Preamble: I wrote this piece for my ‘Radio for the Blind’ recording on 01 November, my predictions appear to have been prescient as we had a heavy fall of snow this week.
Well we are heading for it now. The clocks have turned back and I have lit my open fire, as I write the logs are crackling in the grate and there is a lovely smell of burning Applewood, the sky looks leaden and the only thing missing is large snowflakes drifting passed my window.
Why is it when the snow arrives we love to hunker down in our homes (providing we are lucky enough to have one), shut the doors tight, light a fire and put on an extra woolly. Many of my happiest childhood memories are of awakening in the morning and seeing snow piled up on my bedroom window frame and sill, the garden covered in a thick blanket of snow. I would stand with cold feet on the linoleum studying the scene for snow depth and consistency. Wet snow is no good for sledging but great for snowballs. Icy cold winds accompanying the snow was always the best for us kids and worst for Mum and Dad who would complain of the bitter wind and slide about in the back yard trying to haul coal buckets in from the shed.
Invariably, it was hurrah, time to get the sledge out. We’d gulp down our porridge breakfasts and rush out to a small back lane adjacent to Scriven Park where there was a narrow downhill track where my brothers and I used to endlessly stamp the snow down to create a fast run. Whole mornings would get swallowed up on this wonderful project and we would return reluctantly home as soon as we heard mother’s cow bell that would summon us for lunch. The noise was distinctive and how ever far we had wandered we could the hear it: another boy, one of our neighbourhood friends would join us, and he had a Norwegian mother and she sounded an alpine horn that was even louder. In those days none of us possessed a watch.
When my children were growing up we tobogganed on Pannal Golf course that had a splendid very long and fast run that was a real adventure. I remember sledging in the pitch black with one of my brothers after my children had gone to bed, we must have been in our forties and were still getting the same thrill from the rattling metal runners and the snow pelting our faces as we hurtled into the darkness.
Growing up in the 1950s and early ’60s our winters always seemed to be characterised by snow and whilst I think that our memories play tricks as our age advances, I am certain that from a meteorological viewpoint, the facts were that we had colder winters. My father would talk in hushed tones of the arctic winter of 1947 and I remember the continuous snow of 1962, three months of it from January, I was away at boarding school and we barely played a game of rugby. Even slipping out after tea and before evening prep to one of our customary, discreet smoking spots was a hazard as it was so blasted cold. However much we craved our nicotine input we would have been better off with a nip of whisky but that was a habit I only acquired many years later.
So what is it that makes us long for snow? Even now that I am older I get a secret thrill from seeing the sky darken and you just know it is going to snow heavily. In recent years, while living at the head of Nidderdale, if there was any snow about we’d catch a lot more than say in Harrogate. One year not so long ago, our village was cut off and the seventy or so villagers congregated in the village pub where there was a festival like atmosphere, the adults were like school children having skived a day off school. As long as the pub fire was roaring up the chimney and there was plenty of beer in the pub cellar everyone was happy. I think we all got a little bit tight as the alcohol combined with the sense of the extraordinary.
Another year when we had a really good fall of snow and the weather remained bitterly cold with clear blue skies, my wife and I drove our 4×4 up a private water board road to a remote reservoir. The snow drifts were so deep when our cocker spaniel bounded out of the vehicle in his usual spaniel way, he disappeared into a drift with just his ears showing. The utter silence of the surrounding snow covered hills, moors and fields and the icy, cobalt blue reservoir water was a sight I shall never forget. It might sound corny but the expression, “magical” was the best way to describe this scene. Of course there wasn’t a soul to be seen as only someone as mad as myself would have driven a vehicle there in the first place. We returned safely, crunching our way back following the same wheel tracks we had made on our outward adventure and mercifully stayed on the road.
This year, the long range weather forecasters are predicting the possibility of the coldest winter for decades with things going downhill in November with wind and rain and December becoming snowy through to February 2017. The euphemistic phrase used by the weather experts is that it could be ‘significantly different to last year’ which of course was very mild and wet. Some forecasters are suggesting heavy and continuous snow and winds right through until spring. You could be forgiven for thinking you have heard all this before, although there is some confidence in the predictions as it is thought there maybe something known as a negative North Atlantic Oscillation which will create an opportunity for, and I quote, ‘potent, icy blasts’ heading our way from the Arctic. The North is likely to suffer more but nowhere is ruled out of receiving plenty of snow and disruptive weather.
Well, I am not quite certain how I will cope with this Oscillation thingy if it does manifest itself. I no longer live in a remote Dale’s hamlet, own a 4×4 vehicle or have a pub to hand where I can indulge in the childish delight in being snowed-in. I think my sledging days are over although I still have my sledge hanging up in the garage just in case. And of course cold weather will mean higher fuel bills and will the UK’s struggling power industry manage a prolonged spell of cold weather before plunging us all into a cold, inky darkness.
One thing is for sure I will be stocking up with plenty of winter wood so at least I can huddle around the fire if the gas gets cut off, the pipes freeze and snow drifts cover my front door.
Perhaps the wonder of snowy days from my past may not turn out to be as joyful as I remember them. I do hope my memories are not disabused this winter. Keep warm.