Richard Oliff - Childhood memories of winter

Richard Oliff
Richard Oliff

The winter of 1962-1963 was particularly harsh.

As a child I remember being in winter-wonderland-heaven as I played with my friends in deep snow in Corby’s Thoroughsale Road. We had no thought to the worries or trials of the adult world as all the ‘big’ people struggled to keep homes warm, preventing pipes from freezing or managing to get to and from work.

I still find it hard to imagine what my parents had to do to keep home and hearth together, and at the same time divorce all thoughts of comparison from the relative comforts we enjoy here in 2012. The metal framed windows would freeze on the inside, leaving sharp patterns that fascinated and stirred the imagination. The only heating came from two gas fires, one in the living room and one in the dining room, and a ‘portable’ tall black paraffin heater that was primarily used to warm the bathroom before anyone might consider disrobing in the bitter cold.

Blankets and sheets must have been a nightmare to keep washed and dried: there were so many of them. Long before the days of the thick-tog-duvets there were layers upon layers of single sheets tucked tightly under the mattress to prevent slippage.

My mum was one of the most industrious people I’ve ever met. She would clean, wash and cook for England (or in her case Scotland), yet I can honestly say that I never heard her complain: though she probably did behind closed bedroom doors. Our kitchen was tiny with barely enough room to turn around but in the winter of 62-63, and all the other winters we all spent together, it was the warmest, most welcoming space in the whole house. The pilot light from the gas miser gave the assurance of hot water over the kitchen sink. I remember my mum washing my hair over that sink, and my dad having his early morning shave.

Mum always insisted that we children remove our shoes before coming into the house, although my friend Roy would get away with keeping his on due to his foot odour, which was particularly unpleasant.

Even in the coldest of winters I might return home from a football games-period at school, to be told to strip off to my pants in the shed before running into the house and straight up to the bathroom where I was greeted, once again, by the smell of the paraffin heater. Winter food was wholesome and filling. Mum’s soup was always on the go, full of carrots, lentils and anything else that might satisfy six hungry folk.

Last week it snowed and in all honesty, it felt like summer.