David’s Bookshelf Issue 2 – Cup of Tea Tales
- David’s Bookshelf Issue 2
- David’s Bookshelf – Issue One
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – A Lifetime of Global Successes, Disasters and Wonders! Space the Final Frontier.
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Hetchell Woods (Bardsey) and Crags – A Special Piece of God’s Own Country or County! One of my Favourite Places to Visit.
- ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – The Wonderful Yorkshire Dales. Trollers Gill, a Place with a Mysterious Legend and the Hell Hole where I Diced with Death.
Before the days of central heating and double glazing, houses really knew when winter had arrived. Temperatures in the bedroom would plummet, and the windows would be covered in the silvery ferns of ice. Children nowadays would not know the magic of the iced windows or the joy of scraping a bit clear to gaze out on the white hoar-frosted garden before the image disappeared as the window misted and refroze. At times like these, the covers were heavy on the beds and I used to cover my head to maintain any warmth. I am surprised that we didn’t suffocate, but somehow we managed and eventually emerged and dressed as rapidly as possible. Breakfast was often porridge at such times and the warmth, top of the milk and a spoonful of sugar set my brothers and me up for the day.
If it was a school day, then a couple of pairs of socks forced into wellies helped. Coat, scarf and knitted gloves, and I was prepared for the outside. Early on such mornings, the world looked magical. My breath of vapour would hang on the still air and each breath in would chill all the way to the lungs with air that would often taste of smoke. The garden was bare and the black sticks were covered in a coating of ice. As the watery sun caught the light, the crystals would sparkle and there was a clarity that was breathtaking. The first steps onto the white grass left tracks that traced our passage and joined those of the early birds, who were struggling to find food. The milk bottles by the back door would have their foil tops pushed off by the frozen milk and would offer little nourishment for the birds. Each step was risky, as the paths and pavements were icy, offering a quick fall to any unwary or careless pedestrian. One of the great joys was standing on the frozen puddles and cracking the thin unbroken ice. Another was the ability to slide along the pavements, adding to the danger for others following, and wearing holes through the soles of our shoes.
By midday, the ice would just start to melt and then shortly afterwards would refreeze and icicles would form, hanging off the gutters like rows of dagger teeth. If this came after a period of snow, then icicles could grow long and heavy and were a real danger if they snapped and fell. Passing under them was a trial to rival the sword of Damocles. The more wary would hunt out the clothes prop and knock them off before they could create harm. Of course, the re-frozen melt was even slippier and I remember sliding and falling on many occasions. I suppose my bones must have been solid or at least flexible as I never broke any, but I am sure there would have been many less fortunate who would have had a trip to the hospitals. There was a real pleasure in sucking icicles, but I do remember they did have a sooty flavour, the result of the coal-burning fires. On really icy days, Gipton Wood would become a contrast of stark beauty as the bare black tree trunks contrasted with the white covering of frost. The light would barely get above twilight in mid-winter, and few people ventured into the wood. Dogs were often just let out of the front door and returned of their own free will. Like wolves, they formed small packs and sometimes bounded between the trees, enjoying the freedom to roam. Later in the afternoon, on still days, the mist would start to collect and the one light in the wood created a spectral world as it illuminated the vapour, like a skirt, around its base.
The world changed again when it did snow. Deep snow was not a common event and I can still remember the times when it happened. As a young child, I would open the back door and the snow would be above the step and partially blocking the exit. I would step over into a world like no other. The world of snow is a place where sound is muffled, and the usual sounds become unfamiliar and intriguing. Steps on dry snow produce a crumping sound and if snow is still falling there is the magic of flakes settling on your nose and face and if you open your mouth wide, onto your tongue. Early in the morning when you woke, you were aware of the snow, as the sounds that entered your bedroom were muffled and the light reflected white without the yellow of sunlight. As you pulled back the curtain and looked out the window, everything had changed. The garden was unrecognizable with lumps and bumps where familiar landmarks had been. The tree branches bowed under the weight of the gathered snow and were more like white weeping willows. Snow meant a rush to get dressed and get out. There was nothing better than being the first in it. My brothers and I would get the wooden sledge out of the garage that our father had made for us, and we would set off. Like Scott of the Antarctic, we would set out through the virgin snow, one the trailblazer and the others following in the footsteps. The streets were similarly changed. Kerbs had disappeared, and the pavements led onto the road with no boundaries. Early in the 1960s, there was little traffic and on deep snow days, none at all. We would try making snowballs, but with woollen gloves, it was more difficult and if it was very cold, the snow would be too dry to make good ones.
My older brother was four years my senior, and we often headed off to Gipton Wood. There was a reasonable slope that led past the light down to the steps onto Roundhay Road. It was not the best sledging area, but it was local and the best on offer. Sometimes it became quite popular and by the evening the snow would freeze and form more of an ice sheet that produced an excellent run at high speed. The wooden sledge did not have metal runners, and we had to wax them with a big candle. Once waxed, it gave a reasonable run, but the best we had was the old frame off the rocking donkey. The frame was red metal and the stuffed donkey had wheels so that a toddler could be pushed on it. It also had the ability for the handle to fold under and produced a rocking donkey. It wasn’t very safe and wouldn’t be allowed nowadays, as anything more than a very gentle rock would cause it to overbalance. The donkey had been well-loved by us boys and was getting quite threadbare at this time. I suppose it must have been my older brother Andrew’s idea, but by removing the donkey, the frame turned into a small, but serviceable sledge.
People sledging on Hill 60 and on the opposite side of the arena at Roundhay Park
When a little older and there was a good snowfall, we sometimes would head to Roundhay Park. Now, Roundhay Park has a wonderful tiered slope that leads down to the arena, called Hill Sixty, named after a site in the First World War, I believe. On the other side, nearer the mansion, there is another, less steep slope that is perfect for sledging. When the conditions were suitable, hundreds would turn up to enjoy a minute or two of thrill, hurtling down the slope, to be followed by the long trudge back up. By the time you got back up to the top, you were sweating profusely, despite the icy air. I remember the occasional show-off would turn up on skis and demonstrate their skills weaving down the slope. This area was much safer than Gipton Wood, but there was the additional danger of crashes, and I do remember quite a few children and adults getting injured.
The other joy of winter at Roundhay Park was when the lakes froze. This didn’t happen often, but one year the ice on the little lake was so thick that hundreds of people ventured onto it. Nowadays, I am sure it would not be allowed and it would be policed to make sure no one stepped onto the ice. I do remember throwing stones onto the ice, and it made a strange skittering noise as it careened across. In some parts, the ice was white, but in other thinner parts it was transparent and you could see the world of fish and plants trapped below. I only remember the big lake being frozen enough to venture onto once, but often when it was partially frozen, the ducks and swans would pad across,looking for an unfrozen section. I always wondered how the poor things coped with the cold conditions.
When I first got married, we bought a new house in Wakefield. The house was part of a new development and we put everything into buying the house and didn’t have spare money for some of the niceties, like carpets. The new house came with one gas fire in the living room and no other heating. This was fine as we were made of sturdy stuff and our new baby didn’t object, but it made winter difficult. One Christmas we went to visit my mother-in-law in Stoke-on-Trent and when we returned on Boxing Day, we couldn’t get the water to flow as the pipes had frozen. We didn’t think much of it and put on the gas fire and tried to warm up. About an hour after arriving back, there was a sudden whoosh and water cascaded down the stairs. The main pipe to the cistern had burst as the ice expanded and I managed to turn the water off and telephoned for a plumber. This was late at night on the holiday, but one lovely man came out and replaced a section of pipe. He did charge extra, but it was worth every penny.
In the dining room, I had an upright piano. I had bought it so that I could teach myself and I was making reasonable progress. One very chilly morning, I got up and went downstairs and when I went into the dining room, I saw my piano in a very sad state. It had been so cold the moisture in the wood had frozen and it had expanded. This caused the varnish finish of the wood to be pushed off and it looked like a very bad case of dandruff. The piano was ruined and shortly after we had central heating installed and a year or two later, double glazing.
Of course, this is what winter was like, with fresh snow and ice. For most of the time, winters were wet, cold and fairly miserable, and we looked forward to the coming of Christmas and then spring.
The books of my tales are available from Amazon as paperbacks and hard back and from Kindle as eBooks. If you click on the covers you will be taken to a link where you can read a sample or purchase the books.