9 February 2013

Winter Memories Past and Present

I admit it - I am a sad soul.  I miss snow.  I miss watching it float gently past the window and land softly on the windowsill.  The realisation of waking in the morning to a total silence that can only mean the world will be white when I open the curtains.  Sun on the snow.  Blue skies.  Sigh.  Needless to say, Glenn thinks I am nuts.  He, unlike me, suffered far more winters in Derbyshire than I did in Cheshire, East Lothian and Wiltshire!  However, both of us remember the winter of 1963 when everything ground to a halt.  Hold on, every time it snows in the UK, the country still seems to grind to a halt yet times have moved on.  Or have they really?

When I lived in Kettleshulme as a child, the village had its own snow plough.  Not a huge big one but big enough to help clear the road through to Whaley Bridge - not all the way because Whaley Bridge was in Derbyshire and Kettleshulme was in Cheshire.  This meant that where the borders between the two counties met, the Cheshire snowplough reversed up the road so as not to encroach on Derbyshire territory and vice versa! I used to think this was a bit bizarre but low and behold, one year whilst living in Malmesbury in Wiltshire, it snowed and the plough from Wiltshire got as far as the border with Gloucestershire at Kemble and promptly reversed.  Puddled or what but very British!

As a child I vividly remember we had four seasons.  Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter but these are now blurred or non existent and friends here in Portugal say the same.  A common comment here is that the annual flu/cold season (gripe) is caused by not having a definite winter to kill off the bugs.

As the majority of us who live in Portugal know to our cost and chilblains, it goes VERY cold.  Yesterday the temperature in our house was 51 degrees Farenheit or for those modern souls, about 10 degrees Celsius.  Tiles floors are wonderful in summer for keeping houses cool, but not such a boon in winter.  Time to haul out the oil fired radiators.  The cats were definitely impressed.  We have a woodburner for the evenings but obviously it does not go right through the night.

Pompey defrosting his whiskers

However, I do not wake up to ice on the insides of the windows - common in Kettleshulme days as people of my generation will remember.  We only had what was gaily referred to as 'partial central heating'.  In other words we had heating downstairs of sorts along with coal fires in the living room.  The kitchen had to make do with an incredibly smelly paraffin stove which occasionally made its way upstairs to the landing.  Seeing the logo 'Esso' brings backs a strong sense of smell and remembrance of the song "the Esso sign means happy motoring" or paraffin cans.

We also had a well for water which in the depths of winter was useless as the pump for it was outside and promptly froze at the slightest chance. My father then had to bring home large containers of water to keep us going. I was very excited when my mother and I moved to Macclesfield and had access to mains water for the first time since leaving Surrey.  Took a while to get used to the taste of tap water over boiled though.

Nowadays people have central heating - if they can afford to put it on - and here the modern houses also have it but again it becomes cost prohibitive and most people survive with oil fired heaters, gas heaters and lots of layers and thick sweaters and if desperate, scarves indoors.

I see that schools regularly close in the UK due to snow.  I find that a strange concept but a friend said that teachers do not tend to live close to their schools these days but I think the old 'Elf and Safety' and the evil compensation racket is more likely the cause.  No longer do people have accidents due to carelessness but it is always someone else's fault and therefore compensation 'needs to be paid' or you are 'entitled to' appears to come into play.

Heaven help the 'Elf and Safety people if they could see what we got up to as children, let along the European Court of Human Rights!  We made ice slides as good as anything in the Winter Olympic Downhill Bob Sleigh team tackle.  If you fell over - your fault; try not to cry; rub your knees or whatever else got severely bashed and start again.  Snowball fights were vicious and finished with sitting on big, fat radiators, steaming gently as you dried off.  This was in the day of short trousers for boys and skirts for girls. The only warnings ever issued was usually on the lines of: "stop dripping all over the floor" or "can you make the slide start AWAY from the gate in case a grown up hurts themself".  Try that today and goodness only knows what would happen.

I still laugh when the snow hits the UK and the news services anxiously report from the centre of Buxton about how it is cut off due to adverse conditions and the road from Buxton to Macclesfield via the Cat and Fiddle pub is shut.  Well this is hardly news to anyone who knows the area.  Anxious relatives used to call my mother back in the 50's to ask if we were ok because of the closures.  I once had a very happy couple of weeks stuck at home due to the road being closed between Kettleshulme and Macclesfield.  I remember a lot of sledging ensuing and feeling sorry for the girls who could actually get to school!

The Cat and Fiddle Public House - the second highest pub in England in all its snowy glory (Photo courtesy of variousstuff.co.uk)

The following photos show what the weather was like practically every winter in those days but now appears to be an unusual climatic problem for modern times.

I borrowed this from Kettleshulme's own website

Walking the tops of walls was good fun
(Photo courtesy of varioustuff.co.uk)

A lovely view down to the village
(Photo courtesy of variousstuff.co.uk)

We get frosts here on the Sintra hills as we are very high and the temperatures go incredibly low but further north there is snow and here the first road to close is the one leading from Spain to Portugal and you often see news footage of bored lorry drivers stuck at the border because the ploughs have not managed to clear the route back.  Sometimes they get caught with no real warning and have completely the wrong clothes with them.  Nice cotton shirts and a T shirt really do not cut it in snow!

The area known as Serra da Estrela is one of the snowy spots up north and popular for skiiing and sledging.  Many Lisboetas (people from Lisbon) drive up to look at the snow as most have never seen it or even ice.  The last proper snow that fell in Lisbon and Sintra was around 1945.  Here are some sweet photos of it at the time. 

A view of the snow from the National Palace in the centre of Sintra 1945

Another scene of Sintra in 1945

One thing that happens in both countries when snow falls is the call to find something to use for sledging, be it a tray, a piece of plastic, a proper strong sledge or a plastic one.  Nothing beats the joy of hurling down a slope in the snow to end up in a heap at the bottom.   

Having fun in the snow in Serra da Estrela

Snow plough working hard in the north of Portugal

A beautiful snowy scene in the north of Portugal

Writing this seems to have appeased my 'saudades' for snow for the moment and brought back happy memories of a snowy childhood.  Glenn, needless to say is quite relieved.

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