callmemadam (callmemadam) wrote,
callmemadam
callmemadam

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TV watch: The Big Freeze, 1963

I was expecting The Big Freeze to be a documentary of the type you might watch on Talking Pictures, so I was disconcerted to see Chris Packham (rather a bête noire of mine) telling us that this was a special edition of Winterwatch. I needn’t have worried, as the bulk of the programme was taken up with a contemporary account compiled by the old Tonight team: Cliff Michelmore (what an excellent broadcaster he was), Derek Hart and Kenneth Allsopp. It’s strange how selective memory is. I don’t recall the twenty-foot snow drifts, abandoned cars and trains and starving cattle, although it must all have been on the news. I remember only what happened to us and as we lived in the suburbs, we were spared being snowed in, unlike so many people in country areas. My strongest memory is that in early March there were still great heaps of dirty, frozen snow at the edges of all the pavements.

My journey to school was quite long: a fifteen minute walk to the bus stop, then the bus followed by another, shorter walk at the other end. I don’t remember having a day off school but I may have got that wrong. We schoolgirls took to wearing thick, ribbed stockings (don’t get excited, chaps), to the bemusement of our mothers, who had bad memories of the black woollen stockings they had to wear to school. Ours were warm and, at that time, fashionable. That autumn, the fashion pages had headlines like ‘Remember last winter?’ and were full of warm clothes.

Keeping warm at home wasn’t easy. We had two coal fires downstairs, my parents had an electric fire set into a wall in their bedroom and that was it, except that you could keep warm in the kitchen if the oven was on and the door open. Porridge for breakfast set us up for the journey to school. We had one of those cylinder paraffin stoves (now regarded as antiques), which had previously been used only when my sister or I were ill in bed. We could lie tucked up, watching the comforting red light which glowed through the little window. Imagine allowing that now! The paraffin was bought from the ironmonger’s at the end of the road (how wonderful that shop smelt). That winter, the paraffin heater was put in the hall, an unheard-of extravagance. I don’t remember that it did much to take off the chill.

The striking factor about that freeze was how long it lasted. Some people are predicting a Waxwing winter this year. I do hope they’re wrong. I last saw Waxwings in 2010.
Tags: television, weather, winter
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