Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Last Snow of Leeds

Michael W, now living in Sydney, made a comment about my previous post about winter and snow:

I do remember the 45 bus from school [I went to Aquinas in Meanwood] struggling to get up Armley Ridge Road. If that doesn't happen any more then Global Warming is reality.

It doesn’t happen any more – or it hasn’t happened for over ten years or so.

The last time it happened was in about 1995.

On that day I had collected Emily, then aged six, from school and taken her back to the agency’s office with me for a little while.

It was a cold, grey day but there was no snow. The office we were in then had no windows, so I only found out that it had started to snow when my mother rang to tell me. But since she does tend to panic about any kind of weather, I didn’t pay her a lot of attention and carried on working for another twenty minutes or so whilst Emily drew pictures in felt-tipped pen.

Then Emily and I left to go home, leaving my colleague Lucia to carry on working: she was planning to get a bus back to Headingley later on.

The office was on the first floor and we went down the stairs and looked out of the front door. Outside was a howling blizzard in which I could see nothing. We fought our way to the car and then I rang Lucia from my first ever mobile to tell her to come out immediately.

She did, and we set off to take her to Headingley and then go home.

We inched our way along crowded roads – everyone, it seemed, had had the same idea at the same moment, so our progress was painstakingly slow. The snow had taken everyone by surprise and the roads had not been gritted. Every few yards there were abandoned cars by the side of the road and I remember one particularly icy patch where the two cars in front of me simply could not get across it and pulled to the side. I was determined to get through and my magnificent Micra skidded a bit but got over the ice and out the other side.

It was very hard to see where I was going and I was just concentrating very hard on not sliding into the car in front in the nose-to-tail traffic. I was really quite scared, mostly because I had Emily in the car. I thought that if all else failed I could have walked home, but she would not have been able to walk all that way.

Emily did seem to realise that I couldn’t try to entertain her as I usually tried to do when driving, and was very quiet. Then, fortunately, she fell asleep. We dropped off Lucia in Headingley and I had to make a quick decision as to whether to stay put with her or to carry on – I opted for carrying on since I realised that another half an hour and the roads would be totally impassable.

It took us about two and a half hours for what would normally be a twenty-minute journey, but we got home at last.

The West Yorkshire Playhouse became a place of sanctuary for hundreds of stranded people that night, and a friend of ours was trapped in his car on an isolated road – the battery simply ran down. Fortunately he was rescued by some people who lived nearby and they invited him in.

That was the last big snowfall in the city. Since then, there has been snow from time to time, but it has never lasted very long and has certainly never caused such chaos. I am beginning to think that I won’t see snow like that in Leeds again, and that is a strange thing to be thinking.

3 Comments:

Blogger John said...

I remember that night. I was on a train back from London, due in to Leeds at 7:05 or something. We slowed down as we approached Doncaster, then came to a halt.

We crept forward and inched our way to Leeds, eventually getting in to the station at about 12:30 in the morning.

By the time we were in the station most people in the carriage were speaking to each other and borrowing mobile phones to phone loved ones.

I had a Land Rover [a proper one] at the time and I had overheard a man saying he wouldn't be able to get back to Elland and would see if he could stay in Leeds. I was going through Elland on my way to Halifax so I offered him a lift.

Not entirely selfless, as I thought two might be better than one on a tricky journey. It took two hours to get out of Leeds, not because of the snow, the Land Rover didn't mind that, but because the roads were blocked by abandoned lorries and skidding cars.

But everyone was talking to each other. People were walking around, it was quite light because of all the snow, and when you got to a junction or a blockage, people going the other way asked where you'd come from and what it was like, and you asked them the same thing, and you swapped stories.

On an approach road to Elland from Brighouse there was a long queue of vehicles crawling along and stopping. Lights were on in all the houses along the road and people came out with mugs of tea, and even soup at one point.

It was an amazing feeling. We heard stories of journeys both successful and doomed and we pushed on through the blizzards which eventually let up at about 3:00 in the morning.

The fact that snow is white really helped, not just because it made things lighter, but because this particular thick sticky snow stuck thickly to everything and softened all the sounds it was a magnificent night.

8:54 pm  
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