Tag Archives: Winter

Winter!

We might (and do) complain about harsh winters now but I remember that they used to be a whole lot worse.

Just before Christmas 1962 the winter in Britain began abruptly.  The weather in the first three weeks of December was changeable and sometimes stormy but from the 22nd the cold set in and there wasn’t another frost free night until 5thMarch 1963.  On the 29th to 30th December a blizzard roared across the southwest of England and Wales, snow drifted to over six metres deep in places and this caused road blockages and cut railway lines.  The snow left villagers stranded and power lines were brought down.  Telephone wires too were brought down, stocks of food ran low and farmers couldn’t reach their livestock.  As a result thousands of sheep, ponies and cattle starved to death.   The continuous freezing temperatures meant that the snow cover lasted for over two months and the winter of 1962/63 was the coldest over England and Wales since 1740, colder even than 1947, with mean maximum temperatures for January and February 1963 more than 5 °C below the average.

All of this exceptionally cold weather came from the east with a weather band stretching all the way from the Baltic, so if the evil Russians didn’t get us with their nuclear missiles they certainly got us with a vicious attack of frost!  This would have been quite a challenge I’m certain because like most people in 1962 we lived in a house without central heating and this was in the days long before double glazing and thermal insulation.  I don’t think we even had a fitted carpet!  The house had an open fire in the lounge and a coke boiler in the kitchen to heat the water and that was it.  Sitting around the fire was quite cosy of course but when it came to bed time this was a real ordeal.

The bedrooms weren’t heated in any way and the sheets were freezing cold and we certainly didn’t even think about going to bed without a hot water bottle and thick flannelette pyjamas and, without modern duvets, as it got colder, we had to rely on increasing numbers of blankets piled so high that you could barely move because of the weight.  When the house ran out of spare blankets overcoats were used instead.  During the night the temperature inside the house would drop to only a degree or two higher than outside and in the morning you could see your breath hanging in the air and there was frost and ice on the inside of the windows that had to be chipped off with a knife before you could see outside.

I can remember the mornings well, first I’d hear dad get up and I would listen to him making up the fire and raking the coke boiler ready for ignition.  After fifteen to twenty minutes or so it would be time to leave the comfort of the warm bed and go and see what sort of a job he was making of it.  On a good day the fire would be well established and roaring away and the temperature in the house would be limping up towards freezing but on a bad day he would be fighting to get it going and would be struggling with a gas poker and a newspaper stretched across the grate trying to ‘draw’ the fire into life and the house would still be at the temperature of the average arctic igloo.

The house would still be cold by the time we had had our thick sticky porridge and gone to school and then it would be mum’s job to keep it going all day so that by tea time when we all came home it was nice and warm again.

Once outside the snow was glorious good fun and on the way to school we constructed lethal slides along the pavements and on the verges and transformed the route to school into a Cresta Run of excitement without giving too much thought to the people that this might inconvenience such as the elderly and the infirm who as far as we were concerned would just have to simply take their chance along with everyone else.  We worked for days to polish an especially perilous bit of pavement into a down hill slalom course and then Mrs Wright from across the road destroyed it with a tub of Saxa salt and we all hated her forever after that.

A Wintery Day in Riga

My first visit to Riga was on 29th November 2005 and I was hoping for snow!  Not the couple of centimetres that we get in the UK which disappears after an hour or so but really deep snow that would come over the top of my boots and lays thick and frosty on the ground.

On the first morning the sun was shining and the roofs of the buildings opposite were covered by a white blanket of snow with a cold frosty sparkle.   Outside the hotel front door an old lady was efficiently clearing the snow from the taxi rank and the footpaths by scraping away with an oversized plastic shovel that seemed to be most effective.

First of all today we found the fabulous Art Nouveau buildings that were all quite close to our hotel.  There had been a lot of restoration activity and the pace of regeneration to repair generations of neglect was very impressive.  The buildings were bathed in soft winter sunshine with snow on the roofs and when we had done enough neck craning to peer upwards towards the statues and friezes we left this part of the city and walked through the spacious parks towards the city centre.

The snow was still largely undisturbed and looked sensational in the bright sunshine.  The canal, which runs around the city, was frozen solid where hooded crows were scavenging unsuccessfully and stranded ducks were optimistically looking for running water.  After an aimless wander through the parks we emerged at the Freedom Monument just in time to see the eleven o’clock goose-stepping changing of the guard ceremony where the young soldiers that had stood there in the cold for the last hour looked mighty relieved to see their replacements.

Next on the itinerary was the Russian Orthodox Cathedral, which had also been recently restored in an ugly duckling transformation from a grimy communist grey to a resplendent sandstone yellow under black domes with gleaming crosses.  The renovated brickwork was clean and sharp with red brick stripes and elaborate white columns soaring into the blue sky above.  The communists had closed the cathedral as a place of worship and had converted the building into a planetarium but the place was surely more heavenly than ever now that it had been returned to its intended purpose.

The interior was bright and cheerful, was adorned with shining icons and smelled of incense and to one side there was a service of some kind attended by a standing congregation who were in a very solemn mood.  We discovered that it was a funeral service because there was corpse laid out in a casket but I wasn’t tall enough to see over the shoulders of the congregation and I though it rude to intrude to close to the front because of a macabre interest.  The service was attended by nuns in black robes and pointy hats who looked like extras from the Lord of the Rings and was led by a priest in a lavish scarlet and gold robe.

At the market square we watched people skating and strolled through a small winter market.  There was a lot of snow clearing activity with a man in a tractor with a snow plough working quickly and efficiently to clear the square and he made a really good job of it too.  The city clearly had an efficient risk management strategy with a comprehensive snow clearance plan.

Next stop was a trip to the top of a church tower to see the city from an elevated perspective and from here we could better appreciate the patchwork quilt of coloured roofs and pastel facades looking even more attractive under the snowy mantle that decorated them.  Luckily we didn’t have to climb to the top and there was an attended lift that raised us to the summit.  We had ten minutes at the viewing platform which was about nine more than we really needed considering how cold it was with a bitter wind that felt like icy needles being driven into our faces so we were careful therefore that we didn’t miss the descent when the lift came back to collect us and return us to the ground floor and back to the street.

We resumed our walk through the city and made for the old Jewish Quarter called Little Russia, which took us through the market on the way.  This area of the city was interesting for consisting of buildings constructed of timber that are fighting a losing rearguard action against decay and neglect and caught in a catch twenty-two situation, too expensive to repair and restore and too culturally important to be demolished.  Adjacent to this area was the Academy of Sciences building, constructed by the communists in the style of the Seven Sisters skyscrapers in Moscow  and although impressive in its appearance was seriously ill conceived in respect of location.

The sky was still clear so we decided to make the Skyline bar for the sunset, which the guidebooks described as not to be missed.  We walked back through the market, this time through the old zeppelin hangers that had been converted into a huge indoor market with an impressive array of produce.

The Skyline Bar is a great place to relax in the early evening after a day sightseeing and a good spot for watching the sunset.  At the bar we found a grandstand seat by the window and settled down for the sunset that we estimated to be due at quarter past four.  We got that wrong and had to wait until five o’clock but there was a pleasing atmosphere in the bar and we watched the last puddles of sunshine laying on the rooftops of the city until the sun quickly dipped below the horizon and it went dark.

A Life in a Year – 30th December, Winter!

We might (and do) complain about harsh winters now but I remember that they used to be a whole lot worse.

Just before Christmas 1962 the winter in Britain began abruptly.  The weather in the first three weeks of December was changeable and sometimes stormy but from the 22nd the cold set in and there wasn’t another frost free night until 5th March 1963.  On the 29th to 30th December a blizzard roared across the southwest of England and Wales, snow drifted to over six metres deep in places and this caused road blockages and cut railway lines.  The snow left villagers stranded and power lines were brought down.  Telephone wires too were brought down, stocks of food ran low and farmers couldn’t reach their livestock.  As a result thousands of sheep, ponies and cattle starved to death.   The continuous freezing temperatures meant that the snow cover lasted for over two months and the winter of 1962/63 was the coldest over England and Wales since 1740, colder even than 1947, with mean maximum temperatures for January and February 1963 more than 5 °C below the average.

All of this exceptionally cold weather came from the east with a weather band stretching all the way from the Baltic, so if the evil Russians didn’t get us with their nuclear missiles they certainly got us with a vicious attack of frost!

This would have been quite a challenge I’m certain because like most people in 1962 we lived in a house without central heating and this was in the days long before double glazing and thermal insulation.  I don’t think we even had a fitted carpet!  The house had an open fire in the lounge and a coke boiler in the kitchen to heat the water and that was it.

Sitting around the fire was quite cosy of course but when it came to bed time this was a real ordeal.

The bedrooms weren’t heated in any way and the sheets were always freezing cold and we certainly didn’t even think about going to bed without a hot water bottle and thick flannelette pyjamas and, without modern duvets, as it got colder, we had to rely on increasing numbers of blankets piled so high that you could barely move because of the weight.  When the house ran out of spare blankets overcoats were used instead.

During the night the temperature inside the house would drop to only a degree or two higher than outside and in the morning you could see your breath hanging in the air and there was frost and ice on the inside of the windows that had to be chipped off with a knife before you could see outside.

I can remember the mornings well, first I’d hear dad get up and I would listen to him making up the fire and raking the coke boiler ready for ignition.  After fifteen to twenty minutes or so it would be time to leave the comfort of the warm bed and go and see what sort of a job he was making of it.  On a good day the fire would be well established and roaring away and the temperature in the house would be limping up towards freezing but on a bad day he would be fighting to get it going and would be struggling with a gas poker and a newspaper stretched across the grate trying to ‘draw’ the fire into life and the house would still be at the temperature of the average arctic igloo.  The house would still be cold by the time we had had our porridge and gone to school and then it would be mum’s job to keep it going all day so that by tea time when we all came home it was nice and warm again.

Once outside the snow was glorious good fun and on the way to school we constructed lethal slides along the pavements and on the verges and transformed the route to school into a Cresta Run of excitement without giving too much thought to the people that this might inconvenience such as the elderly and the infirm who as far as we were concerned would just have to simply take their chance along with everyone else.  We worked for days to polish an especially perilous bit of pavement into a down hill slalom course and then Mrs Wright from across the road destroyed it with a tub of Saxa salt and we all hated her forever after that.

A Life in a Year – 19th February, In the Bleak Mid-Winter

Another cheat entry I have to confess because I wanted to recall Winter in general terms so with no specific date in mind mid February seems like a good place because the first really bad Winter that I can remember was 1963 when the country was under snow and ice for nearly three months.

Just before Christmas 1962 the winter in Britain began abruptly.  The weather in the first three weeks of December was changeable and sometimes stormy but from the 22nd the cold set in and there wasn’t another frost free night until 5th March 1963.  On the 29th to 30th December a blizzard roared across the southwest of England and Wales, snow drifted to over six metres deep in places and this caused road blockages and cut railway lines.

The snow left villagers stranded and power lines were brought down.  Telephone wires too were brought down, stocks of food ran low and farmers couldn’t reach their livestock.  As a result thousands of sheep, ponies and cattle starved to death.   The continuous freezing temperatures meant that the snow cover lasted for over two months and the winter of 1962/63 was the coldest over England and Wales since 1740, colder even than 1947, with mean maximum temperatures for January and February 1963 more than 5 °C below the average.

All of this exceptionally cold weather came from the east with a weather band stretching all the way from the Baltic, so if the evil Russians didn’t get us with their nuclear missiles they certainly got us with a vicious attack of frost!  This would have been quite an ordeal I’m certain because like most people in 1962 we lived in a house without central heating and this was in the days long before double glazing and thermal insulation.  I don’t think we even had a fitted carpet!  The house had an open fire in the lounge and a coke boiler in the kitchen to heat the water and that was it.  Sitting around the fire was quite cosy of course but when it came to bed time this was a real ordeal.

The bedrooms weren’t heated in any way and the sheets were freezing cold and we certainly didn’t go to bed without a hot water bottle and thick flannelette pyjamas and without modern duvets, as it got colder, we had to rely on increasing numbers of blankets piled so high that you could barely move because of the weight.  When the house ran out of spare blankets overcoats were used instead.  During the night the temperature inside the house would drop to only a degree or two higher than outside and in the morning there was frost and ice on the inside of the windows that had to be chipped off with a knife before you could see outside.

I can remember the mornings well, first I’d hear dad get up and I would hear him making up the fire and raking the coke boiler ready for ignition.  After fifteen to twenty minutes or so it would be time to leave the comfort of the warm bed and go and see what sort of a job he was making of it.

On a good day the fire would be well established and roaring away and the temperature in the house would be limping up towards freezing but on a bad day he would be fighting to get it going and would be struggling with a newspaper stretched across the grate trying to ‘draw’ the fire into life and the house would still be at the temperature of the average arctic igloo.  The house would still be cold by the time we had had our porridge and gone to school and then it would be mum’s job to keep it going all day so that by tea time when we all came home it was nice and warm again.

Once outside the snow was glorious good fun and on the way to school we constructed lethal slides along the pavements and on the verges and transformed the route to school into a Cresta Run of excitement without giving too much thought to the people that this might inconvenience such as the elderly and the infirm who as far as we were concerned would just have to simply take their chance along with everyone else.  We worked for days to polish an especially perilous bit of pavement into a down hill slalom course and then Mrs Wright from across the road destroyed it with a tub of table salt and we all hated her forever after that.