A Snowflake of Continuity


It’s been snowing most of the morning, to add to a good base layer established overnight. Thick, soft whispering, idling flakes, drfting down without wind, showing chicken feathers (thank you for that image, Stephanie). I’ve yet to go out in it, but I’ve already drifted in my mind to past displays.

It’s the snows of childhood, of a depth a texture that always takes me back to Nottingham, and 1978/9, the Winter of Discontent. I remember a similar scene, when I lived at Woodborough Court, on Woodborough Road, halfway up what was practically Nottingham’s only hill, leading to Mapperley Plains. Looking out the window at the peaceful silence and calling it the snows of childhood then (and I a tender 23 years old, and young for my years).

When I was a child it snowed every year, and it snowed properly, storybook white and thick, even in the back-street terraces of East Manchester. And despite the industry all around, it never got dirty or slushy, and Dad would push me around on my toboggan, in search of a slope to slide down, like the Swallows and Amazons in Winter Holiday, or the Famous Five in whichever book they had snow. When I was a child it snowed, and we loved it, because we were unaware of the hazards, the difficulties it could cause.

That Saturday on Woodborough Road took me back. It snowed on: I remember the exact sound of the flakes whispering on my umbrella as I tramped down to the newsagents for my newspaper. But though it soon got dirty enough in the streets of the City Centre, the snow stayed snowed for weeks. I went home for Xmas, but had to struggle back by train on New Year’s Day, met with surprise at the office the next day by my boss who didn’t expect me: travel was so bad round the country, he assumed I’d still be stuck in Manchester.

United were playing away to Forest in mid-January, and my mate Glyn had got me a ticket in the United end, with the travelling Red Army. I was concerned about after the match, visions of the Police escorting the United fans to the station and forcing us all onto trains, ignoring my pleas that I lived in Nottingham! But it snowed again, and the match was called off – at Thursday lunchtime, over 48 hours before kick-off. (And when it was finally played, at Easter, I was on holiday in Manchester for the week!).

I remember one midweek day of serious blizzards, snow furiously sweeping, high winds driving it everywhere. The bosses took the decision, and it wasannounced over the tannoy at 12.30pm that the office would shut at 3.30pm, but that any member of staff who believed they needed extra time to travel home could leave when they thought best. One woman was out of there immediately, though she did live in a rural area outside the city. Sharon and I, who lived almost opposite each other, had no excuse to depart any earlier. When we got out, with the snow still pouring down, we decided not to chance the bus, not going up Woodborough Road, and we tramped home up the hill. The wind blew the snow steadily in our faces, and I chivalrously did the Wenceslas bit, walking a couple of paces in front of her, shielding her from the worst of the weather.

It’s peaceful and calm outside now, and tempting to while away a day off inside. I’m certainly not going to struggle to the launderette with a bin-liner of dirty clothes, not in conditions like these, but I have to go out, to the main road: repeat prescription to collect, food shopping to tip up. The scrunch of snow compressing underfoot will immediately take me back to that long ago winter.

Snow has a continuity of memory: we skip from snow times to snow times, free from the intervening years and months. 1976 will always be remembered as the Year of the Great Drought, but it had other extremes of weather as well, as it wore on, or at least in the North West: impossibly thick fog in November, forcing the abandonment of the meal I had planned to celebrate my 21st birthday, and thick snow the next month. Glyn and I were at Law College near Chester, driving in every day for six months, and I vividly recall giving a classmate a lift home to an isolated college, slowly forcing his car down snow-choked tracks, with the risk of being rendered immovable.

My firm’s Xmas Dinner in 1982, the last Xmas I was with that lot: running the ladies from my branch office hither and thither on flat, white, sometimes glassy snow, the car’s wheels spinning in place, but we made it to everywhere that we needed to get and I ended up running sweet Roshan home miles out of my way (straightfacedly lying that it was on my route), and getting the Xmas kiss I’d been hoping for (two in fact). Poor Roshan, ended by cancer less than three years later, such a loss.

Then there was the Friday lunchtime I nipped into Manchester for half an hour and took over two and a half hours to get back. I worked in Prestwich, Partner in name only, miserably loathing my job and counting off the days of my contract like any prisoner in Strangeways ticking down their sentence. The City Centre was fifteen minutes away by car, and several times a week, various combinations of us would race off for half an hour well away from the office.

On Fridays, I’d head for the comics shop, Space Odyssey’s branch in the old Corn Exchange, for my week’s titles. I set off in cold, overcast conditions, alone for once, picked up Starman 5, the only title out that week, and returned to the car, astonished to find that in the quarter hour I’d been in the basement shop, the snow had begun to come down hard. Cars were already queuing onto Bury New Road. Within minutes, we were at a virtual standstill.

I let the engine run. I read my comic, several times. We’d inch forward with paralysing slowness. There were no side-streets to turn into, no alternate approaches to try, and this was before I had a mobile phone to alert the office where I was. Though I’m pretty sure they’d guessed.

It was unbelievable how rapidly this had happened. When I did get the chance to turn off, try to circle round, I found it fruitless. Roads were thick-packed, traffic not even fast enough to be crawling. It took me over ninety minutes to find a call box and ring in, and another half hour plus on top to get close enough to Sedgley Park to park and walk. Had I not had my briefcase in the office, with things I wanted, and this Friday, I’d have just gone home instead. And once I did make it, I collected my things, turned round and left, straight into conditions that were easing sufficiently that I got home in less than twice as long as I normally would.

The Lake District looks brilliant in snow, not that I’ve seen it so that often, and I’ve walked in it even less. One holiday, at an Easter of a late snow year, tramping to the top of Lord’s Seat from the Aiken Beck plantations, then coming within a hundred foot of the summit of Pavey Ark, via the North Rake, before demonstrating good sense and turning back. Snow and fellwalking and me don’t realy mix.

Snow times share the same continuity. I’m going to be sure to carry plenty to keep me occupied on busses that may be as slow moving as the Starman 5 day (and good grief, that was twenty years ago now!). Once more into the scrunch, dear friends, once more into childhood and the memories that wallow.

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