If you turn on the radio these days, or look at the inside pages of the daily paper, you’re likely to find reminiscences of the big freezes of last century, 1947, 1960, 1963 and 1979.
Well, I don’t remember 1947. My mother had bitter memories of it, but I was rocking gently in a warm bath of amniotioc fluid, and didn’t have to worry about the cold.
In 1960, I was at girls’ grammar school, and becoming, with my class mates, a sulky teenager. My main memory is of long frozen January lunch hours in the school playground (unthinkable that we’d be allowed to remain inside in the warm). Considering ourselves too old to have fun chasing each other with snowballs, we stood around in morose groups, comparing our newly fashionable long johns with each other (they were long legged bloomers really, in garish colours. But they helped a bit).
By 1963, an even starker winter, we were sitting out mock O Levels. The school heating system broke down, and we sat several exams in our winter coats, and sometimes even our velour hats. We had to write with our woolly gloves on. No ‘manifs’, no walk outs, and no line of indignant parents outside the headmistress’ office complaining about Health and Safety. The stroppiest of us (and I wasn’t stroppy in those days) just got on with it as just one more thing to be endured in those gloomy January days. We must all have been raving bonkers.
Things were very different by 1979. Elinor was born in late ’78, and Thomas was just under 2 years old. We lived perched towards the top of one of Sheffield’s (allegedly) 7 hills (‘Same as Rome, see?’), and getting up and down that steep slope of ours with a pram was unthinkable. It WAS a steep slope. Occasionally, a hired coach would try to take a short cut down our road. It would find itself marooned at the bottom, the driver’s cab already on the level main road, while the back of the bus remained suspended on the 45 degree tarmac behind, to the unbridled delight of all of us who lived in the street: we’d all turn out to watch the fun.
So we stayed at home as the snow fell, and continued to fall. For 6 weeks. No shopping, no walks in the park or toddler groups or visits to friends (apart from the family next door, in exactly the same position as us). For someone like me, always looking for busy things to fill the day, it should have been utterly unthinkable. But it wasn’t. My memory of that time is of spending hour after hour, the three of us, cosily curled up on the sofa while I breastfed Elinor, reading one story after another to Thomas. Children’s picture books were just taking off in those days, and we had our supply of Picture Puffins… Farmer Fisher, Wonky Donkey, Bread & Jam for Frances, Maurice Sendak…. Whenever I remember that long and rather lazy winter, it’s always with simple pleasure.
This winter is a little more complicated. We’d like to be in France, but since we can’t be, we’d like to be seeing our friends. We can’t do that either. Either we can’t get up our hill, or they can’t get down theirs. Or their children’s school is closed. Or something. So instead we worry about feeding the birds: They’re pretty hungry, but it wouldn’t do to have them depend on a supply of food which may disappear at any moment. We compromise, and put scraps, but only scraps, scattering them in different places. And then we worry about weather forecasts. If it’s not snowing here, it is in the south of England. How’s northern France doing? And further south? It depends which forecast you listen to or read. What to do……? Watch this space