Friday, 8 January 2010


I keep reading comparisons between this winter and 1963. Back then I was about to be 18 and lived in Blagdon, in the Mendips, at the top of a one in four hill almost 20 miles away from school. I drove there every day on a motorbike with my younger brother in the sidecar.

On New Year’s ever we had about six feet of snow. On the West side of the house it piled up so high that you could not see the front door and it was another two months before we could get into the house that way. The snow drifted across the fields and piled up in the hedges and the roads. My little brother aged about ten could walk along the top of the hedge because it was frozen solid and filled with snow.

The milkman, a local farmer with a herd of Guernsey cows delivered our milk on a sledge for the first week after the snowfall.

Farmers with tractors carved a channel through the snow and we got our cars and my motorbike down to the garage further down the hill. Each day we walked down the hill to get the bike in order to go to school.

It snowed pretty well every day until my birthday in April, so we carried a spade and sometimes dug our way through where the drifts had built up.

Some time in January our water froze up, not our pipes but the mains out in the road somewhere. We melted snow to cook and wash. It takes a lot of snow to make a pint of water, but we did have plenty. After a week of that we abandoned the house for a couple of weeks and went and lived with my grandmother in Bristol. We came home at the weekend with the sidecar loaded up with all our camping water bottles. It wasn’t much fun dragging them up the hill to home but we did eventually find another route where the hills were not so steep.

The water unfroze in February and we moved back home. I remember driving into Bristol on the bike, a model 18 Norton, for those interested. We had to set off in the dark, because the journey took so long. About eight miles outside Bristol you come to the top of a big hill and from there I could see the sunrise. It felt as though someone had turned on an electric about a mile away, but it is surprising how nice that feels.

The roads were hard packed snow and ice; I don’t think we saw the tarmac before March on most of them. If someone came the other way somehow you had to stop, because the snowploughs had only carved narrow tracks. Jamming on the brakes did very little, so I learned how to spin the motorbike and sidecar through a hundred and eighty degree turn and drive like hell back the other way. Laurie used to wave out of the back window at the petrified drivers coming the other way, who by then had realised that there was no way they could stop.

Some time in about March I arrived at school about ten one morning because there had been a bit more snow than usual, and got black looks from the chemistry teacher. He was a funny old guy who did a lot of caving as a hobby. That next weekend he decided that as the snow in Bristol had all but cleared up, the council having removed most of it, he would go out to the Mendips and get underground.

He got on his trusty bicycle and pedalled out there. He was OK all the way down the A 38 until he came to the usual turn off to take him across towards Burrington Combe. Fifty yards along the road he ran into the snow still five feet deep. No one had gotten around to clearing that road. He abandoned the bike and tried walking, only to sink into snow up to his waist. After half an hour he gave up and bicycled back home. On Monday morning when I again showed up at about ten in the morning he made me a cup of tea.

If we still have several feet of snow in a couple of months time I’ll listen to comparisons, but till then, anyone who says this winter is like 1963 just wasn’t there.

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