December 5 2005

The flurry of snow a few days ago raised hopes of a sledging expedition over Milford Hills. Christmas had arrived, crisp and even but, as it turned out, not very deep.
I could almost taste the mulled wine and roast chestnuts.
Sports, winter or otherwise, aren’t my thing, but the first hint of the white stuff sends me into the garage with wire wool and Brasso to polish the runners of the rather posh wooden sledge I bought a few years ago (for our grandchildren, you understand). Our winters being what they are, it’s had little use.
The polishing took twice as long last week because a friend who was having a clear-out recently gavc me a second sledge (for our grandchildren, you understand), a vintage, all metal streaker as mean as a Porsche.
Hopes of a test run evaporated quickly when the snow failed to deliver more than a gossamer veil over the common and the hills. I cancelled the mulled wine and the chestnuts.
The frost set in that night and while out crunching with the dog next morning I met one of the countless amateur meteorologists who roam the Chase every day looking for people to bore.
“Too cold for snow,” he said.
I nodded and kept on walking.
The frost went quickly, washed away by heavy rain that turned the Sow rusty brown and made it gush noisily with ideas above its station. All sound and no fury.
That’s the trouble with our weather: it’s all talk.
What we need is some good Old Testament stuff to remind us what it’s really all about. We’re not talking Genesis here; nobody is looking for forty days and forty nights of rain.
But a short, sharp touch of the Jack Londons would be good.
A rerun of the winter of ’47 would do for starters.
Now that was something really worth talking about, a life-changing experience for some.
Take my neighbour, Ray, an artillery veteran who fought with the Shropshire Yeomanry in Sicily, Italy and Africa before being demobbed late in 1946.
Out of work, he hung around Milford over Christmas getting his Civvy Street bearings and uncertain what the future held.
Then towards the end of January, the weather took a hand.
Winter blew in with a vengeance. Britain suffered its worst blizzards for generations and roads everywhere were choked.
Ray offered his services as a casual labourer with the council and spent the next three months shovelling snow at £3 a day.
“The drifts were taller than me,” he recalls. “We’d clear the roads by day and at night the wind would get up and send the snow drifting back so we’d have to start all over again.”
It was March before the thaw began and by that time Ray had been offered full-time work as a lorry driver by someone who’d been impressed by his hard work during the freeze. It was the start of a successful career in transport and he later moved into management.
It’s an ill wind
Today, the Chase is soggy and the prospect of anything other than more rain seems remote. White Christmas? Dream on.
Meanwhile, does anyone have a canoe they’d like to swap for two sledges?

 

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