Dear children and young people,
I hope you are all keeping well and coping with your work. I also hope that you enjoyed the recent bout of snow – I certainly did! I don’t know why, but seeing snow fall thickly and silently still has the power to fill me with wonder and joy – even at my advanced age! Everything looks so different when covered with a snowy blanket don’t you think? Obviously, I have to be careful not to venture too far in the snow and ice in case of slipping and there is no way I would even think about driving in it, but simply watching it fall and cover the familiar landscape of home and garden with its silent majesty has a soothing effect on me and takes me back to my childhood days.
In my last memo I talked about the rain in Ireland and how my memories of childhood only contain visions of warm, sunny days. My memories of snow are similar. However, having as a child lived through what has come to be known as ‘the big freeze of 1963’ (yes, I am that old), I know for a fact that our recent snow episodes bear no real resemblance.
I remember those first flakes falling as we were driving home from Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve along the dark country lanes near our home in Northern Ireland. As children, we were mesmerised by the thick, silent snowflakes that began to clog up the windscreen and cover the road ahead with a thin veil of white. By the time we arrived home, however, that ‘thin veil’ had become a thick covering and the snowflakes themselves had become so dense that it was difficult to actually see our house from the road. Little did we know that the snow that began to fall on that cold Christmas Eve in 1962 was to turn into a series of blizzards and freezing temperatures that was to last well into March! ‘Yayy’ I hear you cry, that must have been wonderful! However, you have to bear in mind that things were very different back in the 60s and we didn’t have the puffa jackets, posh snow boots and thermal underwear that we all take for granted these days. Our snow attire as children consisted of balaclava hats, wellies, duffel coats and knitted mittens – all of which soon became saturated and crystallised with ice. There was no such thing as waterproof clothing or snowsuits in those days, dear children, as they hadn’t been invented yet and very few homes (if any in our road at least) had central heating. The only heating in our house came from the coal fire in the living room and, even though this was kept alight all day, nevertheless the windows remained frosted with ice (inside and out) and we had to scratch and rub at them to be able to see into the street.
Our days were a blur of snowman building, snowball fights and sledging down the very precarious hills around our home. We didn’t have the luxury of a sledge so used mum’s old tin trays instead. You could still build up speed on one of these as the snow was soft and deep and conducive to rapidity.
Note the balaclavas, short trousers, wellies and homemade sledges – children were fearless then!
Food was always a problem back then as I remember. Don’t forget, there were no such things as home deliveries from Asda or Sainsburys (there weren’t any real supermarkets then – they were yet to be invented), no Gousto or click and collect either. Therefore, the only way to get food was to dig a trench to our local corner shop. When I say, ‘dig a trench’, I really mean ‘trench’. The snow was so deep by the end of that first week of the freeze that it was possible (if you were brave enough – my little brother was) to jump out of a bedroom window and land safely. The snow was about 8 feet (2.4 metres) deep so jumping out of a top floor window wasn’t dangerous – although it proved hazardous if your mum and dad found out! (DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME!!).
Our meals were very boring by today’s standards, but nevertheless very warming and filling. Our daily diet consisted of porridge, casseroles, stews and, on a good day, pancakes and homemade bread. We also enjoyed our family quiz nights where dad would get out his large general knowledge quiz book and mum would put huge potatoes in the grate of the fire to bake in readiness for supper. We did those quizzes so often on those long, dark wintry evenings that I was able to memorise all of the answers. This came in really handy years later (fast forward to modern times) when I found that I could answer many of the questions on Mastermind and University Challenge (much to the amazement of dear Mr Moore!).
They say that memories from childhood are often triggered by taste and smell and, according to Raymond Leo Erikson (Life Sciences Professor at Harvard University) this happens because memory and taste are closely linked because of the brain’s anatomy. I can testify to this phenomenon because the taste of hot, buttery baked potatoes with crispy (almost burnt) skins, always takes me right back to those fireside quizzes of my childhood. Hence, this is probably why I still love baked potatoes, but only if they are cooked in the oven as microwaved versions simply don’t do it for me! Anyway, I digress, we children had to take it in turns to go to the little shop and bring back our food for the day. I loved this journey as walking down that deeply dug trench to the shop, encased as it was by what seemed like mountainous walls of snow and ice made me feel like I was walking through the magic kingdom of Narnia! The picture below shows a grown woman making such a journey, but imagine a little girl doing the same.
I was never afraid, however, as I simply loved to make up stories and poems as I walked and feel the silence of those snowy walls surround me.
You will be horrified to hear this, but there was no such thing as health and safety in those days. Children were allowed to climb trees, swim in streams, catch tadpoles, sledge down steep ravines and play outside until dark (well – as long as our parents didn’t know about it!). It was simply wonderful and none of us came to much harm – apart from the time I found a lonely looking donkey peering over the fence of a nearby field and decided to go for a ride! Safe to say, the sleepy little donkey bolted and took off at lightning speed across that field with me hanging on for dear life! The poor creature finally threw me off and I landed right in the middle of a massive thorn bush! I had to limp home, picking thorns out of various areas of my anatomy – not pleasant – only to then suffer the indignity of being doused in TSP, which was the cure for all ills in our house (ask your grandparents to tell you about this if you haven’t heard of it). See below some pics from the old days with children doing terrifying things!
As you are aware, one of the main passions in my life is poetry. I think that my love of poetry not only came from my beloved grandmother (remember the story of the big red book of poems from an earlier memo?), but also from my wonderful teachers. As a child, listening to Miss Martin or Mrs McGill read poetry aloud was simply awe-inspiring and magical. They would sit at their desks in our small school room beneath the soft light and purr of gas lanterns which sent soft shadows across their faces and read their verses (yes, we had wall mounted gas lanterns and gas heaters back in the dark ages). We would then, for homework, be given the task of learning these poems ‘by heart’ and even now, all these centuries later, I can still recite most of them word for word. One of my favourites was ‘The Listeners’ by Walter de la Mer. I loved this poem because it was quite scary (especially when read by Miss Martin in the shade of the lanterns in her soft Donegal accent) and left us with lots of unanswered questions such as who was ‘the horseman’ and who were the ghostly ‘listeners’? Anyway, for a treat, I’ve pasted the poem below and would be delighted if some of you could learn it ‘by heart’ (prizes for anyone who can).
Well dear children and young people, l need to finish now as dear Mr Moore is getting grumpy and needs his tea! We’ve been out for a long walk through the darkened streets of Four Oaks this evening which we enjoyed very much, but we miss going into our beloved Sutton Park. Poor Mr Moore took a tumble a few weeks back in the mud which resulted in him dislocating his shoulder, so no more walks in the park for him until the weather gets warmer and the mud disappears!
As always, remember to be kind to each other and to yourselves. We have been through some terrible times lately because of Covid-19 and lockdown, but I know for a fact that there are better days ahead for all of us. You have been resolute, resilient and remarkable (nice bit of alliteration here) throughout and you should be very proud of yourselves – me and your teachers certainly are!
I’m looking forward to seeing L5 and U5 in assembly on Friday and U3-U4 in assembly next Wednesday. Remember to have cameras on please from Monday 1st – we miss seeing you all and you don’t want to end up in the dreaded waiting room! My next memo will be winging its way to you next week, but in the meantime, here are some birthday shout-outs:
Happy birthday to Sam Evans on 30th January and to Matthew Foletti, Tariq Ali, Guveer Malhi and George Viahakis on 31st January. Greetings also go to Sufiyan Nadeem whose birthday is on 2nd February. Have a great day all!
As always, remember that you are amazing – but don’t forget to help with those dishes!
Love and best wishes – Mrs M 🙂