STORM Christoph has hit us hard. I work at home in my attic in these miserable pandemic days, and for 48 unrelenting hours, Christoph hammered on the roof just above my head.

I looked out through the raindrops running down the skylight and could see nothing but a skyful of grey: sheet grey, steel grey, ship grey, dark grey, light grey, grey grey.

The world was engulfed in greyness. The River Tees ran by in a high fury of foam-flecked grey. There were road grey puddles by the kerbside and green-grey spills flooding off the fields.

But then, on Wednesday evening, in the sodden verge outside the front door, I spotted in the soil little pinpricks of luminous white. They hadn’t been there in the morning but were now so bright, I could almost hear them tinkling.

They are Candlemas bells, Mary's taper, snowpiercers, February fairmaids or dingle-dangles.

They are galanthus. They are snowdrops.

Indeed, so vivid are they that, in the days when toilets were outside, people planted them along the path so that in the grey gloaming of January there was a bright guide to the privy.

And I, as a snowdrop-fancier, am now a galanthophile.

Their name comes from the Greek 'gala' meaning 'milk' and 'anthos' meaning 'plant', and the big surprise is that despite their heroic efforts every year, pushing up through the iron frozen earth and then looking so pure as every passing car splashes them, they aren’t really native to this country and they don’t really like the north – they are unknown in Scandinavia and probably hail from the Black Sea area of Turkey.

They were first mentioned in a British garden in 1597, and nuns and monks regarded their whiteness as a symbol of purity, so they were probably first planted in churchyards.

They became widely popular during the 1850s when British soldiers fighting in the Crimea, in what is now Ukraine, were amazed at how they carpeted the landscape like a fall of snow. They called them “the flower of consolation”.

The Times’ war correspondent reported that “the soil, wherever a flower has the chance of springing up, pours forth multitudes of snowdrops”, and he noted that they were forcing their way up “through the crevices of piles of shot and peering out from under shells and heavy ordnance”. Little wonder my snowdrops didn’t bow their heads when under fire from Christoph’s bullets.

The galanthus plicatus in the Crimea had different, pleated leaves compared to the common galanthus nivalis back home, so the soldiers scooped some up as souvenirs or posted them home to their sweethearts.

The snowdrop became an emblem of the war – like the red poppy became the emblem of the First World War trenches – and suddenly every Victorian was a galanthophile. Plant collectors were sent out around the world to find new varieties, and now there are more than 2,000 types.

The ones by my front door are just bog standard snowdrops, and, poor things, they really are standing in a bog.

The Romans believed that they were "stars brought down from heaven" and this year, perhaps more than ever, they are a sign of hope. The seasons are changing; the unremitting bleakness of the pandemic can, like Christoph’s clouds, be chased away and soon we will be able to say that the worst is surely behind us.