Memories of Winter past

4 Dec

snow-untouchedsnow-gas-lamp

Winter is now officially upon us. This year, much more than in recent years we are again so looking forward to celebrating Christmas. Our grandaughter being just the “right age” is one of the reasons. In reality we have many more reasons to be cheerful. It has brought back memories of Christmas past.

In 1962 we had a very snowy time of it. From my bedroom, at the front of our terraced house in the Potteries, I had a pretty good view of the cul de sac where we lived. There were only three cars in the street. A Wolseley and a baby Austin , owned by two fastidious and proud owners,one kept in a tiny garage in another street and the other in an old stable belonging to one of the larger houses opposite. The third car was a funeral car which would glide quietly to the end of the Cul de Sac. Owned by Mr Lewis, it would park opposite our old family home where we once all lived together as an extended family. Grandparents and two brothers with their children. It was a wonderful way to live. I remember watching my grandad arrive home from his pottery works in his Ford V8 Pilot and my dad and uncle climbing out. The three of them looked like  Al Capone and his cronies in their dark overcoats and hats.

One night, in 1962 ,I was woken by my dad. There was a coal fire in the open hearth of my bedroom and I was taken to the front window to look out from behind the curtains into the street. Snow was falling silently past the familiar gas lamp right outside my window. Pristine snow drifts had filled the street up to the level of our front wall and you could not see where the road ended and our little front garden began. The holly trees next door were sugar coated like huge iced cakes. The two spinsters who lived there and made such a fuss of me as a small boy wouldn’t have been able to see out of their cottage.

It was truly magical. At that young age I had no idea of the chaos this would cause when the industrial world of smokey Stoke-on-Trent awoke next day. Milk brought in by sledge. No buses up the steep hill through our “village” to the Park and most people walking long distances to work for weeks. We went sledging in the Queen’s Park and after filling our tiny bellies with Lobby, beef stew with vegetables, we fell asleep immediately , glowing pink from the fun of it all.

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Eventually the roads looked something like this. I think Mr Campbell was amongst the first to resurrect his VW “Bus” and brave the conditions to get to his school, where he and his wife taught.

1950s-vw The Campbells lived just around the corner on the steep hill, up towards the park.Their VW never looked this good, but I loved the sound it made and how it carried the Campbell’s family in a laughter filled “box” on wheels.

potteries-1930s   All this was such a contrast to what “Stoke” looked like from our streets , high up on the southern edge of the City. This picture is from the 1930s but it looked little different in the early 1960s. When the weather was right (wrong?) we could not see the horizon beyond the next town for coal smoke. Yet it was this very coal which gave us the beautiful light from the hissing coal gas burning in the street lamps. All the way from the smelly coke works near Etruria, this gas was considered by the superstitious old folk to be dangerous and their old gas lights and mantles were treated with great respect. Victorian concerns die hard.

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