Monday, 2 January 2012

Thoughts from the Washing Line... (Storytelling Sunday 2012)

So, yes, I know I haven't been around for a month.  A long time.  Lots of reasons why, which I won't detail here; I have just been so busy and I think that'll do.  However, I didn't want to miss Storytelling Sunday (even though I'm posting this on Monday evening!), so here's my effort for the month.

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This morning I was hanging up washing - on the outside washing line, which DS had put up for me specially - having taken it from the corner where it was stored "for the winter".  DH commented that I should take a photo of the washing out in the garden, as it was warm and sunshiney today, which he felt was unusual for a day in early January ( I didn't take that photo - I really should have!). 

It set me thinking about the winters we have had recently (or maybe I should say "endured", when thinking of the two most recent winters!). 
This year's winter has -so far - been so warm and windy, with a couple of very wet spells. 
Last year and the year before, we had some warm and wet weather, but there were spells in December when it snowed and snowed, with freezing temperatures - and the resulting disruptions to work and school days, transport, postal and goods deliveries, power supplies etc... 
December 22nd 2009 
December 22nd 2010
December 22nd 2011

Earlier I was reading an article about the winters of 1946/47 and 1962/63 (both of which happened before I was born), when all of Britain was plunged into periods of sub-zero temperatures, blizzards and deep, drifting snow.


1963 - Margate, the sea froze over
The previous very cold winter that I do remember, was 1978, when all of Britain suffered with blizzards and heavy snow.  The South and East of England was spared the worst of the January weather, which hit northern areas just after Christmas/New Year.  However, we suffered badly during a big blizzard in mid-February.

That winter, we were living in a cottage, on a farm at the top of a hill, in the middle of the Bedfordshire countryside. 
The journey to school, in the town of Bedford, was a 40-minute bus-ride, along the main road, a mile from our cottage; the village was a mile and a half away in the other direction.  The farm was across the road and we had a next-door neighbour in the adjoining cottage. Other than these neighbours, we were very isolated, perched at the very top of the hill.   We used to walk to the village quite regularly, as there was a shop there; in summer the local school opened their outdoor swimming pool - for the bargain price of 15p each, we could swim all afternoon; my sister had a school friend in the main village too, so we would go and visit her sometimes.  We also went to a nearby church, once a week,  to practise bell-ringing, with some locals and girls from a nearby boarding school.
The cottage had no heating - just an open fire in the sitting room and a couple of electric heaters.  The kitchen was equipped with an electric cooker (but no gas),  the bathroom had an electric bar-heater at the top of the wall.  So, that winter it was almost as cold inside, as it was outdoors.  We woke to a layer of ice on the inside of the window-panes, a bedroom so cold that it was painful to get out of bed and dress. 
A bath was out of the question, until the bathroom had been heated up, so it was a chilly wash every morning.   That winter, for the first (and last) time, I had chilblains on my feet and fingers (I have Reynauds syndrome, so it was very difficult when the weather was so cold). 

The blizzard hit us in mid-February, when we were just about thinking that winter was nearly over (!).  School half-term holiday was on the way and we were looking forward to a few days at home, relaxing by the fire, walking in the fields, perhaps visiting Grandma in town.  However, on February 14th or 15th, we woke to deep snow and white fields all around.  Our mother gave us a warm breakfast and sent us off, to walk down the hill to the bus-stop, in our school coats and gloves, scarves and knitted hats.  I think we probably wore wellington boots to walk in, carrying our school shoes. 
The snow was pretty deep and had frozen hard (already!).  In fact, I remember walking along the lane, which bordered a paddock on one side, looking at the hedge and wondering how it came to be so small.  We sometimes scrambled over the fence/hedge and ran across the paddock, since the road doubled back around the paddock, making the walk twice as far as if we took a short-cut through the paddock (this was fine until the time the farmer put three young bullocks in the paddock... long story, but basically, one of the bullocks trapped my sister against a tree and licked her face all over, until she stopped shrieking and giggled madly!).  The fence was invisible and the hedge looked about a foot high, under a deep drift of snow.  The paddock was also deep in snow and looked level with the top of the hedge in places.  We decided that it wasn't a good day to take a short-cut and went the long way round to the bus!

We waited a very long time for our bus.  The main road was mostly clear (I suppose they had snow-plough lorries out), but the bus service had been very disrupted.  The bus did arrive eventually, but not before my Reynauds' had got the better of me.  Its arrival found me sitting on the edge of the kerb, with my head between my knees, no doubt very white in the face, dizzy and desperately cold.  My sister hailed the bus and explained the problem to the bus conductor - a lovely lady, who immediately took charge.  I was half-carried up to the top deck of the bus.  The kids sitting on the long front seat were unceremoniously kicked off, so that she could place me right in front of the heater, which was blasting out wonderful warm air.  By the time we reached school, I had thawed out (quite painfully!) and no longer felt faint. 
(the bus was like this one - photo by Boxley)
We stumbled into school, around an hour late.  About half the girls were missing - I suppose their homes were snowed in, or their parents didn't think they should risk the weather.  Lessons were not running as usual, since some staff had also been unable to make it to school, but we all struggled on, until a message came round, about 1130am, that the whole school was to assemble in the main hall.
My school - in summer!
We were told to go home; school was being closed and would re-open when the weather improved.  There was a long queue for the one school pay-phone and some of us were sent to the office, to borrow the secretary's phone. 

The bus usually came across town to pick us up at the end of the school day.  It left at 4:10pm - so obviously we couldn't expect it to be there for us at 12pm.  We all trudged across town to the bus station and were lucky to catch a bus that passed the end of our lane, as it went between Bedford and Luton, a very large town to the south of Bedfordshire.  The bus driver was kind and let us get off there, although it wasn't a normal stop; this saved us some of our walk home, for which we were very grateful, as it was snowing again.  I think our mother was relieved to see us and she soon had us warmed up again. 

I think we were off school for the rest of the week.  It was an unespected holiday and we made the most of it.  I remember going for a walk in the fields that surrounded our cottage.  They looked strange and unfamiliar, covered in snow and ice.  We could barely recognise our normal routes and made our own footpaths across the snowy fields.  Obviously some snowballs were thrown and I'm sure we talked about building a snowman in the garden of the cottage. 

It was an exciting walk; until my sister decided to jump into a snow-pile that she found.  A run-up, a jump - whooping with excitement.  She disappeared.  It wasn't just a snow-pile, it was a drift, which covered a deep water-filled ditch!  Obviously, once I'd fished her out, I had to walk her home very quickly - shivering, wet and a bit tearful.  Luckily the bathroom was warmed up, ready for us to have a bath on our return, so she was swiftly plunged into warm water and thawed out!  She didn't suffer any harm at all - not even a cold. 

I don't remember a lot more about that winter.  We were pretty much house-bound for a while, only venturing into the fields a couple of times (with more care of snow-drifts!),  enjoying our walks, but glad to be home again and warmed up. I'm sure we built some good snow-men (I remember being lent a hat and scarf by the neighbours and supplied with coal and carrots!).  Then the wind changed, the temperature rose and the snow melted.  We went back to school and life was back to normal. 

We've had three or four very cold winters since (1980/81 for example), but I remember that first one best, because after that we moved closer to town and had central heating; the chill and snow didn't seem so difficult with the advantages of modern technology (and friends whose mothers gave us lifts to school on snowy days).   

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This was my contribution to the first of Sian's Storytelling Sunday posts for 2012.  I hope it made you smile!


  1. Gosh, I nearly had frost bite journeying along with you! It is amazing what life was like without central heating back then. Those frozen window panes! Thank you for a reminder how comfortably off we are nowadays. I love all the photographs especially the washing line.
    Have a very happy and warm New Year!

  2. What a fascinating look into a world very different from mine! So glad you joined in the storytelling this week.

  3. Great story well told love all the photos too. I remember that winter for we were snowed in for a week and couldn't get out of the village.

  4. Gosh, what a fascinating collection of photos - it took a dedicated storyteller to put that series together. Very well worth it though. I smiled when I saw your title - washing lines are on my mind this morning becasue the news is reporting that the wind I can hear outside is gusting at 90 mikles an hour. I don't think I'll be hanging my washing out today!

    Thanks so much for appearing back in blogland with a story Lizzie. A Very Happy New Year to you all!

  5. I have just finished a load of hw and so was feeling all hot and bothered until I read this lol. I love this tale Lizzie there is so much history there in all your memories and the research you did for it too thank you xxx Happy New year to you x

  6. Brrr. Great pictures you found to accompany this story.

  7. Thanks all! It's nice to "be back in Blogland" and I really enjoyed finding all the photos and background info for my story.
    Yes, we are so lucky nowadays, with our heating etc - though it was brought home to me, just how vulnerable we are, with no open fire and no gas cooker, when a friend Stateside was snowed in for days, during the recent winter storms. They ran out of fuel, the heavy snow brought down a tree across their drive (narrowly missing both cars and house!), they had no water supply (to flush the loo, make drinks etc) so had to rely on emergency supplies. They had to go to a local library, where a "warming center" was set up, with hot drinks, light (!), heating and electricity for their laptops etc. They run a cat rescue too, so it was even more difficult, trying to feed themselves and the cats.
    What would we do, if a similar storm hit us? Hmm....

  8. Thank heavens for modern conveniences! I could never survive a winter storm without heat!

  9. Lovely to see you back, Lizzie! :) Brrrr! was my second reaction, after 'ahhh!' at that lovely photo of your washing line. Looks idyllic, the view.I remember all those winters apart from the 1947/48 one ... I remember Jack Frost painting on the windows, as we only has coal fires downstairs and no heating upstairs too. Those were the days ...

  10. Lovely memories Lizzie - so very different from this winter! Happy New Year :o)

  11. Great story lovely Lizzie happy new year to you. Any news on a date for the next bloggers weekend yet?? work are hassling me to book my leave up but I soooo want to meet up with you again!!! xxx

  12. Great memories to share - I still hanker after snow - it was lovely last year!

  13. Ooh... bloggers' weekend date... must get organised! I was thinking about March, but haven't got much beyond that. I will try hard to do some research quickly!

    Alexa, that isn't my washing line. I wish very much that it was - what a wonderful place to live - but it's actually somewhere in Iceland! We do plan a holiday there some time very soon though - does that count?

    And, Helen, I can cope without snow and ice this year, thanks. I'm off to Spain on 27th Jan, for a week of printmaking courses. I so want to get there in one piece, without delayed flights etc...

  14. Your story had me so involved I was shivering right along with you. Thanks so much for giving us a look into what it was like that winter. Happy New Year.

  15. what lovely memories lizzie. Thanks for your sweet comments on my floor pillow. Honestly, give it a try. You seem pretty good at sewing so you should find it easy! Its nice to see you back blogging too! xxxx

  16. Great story. I love all of the wonderful pictures you included as well. :) It makes me thankful to live in an area that rarely gets lots of really cold weather and/or snow.

    Happy New Year to you!!

  17. Hi Lizzie! Thanks for all the advice in your comment...I will definitely look in to it!!

    I have so enjoyed this story of 1978....I was still living at home in Hereford then & can identify with the memory of no central heating & only electric bar heaters!! Life seemed to revolve around the kitchen as the warmest room in the house & we didn't even have fitted carpets, so if you stepped on the floorboards around the edge of the room they were like ice!!....& what about scraping ice off the inside of the bedroom window?!!! Oh happy days!! Isn't it amazing that we wouldn't have thought of not trying to get into school, in spite of the weather & I love how the lady bus conductor cared enough to help you out...those were the days!! I recognise your school even though we're not native Bedfordians!! Thanks for sharing these wonderful memories! :)

  18. What a wonderful post - it made me shiver more than once. And it makes me very thankful that we've had some wonderfully, unusually sunny days in the 50's this past week.

  19. I was definately shivering along with you Lizzie..loved the pics too and like everyone else wonder how I would cope without modern conveniences!
    Alison xx


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