Sentence of the Fortnight

Sentence of The Fortnight

"The bus was cold, our hands clammed shut or in our pockets, in tight fists up our sleeves, trying to stay warm, with crossed legs and hunched shoulders, grasping for even just a little extra warmth."

With lancinating cold winds from Siberia (well, it feels positively Siberian) piercing Somerset fleeces and coats, is it any wonder that this Upper Fifth Sidcot student manages to so clearly evoke wintry weather in her English Language Paper One, question 5, creative writing response? (The question was: Describe a journey by bus as suggested by this picture:…)

The description of her characters’ reactions to cold weather forms her opening sentence, setting the scene vividly and creating enough atmosphere to engage the reader. It engages because at some point in our lives most of us have experienced cold and so we are all fairly familiar with our reactions to it. They are described here in such detail that they achieve what good writing should: either curiosity or recognition, or both. I’ve seen students traverse the blustery cauldron of the playground, shivering in their blazers and hoodies; I’ve seen them hunched next to their lockers in ‘the tunnel’, knees knocking, teeth chattering. What’s great is that a writer here has captured coldness and discomfort, and we can relate.

What appeals to the reader’s eye is the series of well-observed instances of body language, images of “hunched shoulders”, “crossed legs” and hands being “clammed shut”. Other details, like the “tight fists up our sleeves”, suggest the ingenuity required to cope with the cold, whilst “grasping” for warmth belies the characters’ desperation for shelter and respite from the bitingly low temperatures. Also reinforcing the impact of this imagery is the cumulative impact of the list, implying the persistent nature of real cold weather, and that whatever our strategy may be to cheat it, we are destined to fail. The word “cold” is near the start of the sentence, then the impact of the cold and the last word is “warmth”. The journey towards this last word is a long one and its mention is deliberately delayed and built up by the phrase “even just a little extra”. The structure stresses the idea that warmth is out of reach; the cold dominates.

Shame about the bus. I usually find the heaters stiflingly hot and I drift off to sleep in no time. Anyway, a purposeful and evocative start to description penned under exam conditions. Was it cold in the Meeting House that morning I wonder?

Nice work.

Jake Resuggan
Teacher of English

Independent day and boarding school for boys and girls aged 3 - 18 in Somerset