30 Jan 2014

Mag # 204 - A Winter's Tale

This is a re-post of a piece I wrote some time ago.

The Mill - Andrew Wyeth 1964
As kids we always looked forward to it snowing. We hoped each year that it would snow for Christmas, but it seldom did. It usually arrived in January.

You knew as soon as you opened your eyes in the morning if it had snowed overnight. The quality of the light would be different and sounds were muted. The first thing to do was to look out of the window to see how deep it was. Jack Frost would have left beautiful fern-like ice patterns on the bottoms of the window panes. We didn’t have central heating so the windows always iced up from condensation when the temperature dropped below freezing. Getting dressed in the cold room I would sing a little ‘hurrying’ song to myself to get dressed as quickly as possible.

Down the stairs at full speed to have a bowl of porridge for breakfast. Dad was always the first one up and there would be a pot of tea and a double-boiler full of porridge to cater for all comers at whatever time. After breakfast you would try to be the first one out of the door so that you could be the first to put footprints in the pristine snow. Then you had to cover as much territory as possible before anyone else came out.

Snowball fights would ensue, leaving hats and gloves nice and soggy. If there was enough snow we would make a snowman. Two bits of coal for eyes; a carrot for a nose and more bits of coal for a mouth. Sometimes we would see how large a ball of snow we could make by starting off with a hand-sized snowball and rolling it around and around to gather up as much snow as we could. The final size was determined by how many kids were involved. We’d roll until it outgrew our collective strength. Sometimes our strength would run out when the snowball was in the middle of the road, which made the grown-ups not very happy.

On snowy schooldays we (all the kids in our known Universe) would get to school by sliding. There would be slide after slide with a few steps in between as a run-up, all the way to school. Kids would form a queue at each slide and they would end up like glass. We couldn’t slide home again because while we were in school ‘old’ people (meaning anyone over thirty) would have scattered ashes and salt onto the treacherous surface. As a child, I thought it was a rather mean-spirited thing to do, but now I’m clogging on myself I realise it was from a sense of self-preservation.

Another winter pastime was sucking on icicles. This was not for any particular pleasure it gave, but simply because we could. We didn’t have a fridge. Hard to imagine these days, I know, but we didn’t, so having ice to suck was something of a novelty. Sometimes in winter if someone went out of the front door and slammed it, it would dislodge an avalanche of snow from the roof. Quite entertaining for onlookers!

We were not allowed to wear trousers to school in the winter. The uniform was gymslips for girls and shorts for boys, and it didn’t matter how cold it got – that was it. Boys could only wear long pants when they reached high school and not before. Girls were not allowed to wear trousers at all. The place was populated by kids with red, chapped knees and hands during the winter. The backs of my hands would always open up and bleed and also my ears at the bottom where they join my head. Mum would cover them in lanolin cream in the evenings. Most kids also sported ‘wellie marks’ on the backs of their calves. These were caused by wet wellies (rubber/gum boots) banging on the backs of your legs with each step you took. They would get very red and sore and sometimes open  up if it was really cold. This would cause you to adopt a very careful gait to try to stop them from banging on your legs and you ended up walking as if you’d filled your pants. Not nice.(God, it sounds like the dark ages, but it was just part of life back then).

Everyone walked to school. Very few people had cars, and if they did the last thing they would've been used for was carting kids around. You had legs; you walked!

We were wrapped up well for school apart from our legs. We were not allowed to wear wellies in class and had to change into black plimsolls which were kept in a slipper bag on our peg in the cloakroom. Mum would make sure we didn’t lose our gloves. She would sew a length of tape (which would be the length of your outstretched arms) to one glove, pass it through the coat loop at the neck of the coat and then attach the other glove. When you took your coat off the gloves stayed with it. There were seven of us and replacing gloves can be a costly business when you don’t have a lot of money. We never lost our gloves!

Yes, when I was a kid snow and ice were good fun. The memories are good. Now…………I’m not so sure. I don’t think I would like to be splothering about on snow and ice at my age, but I emigrated from the UK to Australia in 1970 so it's not something I have to worry about.


Image kindly supplied by Tess Kincaid of Magpie Tales, where you can read more pieces based on the picture.


  1. This brought back memories. I still get happy like a child at the sight of snow - something that's never left me.

  2. What wonderful memories, and so descriptive I was almost there. You also reminded me about how "uncaudled" we were as kids back in the "way back". I think that maybe kids today are missing out on a whole lot. Thanks for visiting my blog and leavin a comment!

  3. Having been raised in California, I particularly enjoyed reading this piece. So well written and interesting.


  4. Thoroughly enjoyed this lovely memoir...

  5. Thank you all for visiting and for the lovely comments :)

  6. This brought back memories of my own childhood, I really enjoyed reading it - lovely.

  7. Thanks Cait :) Could you see kids putting up with that today?

  8. I'm having fun still picturing that wellie walk!

    1. It was a very tentative gait, Helena :)


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