Winter Memories: Childhood and Beyond; Britain, France, Italy and Norway
Another great hubpages challenge! I keep having to put other hubs on hold because people come up with all these wonderful ideas, not that I’m complaining you understand. Thanks to Jackie Lynnley for setting this one. If you haven’t contributed already, do have a go; there have been some great responses so far, a list of which can be found at the end of Jackie’s hub.
Winter Memories in the Making
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we're off!
Wham! My nose had been hit square on by a gigantic snowball and I landed on my backside on the bare wooden floor. What a pitch! I had no idea who this person was but he certainly made an impression, on the upstairs window pane and on me. Good job my nose was on the inside of the glass!
We had just moved into a house in Solihull, an area of Birmingham in the Midlands, England. The move had been made from the south of England, due to my father’s work as an optometrist (then referred to as an ophthalmic optician). I was 3 years old.
The spare bedroom was empty. It looked out over the front garden to the street and I was on the lookout for our visitors, a colleague of my father’s and his wife. It had been snowing relentlessly for a couple of days but now the sun shone, the deep snow sparkled and I had never seen anything like it. I can still feel the wonder of the scenery and the surprise of that snowball expertly aimed at my nose. Uncle Stan, as he soon became known to me, threw that mass of ice so quickly I hardly noticed it coming.
Velvet and Red
I was so excited; excited by the move, the weather and having visitors. Everything was new and I was enjoying it. For that Christmas, a few days before, I’d been given a new dress; deep, deep blue velvet you could lose your thoughts in. I was a princess.
I had soft brown fleece-lined ankle boots to keep me warm and later for my birthday some bright red shoes which I kept by my bed at night for at least a month. I’ve always had a thing about shoes! My life was good; I had love, shelter, protection and a new world to explore.
Winter in Sussex
A little over a year later, we moved back down to Sussex. My father had found a job in our home area, near Brighton. We moved into a bungalow, the first home my parents bought, in a village called Hurstpierpoint. It was here I was to live for the next 11 years, during my primary school and most of my secondary school years.
Life continued to be good; how lucky I was! Christmas and Boxing Day had their own traditions. We would have a cosy Christmas Day, just my parents and I, eating our turkey or goose with all the trimmings and playing games or cards in the afternoon. Often the snow covered our garden and the road outside.
Mr Snowman would slowly materialise in the garden, complete with carrot nose, coal eyes and sticks for hands. To make him smile, he had woolly hat and scarf too. Mum and Dad would be bombarded with snowballs - if I was quick and accurate enough!
A Cold Walk
One crisp, grey, January day, Dad was sent up to the High Street to buy some bread. I must have been about 7. I ‘d wanted to go with him but he didn’t realise and had already left. I dashed out, refused hat and scarf in my haste and ran up the hill to catch up with Dad. Shades of white and grey were all around, no sun filtered through to sparkle on the snow or thaw the atmosphere. The air was raw, my fingers were numb by the time I got up to the High Street and my ears buzzed with approaching frostbite. How I wished I’d put on my woolly hat. My breath froze as it left my lips, my eyelashes crystalised at the tips.
I found Dad in the baker’s. I complained that he didn’t wait for me and he joked a bit. He was asking for the bread when I started brushing his arm with my hand. ‘Dad, Dad....’ A little irritated because I was interrupting him, he told me to wait because he was busy. I remember hanging on to his arm again and then I was coming to as I lay on the floor! I’d ended up fainting for a few seconds; my head had given up its fight with the pinching cold and my ears throbbed with pain as they began to thaw.
Dad relented when he realised what was happening, said ‘Silly girl’ in his affectionate way and hauled me to my feet. His scarf went round my ears and we walked home hand in hand. I was happy; of course I was, I was with my Dad.
Hurstpierpoint High Street
Boxing Day was always action day. In the morning, Dad and I would go to Lewes, as long as the roads were passable, to see the pageantry of the local meet before the huntsmen departed for their day’s pursuit across the surrounding fields. I didn’t really understand the significance of the hunt at the time; I just adored the colourful sight of the huntsmen in their black and white garb, the leader of the hunt in his bright red, all saddled atop the proud, majestic chestnuts, bays and greys snuffling, neighing, stomping and jostling, impatient for the off.
The crowds milled in the main street, barely distinguishable from the horses, chatting, stamping their feet against the cold, clouds of breath on the crisp morning air. The sun enhanced the pomp and ceremony. Stirrup cups were drunk, whips were cracked, the Beagle hounds yapped and bayed, then all set off with much clattering, clip-clopping and cheering. The crowd dispersed, smiling, pleased with the sights and sounds of this annual ritual, off to track down a pub or head home to a hearty lunch of delicious left-overs, sometimes tastier than Christmas lunch itself.
Lewes Hunt Boxing Day Meet
Walks, Toboggans and The South Downs
After lunch on Boxing Day, from when I was 8 years old, we would meet up with my mother’s cousin and his family, for a walk on the Downs. The South Downs are hills between the Sussex coast and the inland Weald; they are rolling, chalk-green hills, an essential part of my childhood. We’d often walk from Devil’s Dyke, across the top path then down into the valley to a small brick-and-flint-built village. After some sustenance at the local pub, we’d walk and skip and pant back up to the car.
Most years there was snow, so we’d build a snowman, have snowball fights and occasionally toboggans were built so that we could race down the slopes, some icy which felt really daring, some covered in deep, virgin snow so that we scattered dry snow dust and emerged covered in a new white blanket with eyebrows and hair to match.
I can still hear the laughter, giggles and squeals that carried across the fields in snowy echoes, as we enjoyed such delight together, my two cousins and I (and the grown-ups of course). Both boys were near my age and were more like brothers to me. Such days of innocence and constant fun! My heart lifts at the memory of it all.
The South DownsClick thumbnail to view full-size
A Few Generations Later!
Well, eventually I had to go to secondary school which meant a long journey across the Downs each day, initially with my father as he went to work near my school, later by train (so then it was through a tunnel in the hills) having cycled just over a mile to the station.
Being one of the ‘train girls’, as we were collectively called at school, was wonderful. I loved traveling by train, I loved cycling and I loved the companionship of my friends on that journey.
Winters were fun for us. One particularly harsh winter, the snow was deep and fell for the whole weekend at the end of the holidays. It was the year when one of the train girls (an elite, I liked to think) was Head Girl. We had managed to get to the station. An announcement told us that the trains were delayed. It would have taken us hours to get to school and Leilah decided that by the time we got there we’d probably have to start the journey back again. She was our hero ever-after because she phoned school, said we couldn’t possibly make it in and back safely, and she earned us the day off! Cheers resounded round Hassocks Station’s Victorian platform and we returned to our respective homes for a day of building snowmen and having fun.
Walking 10 Miles Home
That same year, the snow returned with a vengeance one day whilst we were in school. We were told we could leave early, we arrived at the station and were told the trains weren’t running. I phoned home and told my parents we’d start walking as there was plenty of light left. We had a main road through Brighton to keep to, everyone knew our route up the A23 London Road, so off we trekked.
I suppose we had about ten or twelve miles to cover. Our feet were numb by the time we were barely a third of the way and our pace had slackened. Being young and totally carefree, we didn’t imagine any danger and just kept going. As it happened, we’d managed about five miles and had turned onto the A23 for a mile or so when a neighbour drove past in his car, stopped and gave us a lift. We tumbled into his relatively warm car and slowly made our slippery way home. What an adventure!
The Long Walk Home
Best Driver in the World
Another winter under the snow saw Dad driving his Renault Dauphine up the hill where we lived, to take him to work and me to school. We were the only car moving and I was so proud of him. He was the best driver in the world; no one else could touch him! The reason, apart from some good driving of course, was that the Dauphine had the engine at the front, over the driving wheels, so had a much better chance of biting into the snowy surface.
On the Cliffs by the Sea
When I reached 18 and was in my first year of higher education, I came home at Christmas when Mum and Dad were between houses. They had rented a bungalow in Telscombe, a coastal village by the chalk cliffs at the edge of the English Channel, quite high up on the Downs.
That year of 1969 the snow fell in massive dollops to fill every available dip in the coastline and the winds created drifts above the hedgerows. We walked to Midnight Mass through thick blue-glow snow still on the backstreets. In my wisdom I wore a maxi-dress and knee-high boots. My dress became rather soggy at the hem but we had fun and linked arms as we made our way to church and back. Funny how these images remain so clear; I’m right back there now and can feel the cold of the snow and the warmth of the companionship and love.
Snow on the Coast
Skiing in France
Traveling with my cousins, as I often did, I had my first taste of skiing when I was fifteen. We went to a now popular skiing resort called Les Gets. It was then a small village, across the valley from Mont Blanc. I met a French girl from Strasbourg who became a friend for many years. We watched a New Year procession of skiers with flaming torches weaving down the slopes of Mont Blanc.
On 6th January, Epiphany, a huge feast culminated in the Fête des Rois when someone wins the figurine of a king, found inside one of the pieces of Galette cooked especially for the occasion. That person is then King or Queen for a day. The room was filled with French and English voices, all in harmony, all reveling in the festivities of a new year well begun.
Skiing and La Galette des RoisClick thumbnail to view full-size
Skiing in Italy
In my twenties, the last time I went skiing was with my then husband and our neighbours. The snow in Italy was just deep enough but the weather was bleak and grey. Sadly, so was the mood and our marriage but that’s another story! The neighbours and I were novices and we were still quite high up the mountain when dusk set in. I decided (and hoped) that I knew the way down, so we set off, my friends following me.
I was hardly a natural leader but had to take the initiative as that was the only option; I’d done the run only once before! Was it right or left here? Is there a long drop just behind that tree? Will we see our beds tonight or will we be lying in a drift praying for rescue?
I was apprehensive, even a little scared, but we made it and had plenty of wine to make us feel better. I was not best pleased that the expert skier had left us in the lurch!
Is this the right way?
Snow in Dursley, Gloucestershire
A few years later, in 1979, found me in Dursley with my parents. The snow descended with a vengeance once more. We had two black labrador-cross dogs. They adored playing in the snow and went mad, bounding about like cartoon dogs and ‘snow-ploughing’ the deep powder snow with their noses. Black and white, dogs gamboling in the blanket virgin snow over a golf-course. Wonderful! Their delight was easy to see and they didn’t know how to contain themselves.
Snow at School
We’ll leap forward to the late 1990s. I was teaching at an independent country school about two miles from my home, housed in a Mediaeval Manor House. It snowed. Oh, how it snowed! The roads became almost level with the hedge-tops, the drifts caught us by surprise if we trod off the beaten path and the landscape took on a quiet composure, ready to shake us out of it if we relaxed too much. Such white beauty is rare in our area of Somerset.
School was closed for a few days. Most students were boarders and those who couldn’t get home either stayed with houseparents or were invited to local friends’ houses. I could walk to and from school, so no excuse for not turning up. I completed a fair amount of paperwork and lesson plans for the weeks which followed! The snow evoked visions of the mediaeval Lord of the Manor doing his rounds over frost-caked fields and checking his tenants' rooms, his breath clouding even indoors.
Snow in ShapwickClick thumbnail to view full-size
Norway: Sunshine and Snow
My last experience of deep snow to date was in Norway. Deep snow is an understatement. I’d never seen landscapes like it, right down to the sea. We cruised between islands which reached jagged frosted fingers out to us and delighted us with their sparkling forms and folded blankets. Ever seen an armchair mountain? What’s more, it has a hole in it! (see photo)
Glorious sunshine, bitter cold, magnificent fjords, blue glaciers, toyland architecture, Arctic adventures, the list goes on. One blizzard at our final destination crept up on us, put us all in a flurry, then whisked itself away to tease other pastures. It left fresh layers of prism-crystal snow daring us to plant a footprint.
Norwegian WinterClick thumbnail to view full-size
Sami and Angels
The Sami are indigenous nomadic people of the Arctic regions. At a Sami Camp we urged a reindeer to lurch us round a rutted, familiar track. His mournful eyes said, ‘I’ve done this so many times, you don’t need to yell at me! Had your fun? Right, just leave me to my lunch.’ None of them had a red nose though.
It was at this camp that we made snow-angels. I felt like a kid again, giggling and acting the fool.
Sami and ReindeerClick thumbnail to view full-size
Well, I have no adequate description for the Aurora Borealis. You have to see it for yourselves. Yes, I know there’s YouTube and countless other videos to view. You’ll know what it looks like but you won’t know how it feels until you’ve been there and experienced the wonder of the heavens. A light show to end all others awaits you, if you’re lucky. It brings joy, wonder, tears and deep, deep emotion that will stay with you forever.
A mix of white, green, yellow and occasionally pink/red/purple particles dance and tease across the depth of velvet above you. Your neck aches, you don’t know where to look first, you don’t want to miss one shape-shift, one swooping finger, one coronet, one tiara, one waterfall.
Norwegian parents used to warn their children to be good and go to sleep or the fingers of light would come down and take them away! It didn’t seem that gruesome to me, just awe-inspiring, though I could see how such an idea could frighten children. I think times are more enlightened now, in spirit as well as in reality.
A Heavenly Light Display
This winter has been sunny, chilly, full of fun with the grandchildren and now it’s a brand new year; a year when more memories will be created throughout the seasons.
Thank you again, Jackie, for inspiring me to do this. I’ve revisited so many sights and sounds by wandering down this winter memory lane. What a wonderful life I’ve had and, God willing, much more is yet to come.
What is Winter for You?
What winter weather do you experience?
What winter activities do you enjoy?
Questions & Answers
© 2015 Ann Carr