Tonnes of snow… and a Christmas to savour with my family

On Christmas Eve 1981 the snow lay three inches thick across the Potteries. It wasn’t the Slush Puppy stuff we’ve been having in recent weeks, either – it was proper, deep snow.

In fact, we were in the grip of the record-breaking, snowiest (I am told there is such a word) December of the 20th Century.

It was an exceptional month, weather-wise. During the night of December 12 to 13 temperatures plummeted to below minus 18 across the UK.

Even the Queen did not escape the snow – ending up stranded for several hours in a Cotswold pub on December 14.

High winds caused havoc on coastal waters and on December 19 the Penlee lifeboat capsized off the Cornish coast as it went to the aid of crippled cargo ship Union Star. Sixteen lives were lost.

After a heavy snowfall on December 21 a blanket of the white stuff covered most of the country – up to 33cm deep in parts of the Midlands.

Yours truly was only nine at the time and my brother Matthew was five. We were off school and the weather was perfect.

We were beyond excited.

Not only was Father Christmas due in Sneyd Green but we had enough of the white stuff to build whacking great snowmen, have snowball fights and – because we lived on a hill –
go sledging down the road.

As usual, Christmas Eve involved Matt and I getting an early-ish night and doing our best to get off to sleep while wondering what new toys we would wake up to.

It is interesting to note that the average wage at the time was £6,000 per year (the equivalent of around £19,000 in today’s money). Petrol was 28 pence per litre, bread was 33p and a pint of milk 17p.

Meanwhile my dad’s festive pint down his local would have cost him and my grandad 35p.

In truth it was to be a sparse Christmas for many as the recession tightened its grip on Britain.

December 1981 was actually the month that a certain Arthur Scargill became President-elect of the National Union of Mineworkers. And we all know what happened after that.

Despite this austere backdrop, Matt and I came downstairs on that frosty Christmas day morning to find that Santa had once again delivered two sacks crammed full of presents.

They included a version of the top-selling toy of the previous year – the Rubik’s ball or snake puzzle – but not 1981’s must-have: Lego’s first electric train set. Not that Matt and I cared, like.

My nan and grandad, Ethel and Frank, arrived from Bentilee mid-morning and we stuffed our faces with turkey dinner, mince pies, Christmas cake and After Eight mints before grandad fell asleep in front of the fire.

It may have been the food, the couple of pints he’d supped down the Holden Bridge pub, or more likely the Queen’s Speech which finished him off.

Her Majesty told us all of her joy at seeing her eldest son tying the knot with Lady Diana Spencer earlier in the year.

She also underlined the importance of the International Year of Disabled People and made a special mention of her subjects in Northern Ireland who were living through the troubles.

Another television must-see that year was, of course, Top Of The Pops which boasted a performance of the Christmas number one – Don’t You Want Me? by The Human League. (A proper pop song in the days before the X-Factor dictated which pretty boy or girl got to number one).

BBC1’s other festive delights were shows by mad-cap comedian Kenny Everett and impressionist Mike Yarwood while its Christmas day highlights included Jim’ll Fix It, The Two Ronnies, The Paul Daniels’ Magic Show and Dallas.

Meanwhile, over on ITV we all thought Sarah Kennedy, Henry Kelly and Jeremy Beadle were Game For A Laugh.

Matt and I went to bed happy, full to bursting and knowing the snow would still be there on Boxing Day. Along with a pile of turkey.

Even against a background of enormous economic uncertainty – not dissimilar to that which we face today – the memories of Christmas 1981 remain golden for me and I know exactly who to thank for that.

Merry Christmas, mum and dad.

Pick up a copy of the Weekend Sentinel every Saturday for 12 pages of nostalgia

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One thought on “Tonnes of snow… and a Christmas to savour with my family

  1. Jason Lowe says:

    I remember that vividly….particularly, I remember walking home from school in Bradwell and having to lift each leg higher than ever to trudge through the snow without arriving home soaked. I remember the purity of Christmas back then. I had a TV for christmas….which was also a radio, a cassette deck and an alarm clock….so I could set the alarm for 5pm Sundays and shove a cassette in ready to record the charts, while cursing the DJ who kept talking over the start of songs. I remember wondering if Villa were going to win the European Cup…I remember foreign players at Villa Park meaning Scottish players…I remember going to my best mates house on a Saturday, with 50p in hand to buy something for dinner, and being given a pound by his dad and walking to Vale Park and surprising my dad in the Bycars end. I remember a superb goal by Steve Fox, and my dad raving over a certain loaner keeper by the name of Neville Southall. I also remember an innocence of those times that my children have never experienced. And a social structure that doesn’t exist anymore. And that all the new technology in the world can never replace

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