Sunday, 31 January 2010

Childhood winters

All of the recent snow and ice and terribly low temperatures have made me think back to when I was a child, and the differences (apart from the obvious one of my age) between winters then, and winters now.

Well, of course we always had snow. That was taken for granted. Sometimes we were lucky enough to see snow just before we "broke up" for the Christmas holidays, and we could usually guarantee that there would be snow on the ground for some, if not all, of the 2 weeks we were free from the classroom.

I can remember playing out with my friends in the snow. So cold that my fingers were completely numb, but not wanting to go inside to warm up as I knew full well that my Nan would grab my hands, feel how cold they were, and make me stay inside incase I got (as she told me) "frost bite". And never ever could we put our hands in front of the fire to warm them as she said this would cause "chill blaines" (whatever those were).

My friends and I would play for hours sliding down hills and streets on anything we could use as a makeshift sledge. Large pieces of cardboard; sitting inside bin bags until they were too tattered to use any longer; and once, I committed the mortal sin of "borrowing" a silver plated tray that belonged to my Nan and sliding for hours and hours faster than anyone else.......and then tried to sneak it back into the pantry before she saw the dents and scratches all over it.

Snowball fights were great. Unless of course you played with the bigger kids (especially the boys) who always compacted their snowballs so that when they hit you, instead of breaking open in a cloud of fluffy snow, would hit you on the side of the head like a house brick and leave a lump for days.

And then there was the heating. Nobody had the luxury of central heating back then. I can remember my sister and I snuggled up in our beds under a mountain of feather eiderdowns and blankets, hugging hot water bottles. And waking up to ice on the inside of the bedroom windows (which we always drew faces in). And the smell of the paraffin heater in the kitchen when we got up for breakfast.

This winter it made me smile to see all of the little children in the village tearing about on sledges, making snowmen and having snowball fights. Most of them had never seen snow before. And they got 3 extra weeks off school too as the two little village schools were closed because the roads around here were virtually impassable to anything but a 4 x 4.

But most of all, the difference that strikes home more than any other is having my Nan. On those stay-inside-days, she would always find us something to do. She would have us baking scones or cakes, and Angela and I would always fight over who got to lick the spoon with the left over cake mixture on it (oh how Edwina Curry would cry out in horror at two little girls eating anything containing raw egg). Sometimes she would get out the different polishes and let us clean the silver and brass from the display cabinet. She taught us both how to knit and crochet (although my attempts were pathetic and never amounted to anything other than a very very very long 3 stitch wide string).

But story time was the best. She always made time to sit with us on the sofa and tell us a story of her own invention, or read to us from a book. With the heat from the fire, and her lovely voice bringing alive the wonders and magic on the pages she read from, I would soon drift away to sleep and dream of all the wonderful and uncomplicated things that children dream of.