It’s Snow Joke when You Can’t Put The Cat Out
I’m probably a little bit late jumping on this particular bandwagon, but to be honest, whilst I haven’t exactly been donning a bikini and sipping (whisky) based cocktails in a tropically temperate back garden, I wasn’t really taking much notice of the general pandemonium and emptying – of – the – shelves – at – Waitrose currently sweeping the Eastern and Southern sides of our puny little island. So imagine my consternation when I awoke one day last week to find that my neighbourhood had been involved in a terrible incident involving icing sugar deliveries to the supermarket in the village.
Venturing outside, hoping to scoop up some of this icing sugar to re-use on any future baking projects – (admittedly the chances of such projects actually occurring is remote, given my track record involving a lit oven and a determination to ruin a perfectly good recipe, but you never know when icing sugar will come in useful) – imagine my shock to be confronted by a blast of wind so cold that it reminded me I had to take a nut roast out of the freezer and I discovered that the icing sugar was in fact not icing sugar, a momentous happy event for anyone who would have actually had to eat one of my future baking projects. I almost heard the dog sighing with relief.
National news bulletins told me that this was The Beast From The East arriving in the North West. I’m mildly amused by the description. Years ago we used to call it snow. How times change. The other thing that has changed in respect to the extremities of the British climate is people’s ability to cope with it. Going back to the time when snow was simply snow, people would stoically shrug their shoulders at having opened the back door to reveal a six foot high snowdrift had barricaded them in and they would wander off to fetch a shovel and put on a string vest. Nowadays, a couple of millimetres of snow falls and there’s people panic buying rib eye steak and bottles of Malbec with snaking queues forming at every supermarket; birds fall from the trees; national food chains which only sell chicken run out of chicken and then some bastard forgets their gravy and the army is called in to assist with cars being driven by people stupid enough to think that a Ford Fiesta will actually work in two millimetres of snow.
Is it a sad reflection on us as a nation that we’ve turned into a bunch of sissy’s who can’t move more that three feet from a radiator without developing a mild touch of hypothermia and crying out for someone to send a St Bernard; or is climate change REALLY making our winters more severe? I’m sure we must all be sissy’s because I chatted to a neighbour of mine the other day, when I discovered the neighbourhood covered in snow and that there was a slight draught coming from the general direction of Siberia. His name is Bert and he is really a wonderful human being. He can’t remember how old he is and he can’t find his birth certificate to tell him, but despite crippling arthritis, rheumatic looking eyes and a raucous cough and a wheezy chest caused by COPD, he gets up at the crack of dawn every day, puts on a three piece suit, a camel haired overcoat and all his war medals and off he goes to the shops for his morning paper. Even in the snow. Even with this biting wind, which does his condition no good at all. The Beast From The East or any other direction does not phase his desire for a morning constitutional. Even if it is minus seven. I met Bert a while ago when my dog decided to pee in his hallway, and we’ve been firm friends ever since, not because Bert likes dogs peeing in his hallway but because I respect him for fighting for my freedom in the Second World War, and he tells me wonderful tales woven with history and valour which I just love. Plus he buys my morning paper for me and drops it off.
Anyway, I was talking to Bert about the weather and he was recounting the Winter of ’63, which WAS actually a winter involving snow, hail, sleet, ice, the sea freezing over. Beasts not only from the East but from Scandinavia as well, the bastards, caused the whole of the country to experience the worst (and coldest) winter conditions since 1895. In addition power lines were brought down by blizzards just after Christmas 1962, and then further snowfalls and a freeze saw the whole country record an average temperature of -2.1° c throughout the whole of January and apparently, Bert’s next door neighbour’s cat froze on the doorstep, the neighbour having forgotten about the poor thing when it was booted outside to crap on someone else’s garden (as cats everywhere are genetically programmed to do). Luckily for the cat, Bert’s quick thinking mum stuck the frozen beast into the oven on a low heat and thankfully, the cat lived a long and happy life although it was somewhat nervous whenever December came around and it never went near Bert’s mum’s oven again, especially on a Sunday when she was preparing a roast.
Compare a MILE OF SEA freezing over (in Herne Bay, Kent) in January 1963 to a couple of millimetres of soft white stuff falling overnight in February 2018, and compare our reaction to the two events. Nowadays, a small scattering of snowflakes has everyone yelling ‘SNOW DAY’ at the top of their voices and belting back to bed with the enthusiasm of Bert’s neighbour’s cat whenever it heard the word ‘oven’. Schools closed because of the ‘adverse’ weather conditions, yet schools in 1963 remained open and people (even teachers, ye gods!) were expected to simply put on a pair of wellies and a big coat and tramp through INCHES – not centimetres – inches of snow to attend. Bert tells me one of his neighbour’s children can recall smashing ice off the loo in the school toilets because it had frozen overnight, and then he got a detention because he’d smashed too enthusiastically and chipped a bit of porcelain off the rim.
We simply turn up the heating when the temperature drops. In 1963, most people didn’t have central heating and relied on a single gas or coal fire in one room as the only source of heating. Bert can distinctly remember waking up one morning in January 1963 and finding ice on the INSIDE of his bedroom window. Gas and electricity were rationed, water supplies became restricted and many people not only had no heating, but they had to collect their water from a tank being driven around the neighbourhood by a man from the Corporation (local authority as they are now known).
Even though transportation became slightly problematic in 1963 because most of the country’s roads were impassable, the world still kept on turning. People turned up for work (Bert attended his wearing pyjamas underneath his three piece suit because it was too cold to take them off in the house); children went to school; milk got delivered to the doorstep; the corner shops, whilst sparse, did remain open and people didn’t panic buy enough dead animals and alcohol to keep them going until June.
The winter of 1963 lasted until 4th March when a mild south westerly blew into the British Isles and temperatures began to rise. By 6th March, there was no frost recorded anywhere in the country and London recorded a temperature of 17° c – the highest since October 1962.
Are we becoming a nation of namby – pamby wet flannels who can’t cope with adversity of any kind? When you think of the nation’s reaction to the recent snow flurries, you have to agree that as a collective, we are puny. We can’t cope. We weep and wail and take a week off when more than eight flakes of snow fall in a city the size of London. The nation grinds to a halt because the temperature isn’t quite to our liking and we start sending out distress flares from the back garden because the pathway is iced up and we can’t get to our 4 x 4 (bought not to cope in adverse weather conditions, because we’re not going to actually DRIVE it in this weather). Gone is the stoicism and the shrugging of the shoulders and putting on a vest of yesteryear, and if you ask me, we’re all poorer people for it. Now, excuse me, I’m just going to remind Bert to get the cat out of the oven.
©Amy J Steinberg 2018