his boxkite biplane (which he named Hummingbird) to a local pub in 1910 to win a bet and a crate of champagne.  He was an acrobat, worked on a tea plantation and produced many fine pictures, including this one, which was featured in the Pears Annual.  Piff strikes me as a fine fellow, whom one could have a cigar with and talk about India.  Smashing.

Back to snowballing:  The Victorians loved it.  I suppose anything that taught future pioneers of Empire to defeat an enemy that was armed with what amounts to semi-solid water was a fine idea.  It seems to be a predominantly male, mostly working-class affair, but you do get the occasional girl and the odd 'public school scrap'.  On the whole it seems a blameless way for the poor to spend their time between bouts of consumption and going up chimneys.

Snowballing (1865) John Morgan
There is an echoing of the patriotic, Lady Butler-esque pictures of soldiers bravely fighting off whomever's country we're trying to pinch (or the French, obviously), but heavily clothed in the 'urchins being scamp-ish' vibe which makes it entirely suitable for Christmas cards and holiday spirit.  I find Piff's picture especially interesting as you naturally suspect the little wretch of snowballing his elders, but it is entirely possible that he didn't, he might have been innocently toasting his chestnuts at the time.  No, that isn't a euphemism.

Anyway, keep warm, and if anyone unfairly snowballs you, let me know.  I have a lot of unresolved issues on that front and will reap vengeance on your behalf.

See you tomorrow.

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