THAT AMAZING WINTER OF 1947

AT 62 years of age, and the father of five children by two marriages, I find the contrast between life today and my life as a boy breathtaking. I wonder if when my son is 62 and he looks back, he’ll feel the same? When I was nine I was living with my mother, father and younger sister in a first floor room above my Aunt Paddy’s corner shop in Sheerness, on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.Access was via a rear staircase from the concrete back yard.There was no window to the stairwell, and neither was there any form of lighting. At the top of the stairs was a butler sink, cold tap and two-ring gas hob.The toilet was outside in the yard. Our room had a cast iron grate and one fixed gas lamp on the wall.There was no electricity.This was our main living room and bedroom: we shared the kitchen with my aunt and her family. I went to the local junior school and was in ‘Spud’ Murphy’s class. He was a teacher with a fearsome reputation and temper who would not take any nonsense, and whose accuracy with a piece of chalk hurled at a miscreant was almost as legendary as the sting on the hand when he used the ruler. If you flinched and pulled your hand back the punishment was doubled! Unfortunately I was his pet pupil and was always called upon to read out loud in front of the class, or used as an example of how work should be done. The rest of the class seemed to sympathise with me, because I can’t remember being bullied as a result of his favouritism. The school was close to the sea front, and on most days we’d go home via the front and spend time skimming flat stones over the waves or turning up big rocks to look for crabs and starfish. As the winter of 1947 advanced, however, this became impossible. Rationing was still in force, fuel was scarce, and all boys wore short trousers. At night we’d sit by the fire listening to the Home Service or reading, and while our fronts got warm, our backs would be cold. Every time we turned round to get our backs warm, mother would say:“Don’t sit with your back to the fire.You’ll make yourself sick.” Washing under a cold tap every morning in the dark, and using an outside toilet, certainly toughened us up, and I can’t remember too many colds that year. Christmas Eve came, and with it the cold weather. As my aunt was in the grocery business she’d managed to get hold of a chicken for the big day, and this was an unheard-of luxury which I was looking forward to with great anticipation as I hadn’t tasted chicken before. Stockings were hung up in excitement as bed time loomed, and my sister and I wondered what the next day would bring. When we woke it was still dark, and we had to fumble with the stockings, emptying them and trying to guess at the contents until mother was awake and the gas lamp was lit. We were delighted – an apple, a set of pencils, trapeze artist (worked by two levers), kaleidoscope and bar of Cadbury’s chocolate, then it was on to the presents which were a game, a toy boat and an adventure book. After breakfast we went off to church, then came back to lunch. The temperature dropped and the snows came.With my friends we’d go out in the blizzard in our short trousers, wellingtons and gabardine coats to explore the snowdrifts and look at the sea, which was starting to freeze.We made endless snowmen, had ongoing snow-fights and sunk deeper and deeper into the drifts as they overwhelmed our wellies. It was bitterly cold and it seemed that the snow would never stop, but we loved every minute of it. The snows did eventually melt, and this led to flooding in all the low-lying fields. The winter had not relaxed its grip, as the frosts returned and turned the flooded fields to ice .What fun we had then making long slides on the ice which carried us effortlessly for hundreds of yards. We didn’t have much in the way of material possessions that winter, but we made up for that by enjoying to the full the snow and ice and having the freedom to be allowed out. I contrast that with last Christmas and the welter of presents my children had and expected, and wonder if they will look back in 50 years’ time with the same nostalgia. Cold, snowy winters seem to be a thing of the past, but I’m sure my children would swap some, if not all, of their electronic gismos for a taste of winter ‘47. Chris Nutton.