It’ll be all white. It’s only a bit of snow…

Heavy snow in the Moorlands in January 1987.

Heavy snow in the Moorlands in January 1987.

We are notoriously bad at coping with snow in the UK. Here in North Staffordshire is no different. A mere dusting of the white stuff and roads grind to a halt and schools close. Curtains twitch and people begin checking their stockpiles of Fray Bentos steak and kidney pies.

I’m not sure why we can’t seem to handle proper winter weather.

Perhaps it is because we get so little of it and it is so infrequent.

The truth is snow is a genuine novelty round these parts which is why most of us don’t bother fitting winter tyres to our cars.

When it does snow, my perception is that the majority of people over the age of 60 refuse to leave the house until the great thaw sets in.

This isn’t what happens overseas, I can assure you.

Our attitude is mad, really. Even after nine months of fairly incessant rain which made for a washout of a summer, many people fail to appreciate the beauty of the season of frost, snow and ice.

Thank goodness for children and their love of snowmen and sledges is all I can say.

In early December I flew to France for a festive weekend away with my mates Will and Rob.

It was a new alternative to the annual pub crawl around Newcastle – the idea being that we would sit in front of a log fire drinking vino, watching telly and playing games.

We landed at Geneva airport to be confronted by a white blanket covering the countryside.

The lady handing over the keys to our hire car – a very modest Vauxhall Meriva – asked Will if he wanted snow chains fitting to the tyres. She genuinely couldn’t advise whether we’d need them or not.

“Nah,” he responded after a few seconds’ thought. “I think we’ll be owrate.”

Two hours later it was squeaky bum time as the ill-equipped people carrier quite literally inched its way up Le Crêt de la Neige – the highest peak in the Jura mountains – in the worst blizzard I’ve ever seen.

To his eternal credit, Will fought with the steering wheel and gear stick for all he was worth to coax every ounce of life from the engine and find some traction in the deepening snow as darkness fell.

It was quite simply an epic journey and it was the snow that made it so.

Had it been simply overcast or raining the four hour journey to Will’s place in France would have been eminently forgettable.

As it was, that journey and the sight of the beautiful, snow-covered mountains and fir trees made the holiday so memorable.

You’ll have guessed by now that I’m a big fan of the white stuff.

Sadly, for me, we get precious little of it round these parts and, when we do, it never lasts for very long.

Indeed, properly disruptive snowstorms in the UK as a whole during the last decade or so can be counted on the fingers of one hand.

Fortunately, that wasn’t the case when I was growing up in Sneyd Green during the 1980s. Back then heavy snowfalls appeared with far more regularity and I think we coped a little bit better with them.

Football certainly carried on thanks to that genius invention, the high-vis orange ball. Remember them?

Trawling through The Sentinel’s archives I unearthed some wonderfully evocative pictures – highlighting the particularly snowy winters of 1981/2, 1987 and 1989.

The Christmas of 1981, for example, was a white one for the people of the Potteries and I was able to build a snowman with my brother on Christmas Eve.

Earlier that month, on December 13, snow blitzed the south of the country and even the Queen became stranded for several hours in a Cotswold pub.

Two ships foundered in the English Channel and some homes in Somerset were without electricity for five days.

Three weeks later, in the January of 1982, it was particularly cold.

On January 8 and 9 heavy snow and gale force winds saw severe blizzards across the Midlands, Wales, Ireland and southern England. Transport services were thrown into chaos and millions of commuters failed to get to work in London for two days running.

Sadly, in 30 years, we seem to have become worse at coping with the snow when it does arrive.

Perhaps the next time we get an inch or two in our neck of the woods we should try to appreciate the fleeting beauty of it and realise that it isn’t the end of the world. Honest.

Anyway, I’d better be off now. I think it’s starting to snow and I wouldn’t want to get stuck at work.

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


Breathing new life into an Eighties Christmas classic

The cover of the 2012 festive edition of the Radio Times showing artwork from the new The Snowman and The Snow Dog animated film.

The cover of the 2012 festive edition of the Radio Times showing artwork from the new The Snowman and The Snow Dog animated film.

The season of goodwill officially begins at chez Tideswell household not when our tree goes up (that happened on December 1) but when yours truly brings home the legendary, festive double issue of the Radio Times.

Then follows the time-honoured tradition of leafing through the pages, glass of port in hand, circling the good stuff and planning our TV watching from Christmas Eve through to New Year’s Day.

This year’s cover is a gem which took me back 30 years.

It features new interpretations of Raymond Briggs’s wonderful snowman character which has become instantly recognisable to anyone who has seen Christmas telly in the UK over the last three decades.

At 8pm on Christmas Eve a sequel to his animated tale The Snowman, will be screened by Channel Four.

The £2m, 24-minute programme was given the thumbs-up by the pleasingly eccentric Briggs, now aged 78, as it has been hand-drawn rather than computer-generated.

The Snowman And The Snow Dog will doubtless attract a new generation of fans while leaving big kids like myself basking in a nostalgic glow.

The original The Snowman is one of our most played DVDs. My children love it and it takes me back to its first airing on Boxing Day, 1982, when I was just 10 years old.

Based on Briggs’s children’s book without words, which was first published in 1978, the television adaptation – supported by an orchestral score and the wonderful Walking in the Air, sung by St. Paul’s Cathedral choir boy Peter Auty – was a sensation.

Nominated for an Academy Award, The Snowman has been a staple of Christmas in British homes ever since.

The release of the single Walking in the Air several years later by Welsh chorister Aled Jones made him a household name.

There is something incredibly evocative about the simple, rather clunky animation of the Eighties original, which tells the story of a boy who lovingly crafts a snowman one winter’s day.

At the stroke of midnight the snowman comes to life and he and his young creator have a memorable adventure involving a flight over land and sea and a meeting with Father Christmas.

When I first watched the film one particular moment captivated me.

A little girl is looking out of her bedroom window on Christmas Eve and sees The Snowman and his maker flying through the sky, hand-in-hand.

Her mouth opens in surprise and she looks to a nearby Christmas card which shows Santa Claus and his reindeer, wondering what she has seen on this most magical of nights.

That could have been me who spent so many Christmas Eve’s peering out of the window of the bedroom I shared with my younger brother Matthew looking for that elusive sleigh and listening out for bells.

The Snowman’s genius, however, is that it actually ends on a melancholy note when the boy of the story goes outside the following morning, wearing a dressing gown and slippers, to discover his creation has melted.

Wondering whether or not the events of the previous night was just a dream, he discovers that he still has the scarf given to him by Father Christmas.

It is both sad and uplifting at the same time.

The success of The Snowman owes much to the creativity of team who brought it to the small screen.

In Briggs’s original book the boy does not visit Father Christmas and there is no Christmas tree in his house.

Indeed, all of the festive elements were added for the TV version and, to my mind, it is these ingredients lift it beyond simple make-believe and make its accessible to so many.

There are several versions of the tale.

An alternative introduction to the television film is sometimes used which shows David Bowie reciting the introduction to the story rather than author Briggs.

There is even a stage version of The Snowman which has no words other than the song Walking in the Air.

However, the original is still my favourite and I’ve got a feeling that the sequel, made with love and due respect for this Eighties masterpiece, will be equally charming.

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

The night Lemmy and Ozzy rocked Vale Park

Last weekend around 12,000 people packed in to Hanley Park for 2012 Live – a summer pop concert which brought the some of the biggest names in British music to the Potteries.

I have to admit I hadn’t heard of most of the acts because I’m a crusty old rocker who was weaned on hair metal and pays no attention to the contemporary music scene.

My first concert was on August 19, 1989, at the Milton Keynes Bowl.

I was 17 and it was my first taste of live rock music – courtesy of the mighty Bon Jovi.

But eight years earlier there was a gig right here in the Potteries that teenage me would have given my right arm to be at.

It was a concert that very nearly didn’t take place at all because of objections by local residents who sought an injunction to prevent it happening.

Originally, families in the Louise Street area of Burslem threatened to withhold payment of their rates to the council in the gig went ahead.

Indeed, the concert only happened because at the eleventh hour the event’s promoters paid for a bus trip to Blackpool for the disgruntled folk of Burslem who didn’t much fancy having their Saturday ruined by some of the loudest bands on the planet.

Heavy Metal Holocaust took place at Vale Park on August 1, 1981 – a blisteringly hot summer’s day in Burslem.

More than 20,000 rock fans paid £7.50 for tickets in advance or £8.50 on the day to see their heroes in action.

It was a time when heavy metal bands such as Iron Maiden regularly featured in the charts – making the genre fashionable. Well, almost.

Black Sabbath had originally been scheduled to top the bill alongside Motörhead but had been forced to pull out just weeks before the gig.

Thankfully, former Sabbath frontman Ozzy Osbourne – accompanied by ex-Quiet Riot guitarist, the legendary Randy Rhoads – stepped into the breach.

Ozzy was introduced to the sweltering crowd by Motörhead bassist and vocalist Lemmy Kilmister for whom the concert was something of a home-coming as he had been born in the Mother Town on Christmas Eve 1945.

Also on the bill were Triumph, Riot, and Vardis but it was the joint headliners who took most of the plaudits – although some felt it was the set by Frank Marino, of Canadian hard rock outfit Mahogany Rush, which stole the show.

Many attendees recall the incredible noise levels generated by the headliners and what was reputed to have been the largest PA system which had ever been used in Britain.

As Motörhead finished their set, six sky-divers parachuted on to the pitch to close the show in spectacular style.

The 10-hour concert, which cost £250,000 to stage, has since attained something of a cult status among rock fans – partly because of the line-up (this included a rare appearance by guitar god Rhoads before his tragic death the following year) and partly because, astonishingly, it was a ‘dry’ gig – i.e. no alcohol was sold inside Vale Park on the day.

This presumably explains the presence of a Samaritans ‘quiet tent’ on site which didn’t see many referrals as their counsellors couldn’t make themselves heard.

The gig was a roaring success and police praised the crowd for their exemplary behaviour.

Port Vale made £25,000 from the event which left chairman Don Ratcliffe eager to stage more as it had allowed the cash-strapped fourth division club to buy two new players – Ernie Moss and Ray Deakin.

Unfortunately, rock bands haven’t appeared at Vale Park since – although I’m half tempted to suggest the idea to new owner Keith Ryder the next time I see him.

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