Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Remembering January

Remember January? Remember Winter?

When I was small, Winter was a season to be reckoned with.

At playtime we were all sent out into the freezing playground where we slid about on the ice and threw snowballs until we turned blue and then waited in piteously complaining lines until the bell clanged and the teachers let us in again.

At weekends when I woke and looked out of the window and there was snow and that strange, heavy silence that comes with it, I felt something very like joy. Sledging!

We took our sledge – a very solid one, built by the Communist and hence weighing about a ton – and slid down the steep slope at the start of Gledhow Woods. If the snow was good you could get all the way to the bottom and, if you were unlucky, straight out into the road.

At Roundhay Park there was superb sledging on the slopes surrounding the Arena. There would be hundreds of people, all clad in their Christmas jumpers, whizzing down and trailing back up and crashing into each other.

In the winter of 1962-1963 the snow went on for ever. It seemed to last until about July but perhaps it was only April. It melted a bit sometimes, turned brown and slushy – then more fell and it froze again.

The ducks in Roundhay Park all died: they were dots in the middle of the lake where they had swum round and round until they were frozen in the ice. Dozens of us walked across to see whether they could be rescued. Nobody worried about whether we would need rescuing – the ice was too thick.

And the clothes! The thick coats, the thick socks, the hand-knitted jumpers, the gloves on strings through your coat sleeves, and still it was cold, cold, cold.

But now we seem to have Spring, Summer, Autumn - - then Spring again. The blustery winds feel like Autumn. The catkins on the hazel tree in the garden say it’s Spring. No snow yet, and it’s halfway through January. I left my winter coat in a taxi, never found it again, and haven’t bothered to buy another.

I used to wonder, in winter, what it would be like if a new Ice Age came, if the snow, one year, didn’t melt. That was the feeling I had as a small child in 1963 – that the winter would never end. But that’s not the way it’s going, is it?

And yet, if the climate change should cause the Gulf Stream to move or cease – and it’s already weakening – Britain would have the climate of Canada. Then we’d have our winter back, and no mistake.


Blogger John said...

Ah, 1963, I built my first igloo in the winter of 1963. My brother commandeered the bath for three days to make the skis he had constructed from instructions in the Eagle turn up at the end. [They didn't, but we didn't mind because you only had a bath once a week in those days.]

I was out in the garden every night, in the dark, my heavy breath illuminated by an Aladdin paraffin lantern, given to me by my Uncle Wally the summer before. The snow was dirty creamy white and frozen solid. It wasn't deep enough to cut blocks, Inuit-style, so I had to be content with an old door across the walls with snow piled dome-like on top.

It was a magic time, every night, in a golden frozen world, big North Atlantic Navy Surplus socks, woollen gloves bobbled solid with frozen snow, cold wet trouser seat. The igloo seemed to last forever. I feel we were playing archery in the paddling pool with our trunks [the way you did] while the foundations of the igloo melted into the spring-sprouting grass.

11:25 pm  
Blogger Michael W. said...

I haven't lived in England for 20 years but I remember snows like this when we were able to go sledging in Armley:
Gotts Park

Do you still get snow like that?

12:20 pm  

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