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#1 Jun 30, 2017 2:56 pm

New Historian

The Big Freeze

Up until around the mid-sixties, most English homes were heated by coal fires, giving rise to occasional outbreaks of London’s infamous pea-soup fogs, during which you really couldn’t see beyond the end of your arm. When we got off the boat in Liverpool in August 1960, we thought it was freezing, not realizing that this was the height of summer! As the months rolled by, we kept on asking ourselves: it can’t get colder than this, can it?

The English winter of 1962-3 was the coldest winter since time began. We were living in Arkwright Road, a snowball’s throw from Hampstead Heath. When the blizzard came we had a ball playing in the snow, skating on Whitestone Pond and of course: endless snowball fights. But what we liked best of all were toboggans. Hampstead Heath’s steep slopes made ideal toboggan runs, which they became the morning after every snowfall.

But we didn’t have toboggans; toboggans cost money. We did have the next best thing: dustbin lids. If you flattened out the handle, an upside-down dustbin lid made a perfect one-man unguided missile – the only things missing were brakes or steering. You sat cross-legged on the upturned lid at the top of the slope, someone would give you a shove and off you went, hurtling down the slope: watch oooouuutttt!!!

But the Big Freeze wasn’t all fun. In fact it was torture; sheer, unadulterated torture. Every winter was bad enough, but this was the mother of all winters. When you tell people that we slept in a bedroom with no heating whatsoever, they think you’re exaggerating. You’d wake up in the morning to find the window frosted over with ice – on the inside!

In the mornings, your biggest dread was getting out of bed. You’d reluctantly wake up, snuggled under layers of blankets. Only when you absolutely had to, after Dad’s final and most ominous wake-up warning, would you steel your nerves: three-two-one – GO! Jump out of bed, grab the first warm piece of clothing that comes to hand, run to the bathroom – if it wasn’t occupied. If you were lucky you had an electric bar heater in your bedroom, which of course you couldn’t leave on all night long, so you’d turn it on first thing in the morning and huddle around it; trying to get inside the bars. Every West Indian parent warns their children:

“Move away from that fire! You’ll get chilblains!”

We never did find out what chilblains were. I remember Dad taking us to see the Christmas lights on Regent Street, with Christmas in the air, roasted chestnuts, Santa and reindeers, and everyone feeling merry. Everyone except me, who was freezing. Dad tried to cheer me up. Look Bri-Bri, don’t you love the Christmas lights? No, I don’t. My shoes have holes, my socks are wet, my feet are freezing and I can’t feel my ears. When are we going home?


#2 Jun 30, 2017 5:05 pm

Real Distwalker

Re: The Big Freeze

That had to be tough for West Indians.  I freeze my tail off in the winter and I am from the cold zone.


#3 Jun 30, 2017 6:27 pm


Re: The Big Freeze

Another nice piece, New Historian! As I read it, I felt the urge to throw some real summer your way (and your family's), if that were possible, to relieve the discomfort that the English cold deliberately laid on you then-newbies during those moments. Yours are obviously still ripe memories that allow you to recall them very vividly for your readers. Another book?


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