Is it an urban legend that we Brits like nothing more than chatting about the weather?
Any bona fide conversation about the elements will, likely as not, feature phrases such as ‘Ooh looks like rain, best bring the washing in’, ‘It’s black over Bill’s mother’s’ or “I’m sweating cobs”, I’m sure you’ve all been there.
On this little island we call home we have endured some extreme, harsh and memorable snowfalls, heatwaves and storms over the past century.
From before the Second World War, children would seek refuge around village water pumps to keep cool, while the public pools and coastal towns benefited from scorching heat we have never, to this day, become accustomed to.
On the extreme ‘flipside’ to those baking days have been the far more occurrent downpours, frosts and snowfalls which have certainly meant business: cutting off power, access to roads and services and causing mass loss of life. Over the winter I have chatted to a number of folk about memories of the weather – over a cup of tea, of course – with various people, and there are two main weather events which stick in people’s minds: the winter of 1963, when the snow fell hard and fast at the turn of the year, and the summer of 1976, when the taps ran dry.
These two, along with the Storm of the Century in 1953, are quite rightly up there at the top as some of the most arduous moments in the nation’s relationship with the weather, but there have been many other occurrences over the decades; such as The Great Storm of 1987 and 2018’s Beast from the East.
Staffordshire, with its rural and agricultural landscape, has been hit severely by snow over the years. Farmers and those living in the more remote areas of the region have endured difficult times when the white stuff has paid a visit.
Despite many of us believing December is the coldest month – no doubt driven by ideas of a white Christmas – once January and February appear it can come as a bit of a shock that the temperatures drop and the need to salt the drive and put on the ‘big boot’ is all the more necessary. For me, my earliest memory of a really bad winter was in 1990, while living with my parents in Werrington.
I clearly recall standing by the gates of the house on the steep bank of Clough Lane, which was covered in packed down snow.
It was ice on top of ice laden with soft virgin snow. I can hear now, as I sit writing this, the squealing struggle of the fan belt on my dad’s blue Sherpa van as he used every driving trick in the A-Z of adverse weather driving manual to make his way up the bank and onto Ash Bank Road – with the help of a few neighbourly pushes of course.
The memories of that wintry deluge didn’t stop there either as, with school closed because we’d had ‘proper snow,’ I was at home and so was my mum.
Unfortunately, we had to venture out into the Staffordshire tundra to get supplies for tea.
It is the only time I ever witnessed Ash Bank Road completely blanketed in snow, a foot deep as I recall wading through as the snow continued to fall, making our way to G. Fellows Butchers across the way to get some mincemeat. They were actually open!
Without another person or vehicle in sight the short journey holding my mum’s hand took what felt like three or four times as long, as I did my best to keep the top of my wellies above the snow line, the scarf wrapped over my nose and the hood of my parka on my head.
I was not around for the winter of 1963 but 1990 was, depending on how old you were at the time, the worst or best I’ve seen.
As for summer, I must admit it has felt like there have been far more warm ones than snowy winters but even so they seem less memorable than that winter of 1990.
But in spite of the fact that you’re reading this in February and we may well be in the middle of a cold snap, it’s not just weather-beaten memories that we have I’m sure. Over the years there have been moments of fun captured between friends and family.
Whether it’s on the back of a sledge as you and your friends hurtled down a snow covered bank or launching a cavalcade of snowballs at one another we all have plenty of wintry memories and sunny reflection we enjoy looking back on.